Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
In May of 2003 I walked out of the press screening of Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" at the Cannes Film Festival and was asked by a camera crew what I thought of the film. I said I thought it was the worst film in the history of the festival. That was hyperbole -- I hadn't seen every film in the history of the festival -- but I was still vibrating from one of the most disastrous screenings I had ever attended.
The audience was loud and scornful in its dislike for the movie; hundreds walked out, and many of those who remained only stayed because they wanted to boo. Imagine, I wrote, a film so unendurably boring that when the hero changes into a clean shirt, there is applause. The panel of critics convened by Screen International, the British trade paper, gave the movie the lowest rating in the history of their annual voting.
But then a funny thing happened. Gallo went back into the editing room and cut 26 minutes of his 118-minute film, or almost a fourth of the running time. And in the process he transformed it. The film's form and purpose now emerge from the miasma of the original cut, and are quietly, sadly, effective. It is said that editing is the soul of the cinema; in the case of "The Brown Bunny," it is its salvation.
Critics who saw the film last autumn at the Venice and Toronto festivals walked in expecting the disaster they'd read about from Cannes. Here is Bill Chambers of Film Freak Central, writing from Toronto: "Ebert catalogued his mainstream biases (unbroken takes: bad; non-classical structure: bad; name actresses being aggressively sexual: bad) ... and then had a bigger delusion of grandeur than 'The Brown Bunny's' Gallo-centric credit assignations: 'I will one day be thin but Vincent Gallo will always be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.' "