Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Double Feature: The Brown Bunny & Fellini's Casanova


fellini's casanovathe brown bunny
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I've been wanting to start an "interesting double features" series where I pick two films and mention briefly how I think they're linked, and recently my friend and pen-pal D.J. Carlile — translator of Rimbaud: The Works, erstwhile critic, poet, and playwright — wrote the following remarks to me in a letter that fit perfectly with this idea.

But first it's probably worth mentioning that he hates Vincent Gallo and The Brown Bunny. "The scenes you cite are indeed the finest things in it (the rain on the windshield... the mummified parents — especially Dad... the salt flats... the solo melancholy vistas) — but I am not convinced that Bud's tale is the stuff of great cinema. [...] I hope Gallo makes another film, honestly I do. But it had better not be about an alienating and alienated loser driving long distance in his truck/van to settle some old score that he's obsessing over. He has now made this movie twice. I don't get it. (But maybe I'll change my mind after the next opus. As Diaghilev once told Cocteau: "Astonish me.")"

The second paragraph contains a major spoiler for The Brown Bunny.

Reprinted with permission.

* * *


the brown bunny salt flats
"I watched The Brown Bunny again WITH THE SOUND TURNED OFF. Better to observe the visuals... You know, it struck me this time that — with its preponderance of profile angles of the protagonist and his disconnect from his body and emotions — it struck me that this is the Anti-Fellini-Casanova (stript bare).

fellini casanova
In both films the "hero" ends up with a nonexistent woman (for all of his previous "womanizings") — a ghost in The Brown Bunny, an automaton in Casanova. Both main characters are shot almost exclusively in profile. Scenes with Parents are halting/disconnected. But the one is a dark, Baroque dreamshow and the other is a minimalist verité on a shoestring. (Both made by guys with Italian names.) Actually, The Brown Bunny and Fellini Casanova would make a great double bill, I think.

fellini casanova dollbrown bunny daisy chloe

fellini's casanova dollthe brown bunny daisy
Both films are consumed with loathing. Fellini, after reading the Memoirs, grew to utterly hate Casanova and was sorry he'd signed up to make the film. Vincent Gallo is simply consumed with disgust...

Casanova is probably the weakest of all F.F.'s later films due to this disconnect with his main character, but it still has some rather glorious treats (the escape by boat across the sea of heaving plastic tarps, the head of Venus rising from the canals of Venice, the creepy Praying Mantis ballet, the final scenes on the frozen canal)... The Brown Bunny is probably the finest of V.G.'s films because the emptiness at its core is so naked.

fellini casanova set venusthe brown bunny

fellini casanovathe brown bunny vincent gallo

fellini casanovathe brown bunny

fellini casanova dollthe brown bunny daisy chloe

3 comments:

Hectocotylus said...

I left out all the very harsh things D.J. had to say about Gallo... Pages of it! We've been arguing about Vincent Gallo and The Brown Bunny over the course the the last month, mostly in a humorous, lighthearted way. (He hates Buffalo '66 as well.) My position is that both The Brown Bunny and Fellini Casanova are good (but not GREAT) films containing many things to admire. And I agree with him that they would make for a very interesting double feature.

Unfortunately I don't have a copy of Casanova on DVD so I had to use whatever pictures I found online.

katia said...

Fellini in his “Casanova” (1976) was masterfully able to avoid the four hungry traps by which most films about the “Italian adventurer” of 18th century were swallowed and devoured. The first is trivialization and vulgarization of Casanova as a carrier of “hyper-gonadic” sexual desires. The second, is the romanticization of Casanova as a model of amour-hero, as an insatiable heart. The third trap is to ignore Casanova as a human being regardless of his monumental sexual status in history, as a man outside the realms of sex and love. And finally, it is trying to make aesthetically cheap but pocket-full “blockbuster” cashing Casanova’s sexual achievements into today’s currency. Fellini found a way to make a serious film about Casanova - a comic aspect of things, an irony and wit, characterization of the epoch, the analysis of human nature.
According to Fellini, Casanova (besides paying generous tribute to love and sex) was an extraordinary personality and a highly intelligent man, a scholar, of sorts. More, his amorous and sexual affairs were impregnated by his desire to understand the nature of human relations. He didn’t just act out his impulses; he thought about his experiences, he tried to grasp their essence, to study them. No, Fellini doesn’t idolize or even idealize Casanova. As a matter of fact, he is quite humorous and often sarcastic about him, but humor and sarcasm are filled with compassion for what Casanova represents for Fellini – our human nature with its idealistic dreams of materialistically controlling life, with its contradictions between soul and body, with its tricks of imagination, which we take for reality.
Fellini’s Casanova resolves the strain between amour and sex better than anybody else, but he represents us all in the impossibility to completely sublimate sex. Our sexual function has an inerasable rigidity and mechanisity which cannot be completely dissolved in sentiments and orgasmic sensations. Fellini uses two symbols to emphasize this fact – Casanova’s magic box with a moving metallic bird signifying men’s sexual prowess, and the sexual doll signifying the mechanical quality of human sexual act and sexual behavior in general.
Fellini adds to the charm of Casanova’s personality his own artistry, and the result is one of the most colorful films in the history of cinema. Donald Sutherland-Casanova’s nuanced, elegant, always surprising, self-reflective and self-ironic acting (when we already cannot distinguish where is Casanova’s soul and where is Sutherland’s), is a page in the history of cinematic acting. The bright and juicy colors and stylized settings emphasize the destiny of human adventurist creativity, of seriously playful nature of human genius the film celebrates.
By Victor Enyutin

katia said...

Fellini in his “Casanova” (1976) was masterfully able to avoid the four hungry traps by which most films about the “Italian adventurer” of 18th century were swallowed and devoured. The first is trivialization and vulgarization of Casanova as a carrier of “hyper-gonadic” sexual desires. The second, is the romanticization of Casanova as a model of amour-hero, as an insatiable heart. The third trap is to ignore Casanova as a human being regardless of his monumental sexual status in history, as a man outside the realms of sex and love. And finally, it is trying to make aesthetically cheap but pocket-full “blockbuster” cashing Casanova’s sexual achievements into today’s currency. Fellini found a way to make a serious film about Casanova - a comic aspect of things, an irony and wit, characterization of the epoch, the analysis of human nature.
According to Fellini, Casanova (besides paying generous tribute to love and sex) was an extraordinary personality and a highly intelligent man, a scholar, of sorts. More, his amorous and sexual affairs were impregnated by his desire to understand the nature of human relations. He didn’t just act out his impulses; he thought about his experiences, he tried to grasp their essence, to study them. No, Fellini doesn’t idolize or even idealize Casanova. As a matter of fact, he is quite humorous and often sarcastic about him, but humor and sarcasm are filled with compassion for what Casanova represents for Fellini – our human nature with its idealistic dreams of materialistically controlling life, with its contradictions between soul and body, with its tricks of imagination, which we take for reality.
Fellini’s Casanova resolves the strain between amour and sex better than anybody else, but he represents us all in the impossibility to completely sublimate sex. Our sexual function has an inerasable rigidity and mechanisity which cannot be completely dissolved in sentiments and orgasmic sensations. Fellini uses two symbols to emphasize this fact – Casanova’s magic box with a moving metallic bird signifying men’s sexual prowess, and the sexual doll signifying the mechanical quality of human sexual act and sexual behavior in general.
Fellini adds to the charm of Casanova’s personality his own artistry, and the result is one of the most colorful films in the history of cinema. Donald Sutherland-Casanova’s nuanced, elegant, always surprising, self-reflective and self-ironic acting (when we already cannot distinguish where is Casanova’s soul and where is Sutherland’s), is a page in the history of cinematic acting. The bright and juicy colors and stylized settings emphasize the destiny of human adventurist creativity, of seriously playful nature of human genius the film celebrates.
By Victor Enyutin