Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Wait... I mean interviews him. That’s what that means, right? At any rate, here’s the director of THE BROWN BUNNY sitting down with our man in Chicago just hours after he finally met Roger Ebert face-to-face. There’s some great stuff in here, and I think our own Mr. Beaks also interviewed Gallo, but here in LA. We’ll have that one for you later in the week, along with my review of this much-reviled and often-discussed picture.
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. I was going through my regular morning routine today, when I heard Howard Stern say that he was having Vincent Gallo on his show next week. Uh oh. That seemed like as good a cue as any that I needed to get on the ball and get my interview with him transcribed. As I said in my review of THE BROWN BUNNY recently, my interview with Gallo occurred just a few hours after his first face-to-face encounter with Roger Ebert, so that was forefront in my mind. Despite the fact that I was tape recording our conversation so I didn't misquote this man, he said he was distrustful of tapes. "Some magazine published as fact that I apologized to Roger Ebert after our exchange regarding the Cannes screening of THE BROWN BUNNY. That just wasn't true. Then the magazine said they had it on tape, and everybody said, 'It must be true if they have the tape.' Strangely enough, they never produced the tape. For the record, I never apologized to Ebert," he said.
I hadn't even pushed the Record button, and he was already on the defensive. But I'd just seen him do a post-screening Q&A, where he charmed the hell out of the audience, so I knew somewhere in there was a guy I could talk to. I was right. Forgive the typos...
Capone: I know it's bad form to ask how someone else's interview went, but how did your meeting with Roger Ebert go?
Vincent Gallo: I'll not only tell you, I'll tell you in detail. He was a beyond-likeable person. He's an incredibly open-minded person. And I think that some of the points I made to him, I know that he carefully listened to everything I had to say and he responded after digesting what I had to say. He didn't have a thing planned; we had a very unguarded dialogue together.
I noticed a couple of things about him that changed my perception of him dramatically. First of all, he has a remarkable wife, and their relationship is incredible. It's one of those classic relationships between a man and a woman who really like each other, who share a lot of time together, who have a dynamic together. She's a very nurturing, together, strong woman. I'm sure she's been great in his life. And when you meet people like that, you see them in another way. They become a real person to you, and it becomes impossible for you to speak of them in the abstract any longer.
Capone: Was she there during the interview?
V.G.: She was there. The three of us were there together, and we talked about everything. We talked about the hex, about everything. And it was the most enjoyable time I've had with a journalist in my life, because it was so unusual and bizarre. And because he's such a notorious figure in my life. I've never met him before; I've never even seen him in person. So I felt like I was having a dialogue with someone whose level of commitment to what they do is at least as equal to mine if not more. They showed me the seat that he sits in every day in the screening room and watches movies all the time. He certainly is not an unlikeable person, and he's very bright guy. And he's a throwback too. He's a '50s-'60s kid, which are my favorite people to talk to because my sense is to like a lot of things from at time.
I reached out to him toward the end of what we had to say on something I thought was important. I reminded him that he has no real power in the mainstream cinema. Him and I both hated THE VILLAGE. We both thought it was a horrendous film, but we both know that there's nothing he can do to stop the film's success because the film is marketing and merchandised by people with a louder voice than him, advertising people. But the people that he could hurt dramatically are people who are not protected by movie companies like that. To say that THE BROWN BUNNY was the worst movie in Cannes history--which translates for most to the worst film every made--without...to say the film failed for him, to say "I think this is what this guy tried to do, but for me it didn't work at all. I found it excruciating"...
Capone: Did he even go that far? I don't remember hearing his analysis of the movie beyond the "worst film at Cannes" quote.
V.G.: No, he didn't. That's the point. And I told him that the reason I singled you out and attacked you is because you didn't just hurt my film, you didn't just hurt me and the perception of me in the festival as a whole, you made the gap between mainstream cinema and non-mainstream cinema broader because you have made people frightened to even take a chance. If somebody takes a chance and they fail, the interpretation is that they are horrible and worthless. That's a very dangerous thing. And he thought about it for a second and began to defend it, but I think he understood what I meant. Then he reminded me of all the films that he did support that were marginal-budget works.
Capone: Including BUFFALO 66 a few years ago.
V.G.: I don't know if he was that big a fan of that film. He didn't give it a glowing review, but they didn't give it a bad review.
Capone: True, but for non-Chicagoans who don't have daily access to his in-depth reviews, it was a thumbs up from Roger Ebert.
V.G.: Yes. And quite frankly, he's the person responsible for bringing the New York independent film world to the more mainstream level by giving Jim Jarmusch's STRANGER THAN PARADISE a positive review. I simply reminded him that I'm comfortable with his interpretation of THE BROWN BUNNY, of him saying that the film didn't work for him. He can't just simply just say it's the worst movie. The worst movie means that you put Nichole Richie in ROCKY 10, and you had the guy who writes some trashy TV show rewrite the script, and everything is a cashout and a sell out and a compromise, when the intentions stink from the beginning. You can't say that to a film when it's clear that the intention is better than that and the risk is bigger than that and the language at least stands on its own in some original sense. You just can't do that. It makes it then impossible to inspire someone to take risk whether they're successful or not. If you throw a pass to a receiver and he made a diving effort to catch it but it went off his fingertips, would you say, "That idiot fucked up the game"?
Capone: Did he give any indication that this final cut of the film was better than what he saw at Cannes?
V.G.: One of the reasons I originally banned him from the Chicago screening and the purpose of that was that I felt that he should have to live with that original review forever. Meaning that I wanted secretly for him to have to live with that review and be the person who made those comments about that film, so if the film gained any respect in any way, he would always be the person who went that far against it. In the end, I made the smarter choice which was to let him see the film. I felt strongly that if he didn't like the film at Cannes, he wouldn't like the film now, and I feel strongly that if an audience of 3,000 boo's the opening credits and starts heckling two minutes into the film, how much of the response to the film at Cannes could have been the film itself. What I will say is that if the film was more conventional and could play to bigger audiences, the film may have pulled people in, but the film certainly wouldn't push people out. The film just didn't have what it takes to bring in a prejudice, apprehensive, pedestrian-level crowd.
Capone: You mentioned in your Q&A that the Cannes crowd was "displaced" coming into the film. Are you concerned that North American audiences in general now are displaced to this film, those who even know about it?
V.G.: I've tried to do whatever I can to eliminate that. But what I realized is that at a festival you can have a room full of displaced people, but you can't maintain that every day. Eventually, the film takes on a life of its own. That's why festivals are not really the best places to show difficult movies.
Capone: Or an unfinished movie.
V.G.: Definitely not a place to show an unfinished movie. Unlike Francis Ford Coppola and his most highly overrated film of all time APOCALYPSE NOW, which is a good movie but it's a bit overrated. He had this incredible ending in the film initially that he test screened and said was a work in progress at Cannes many years ago. Then he put that very compromised ending on the film, which really took me out of the film. I felt ashamed that people thought I would react to what the crowd said at Cannes. People forget that I was booed at Sundance. Did you know that BUFFALO 66 was booed and heckled at Sundance. It won no prizes. I've never won a festival prize. I've never been supported by those indie circles in my life, those Independent Spirit Awards have never even invited me to be in the crowd. BUFFALO 66 was unsold, no one bought it. Lions Gate was forced to release it on its own. The BROWN BUNNY experience at Cannes was not the first time I've had resistance to my films. THE BROWN BUNNY was just more notorious than what happened at Sundance.
Capone: That may work in your favor ultimately. I was at the same screening this afternoon that Roger Ebert attended, and the room was fairly full. It's not that big a theatre.
V.G.: Did people sit through the whole movie?
Capone: Absolutely, no one left.
V.G.: No one heckled the film? They didn't boo?
Capone: No, it was quiet the entire time. There were a couple points in the scenes with you and the elderly couple where people laughed, but it seemed appropriate. It was a respectful group.
V.G.: That is an uncomfortably funny scene. That's great to hear.
Capone: You seem very concerned and very aware of not only the reaction to the film but of your own image. You said during the Q&A that you didn't think you were a very likeable person. You called yourself the "greaseball from Buffalo." But the fact is that putting you in front of a crowd almost proves the opposite is true.
V.G.: Here's what I can say: if you look closely in detail of everything I saw in the written word, I don't translate very well because I communicate in multiple ways at the same time. When I get in front of an audience, I can say sarcastically things, I can insult somebody, I can tell a joke, I can say a swear word. When you see me, I can express myself better that way. When it's between you and I right now, there's certain mood we'll have. How you translate that mood later on is out of my control, and that's why I like to appear on my own behalf. And that's why I feel I can win anybody over. In the end, it doesn't help my work if I become a living conceptual piece of art. In fact, if I would have never spoke ever in my life and I would have put different names on all the credits of all the multitasks things I do on my film [Gallo's name is listed in nearly every aspect of putting together THE BROWN BUNNY, including cinematography, editing, writing, directing, producing], my work would be looked at differently and each particular fake name on those credits would be regarded differently. By multitasking on a film, you diminish yourself in a sense. No one really hired me after BUFFALO 66 as an actor, no one's every asked me to compose music for a film. The times that I've worked after BUFFALO 66 were for productions that were in desperate trouble, somebody fell out, productions where they couldn't attract anybody to the movie. And I did every film after BUFFALO 66 that I did, except for TROUBLE EVERY DAY for Claire Denis, I did for the money, and the people who cast me in those movies only did so because they had to or needed to at that point. None of my contemporaries, none of the Darren Aronofskys, the Wes Andersons, the Spike Lees, the Paul Thomas Andersons, the Todd Solondzs, none of them have ever approached me to even be in a small scene in a film, or photograph or edit or script doctoring or the music or design a poster for their films.
V.G.: I'll tell you two things before I answer. [Credited BUFFALO 66 cinematographer] Lance Acord never shot a feature film in his life. He was a button pusher on BUFFALO 66. I worked with my gaffer, I put that camera crew together myself. It wasn't Lance's camera crew. I fired Dick Pope, or Dick Pope quit, but I forced him to quit, and just hired Lance because the bond company said I had to have a cinematographer under the condition that I was going to control everything and he was just there as a figurehead. He didn't have anything to do with the processing, the development of the film stock, the techniques, the compositions, the designs, or the concept of the photography. Yet after BUFFALO 66, him, Gucci Westman, the hair and makeup girl who came in way late into the film--I had already done Christina [Ricci's] makeup. Lance, Gucci, and Christina, their careers were severely enhanced by being in this film. I never got any offers after BUFFALO 66. I had more respect given to me as an actor before BUFFALO 66.
And I think it's for two reasons. Filmmakers, one you make your own film, maybe they're afraid to cast you in another person's film because they think they won't have as domineering a relationship with you. That you might try and run the show on some level. If anything, the truth is the opposite. You gain a new respect for filmmakers when you realize how much you could destroy their film, and you remember what people did to you. I was poorly behaved on a Kiefer Sutherland movie [TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M., which Sutherland directed and co-starred with Gallo], partly Kiefer's fault. He really hammered me. But thinking back now, no matter what people did to me or what he said to me, I would have never taken the low road with him again. In retrospect, he was a beautiful person to reach out and want me to star in his film anyway. Looking back, when I think of Kiefer, he's one of the few people in my life that I have real regret of having a poor relationship with because he was such a great guy and good friend before we started filming. We just had some itchy moments when we were battling out creative control issues. I felt it was probably hard for him to have me in the lead for his film, a role that he would have traditionally played. I didn't respond to him well as a filmmaker and I regret it. Just on a personal level, because whether I liked the film or not isn't important. Whether the film is terrible or not isn't important. What's important is that I'd accepted the role in the film and I should have done everything I could to give him everything he wanted, or I shouldn't have accepted the role. For that I have regret. But even in the end, he was a nice person and fun to work with.
Capone: I've heard and read you talk about the process of filmmaking--the types of cameras, lenses, film stock--the same way you talk about cars and welding and motorcycles. It's very--and I mean this in a positive way--working class, hands on. It's a job and not as strictly an art form to you, which I would not have expected from you based on the company you keep.
V.G.: Be careful. You only know through hearsay the company I keep. I spend most of my time with people who have shared hobby interests with me. My technician who fixes my audio equipment. I spend way more time with him than all my other friends put together. And my friends that I am close with, like Johnny Ramone, who doesn't care about art whatsoever, he's not a fan of my work, I'm not a fan of The Ramones, we don't collaborate. The idea of us doing anything together musically is absurd. We're grouchy, grumpy friends from New York. He's a working class ex-construction worker, I'm a working class ex-construction worker. We like baseball; we talk about baseball all the time. But I have an esoteric nature and conceptual ideas and I'm a really aesthetic person, but I'm no less proud of fixing a broken refrigeration compressor than I am storyboarding a difficult scene in a film. In fact, if you knew me better and came over to my house every day, it would be very infrequent that I would say, "Hey, listen to this song. What do you think?" It would be more like, "Look at how I organized my storage room." "Did you see my floor? Do you like it duller or shinier?" I would pound you for hours on things like that. Unfortunately, I bring that to filmmaking, which means I exhaust myself in departments I don't need to exhaust myself in.
Capone: You can tell that just from the credits. Yet strangely enough, you didn't score this film.
V.G.: No. I made a record called "When," which was the music for THE BROWN BUNNY. That's why the song "Honey Bunny" is on there, but mostly the instrumental tracks from that album. But then John Frusciante became interested in the screenplay, and I asked him to do music for the film. John's a very active person, incredibly rigorous person in one way, unlike me. I clean it all, I fix it all, I organize it all, I buy it all, I sell it all. John can't deal with any part of life, but he does work at music all day. So he started handing me songs immediately. In a sense, he did the soundtrack to the film because I shot to his music, I cut to his music. But when the film was done, the film and the music didn't have a contrast together anymore. Instead of working together to create something else, they sort of lay there stale together, and I wound up using other music.
Capone: The songs selections here are inspired at times. I really liked the Gordon Lightfoot song "Beautiful."
V.G.: Thank you. The amount of time I spent choosing the music of the film would be unbelievable to you. The funny thing is, when it's not right, you spend all your time playing songs for people saying, "What do you think of this one? How about this one? How about this one?" You're dying, when you're on that level. When you hit it, it's so obvious and you immediately get a desperate feeling that says, "How am I going to get the rights? Are they going to fuck me on the rights to this song?" And guess who are the worst people in the movie business. The licensing people. They are most miserable, mean, selfish, insensitive, regressive, unproductive on the planet earth. You don't know what it's like to feel so strong about something and not have a budget to make that go away. It's not like I was looking to get some Paul McCartney song for my movie; I'm talking about esoteric music. Some of the music in the film didn't even exist, I had to rebuild the original master tapes that had decomposed. I had to re-bake the tape stock, the emulsion on the tape had peeling off. I'm the only person in the world who would salvage this particular recording because I had an original three-track machine and I knew how to bake that type of Ampex tape. The tape would have disappeared in two more years, and it's highly spliced. Then to be ballbusted for a year and a half on the licensing on that music. We talk about how long it took for me to get the film out after Cannes was because the film wasn't ready due to negative problems. I wanted to use this technique to blow up the negative in a new way. That's why I waited so long to finish the film. But it turns out that I would have had to wait seven, eight months anyway was the releases for the music. If you were dealing with the musician directly, you wouldn't have these problems. It's the people representing these artists that kill the process. I realize if you want to use the Beatles song "Revolution" to sell eyeglasses, I understand the exploitation of that. I understand that I'm using culturally significant relics to manipulate people into attaching those to my product. But if I'm using a rare piece of music by and unknown artist, not to brag, but the people whose music I use in my films sell way more records than they were selling before they were in my film. Proof of it is, the Italian artist who did this one jazz piece in my movie had sold 600 copies worldwide before my movie. Before my film was released just on the announcement that they were included people tracked down the music, and they sold something like 6,000 more copies. Why you're treated like you're exploiting this music makes no sense. If they're going to make a tough deal for you, just be up front about it. But this sort of, "We don't have time for you. What do you want?" stringing along is nonsense. And I'm the producer on THE BROWN BUNNY. I didn't have a music supervisor. I did the licensing for BUFFALO 66 and THE BROWN BUNNY. And of all my memories of making the film, that's my most painful memories.
Capone: I did want to talk about the content of THE BROWN BUNNY specifically. For the record, I absolutely loved this movie. I'm a big fan of films that allow an audience time and space to meditate on the subject at hand. It cherishes the smallest moments in life. There are these encounters with strangers, women that don't end up amounting to anything, but cumulatively it speaks to lonely people looking for any kind of human contact. It's also a profoundly sad film as well. The ending sex scene is not at all what I thought it would be. Knowing that scene was coming adds a layer of tension to the proceedings that I hadn't expected, and you probably hadn't intended. The sex act is not a pleasant moment in your character's life.
V.G.: It's not sexually enhancing.
Capone: Right. It's not sexy. It's disturbing. [I said a little bit more about the ending here, but I don't want to give away any details.]
V.G.: So you picked up on that. That's great.
Capone: I wasn't always thinking about what was going on on the screen. More often I was contemplating what must be going through the Bud character's mind.
V.G.: There's a way to engage people in minimalism that's different than engaging them in titillation. My intention was, not in a direct plot, I wanted things to happen on a smaller level so that each thing had more importance. Things that seem less than ordinary or significant would have these metaphors that meant a lot. So that you'd prepared yourself of this idea and not remain desensitized to people's human experiences. You find out on the news that someone has been shot and killed. You can't imagine what that experience is like for the family. In fact, if you experience it yourself, you can't remember it years later. In sexual issues and intimacy issues, especially intimacy tragedy, it's hard to remember exactly your pathological course when you're in deep grief, especially romantic grief. I wanted to put the film in a slower continuity because when you're in that state of grief, you're suspended and time goes by slower and things make impressions on you because you're in another rhythm. The film has a sort of disturbing nature that is not sexually enticing. I remember I snuck a book out of a friends house when I was a kid, a book of deformed people, a freaks book. I looked at the pictures and they disturbed me on an emotional level because I started thinking about people's lives and what they were like and what they were thinking, and it remained in my mind for a long time. People's physical behavior in sexualized ways has always been a portrait to enhance sexuality, and I think it's disturbing to watch yourself or watch other people do things because you're no longer filled with sexual thought, you're more objective. There's something disturbing about that.
Capone: If I hadn't known that scene with Chloe was coming, I never would have guessing based on Bud's behavior up to that point that that scene was coming. It arrives out of no where. It's disturbing at all points, but particularly what you discover after the act is complete. You try to think whether you've ever experienced that kind of pain over someone to the extent Bud does. I don't think I have, but I'm not sure I never would either.
V.G.: I masturbate to only girls I've been in love with, people I've had relationships with. I only think about Bethany, a girlfriend that I broke up with four years ago. I haven't had a sexual thought about another girl since her. If I meet someone new and we get close, then that will be my new reference because that's how I am. When we first broke up, I had a lot of resentment, fear, and anger, and it was difficult to let my mind fill up with sexual thoughts. I even remember having thoughts of her with a guy I was jealous of, and there were all kinds of complicated thoughts. I never noticed I did things like that until I wrote this script. I never noticed that people did things like that. To sexualize somebody that you have so many unresolved feeling for is very intense.
Capone: And the last time Bud saw [Chloe Sevigny's character] Daisy was under such ugly circumstances.
V.G.: If you watch the film very carefully, he begins the sexual encounter by asking her if she likes it, does she like doing it to him. Then he starts to objectize her, he saw her do this, do that. When he climaxes, he's in the thick of that portion. Then he says, "I'm so stupid." As if he made a mistake again, as if letting her come over was something he should have known better about.
Capone: Do you feel that way about Bethany when you climax?
V.G.: No. I had so much love for Bethany. It was only for that brief moment when we first broke up that my sexual thoughts about her were complex. She's the love of my life, she's the girl I like the most. The saddest thing about today with Ebert was thinking about how I've never been able to be like he is with his wife with anybody before. We were only like that for a very short period of time because our relationship got corrupted. When I saw Ebert and his wife together, I'm sure they have their ups and downs, but they're a real couple. There's something beautiful about a real couple. And to be a part of a real couple, you have to be a real person. That's why I said I'll always know that he's a real person now because he can show up and be a real person in a relationship. I know that sounds hokey. People always talk about what they're looking for in a relationship, but you just become a person who is loveable, capable of giving love and getting love, and hope that you find someone like that as well.
Great interview, man. I agree with Gallo about Ebert and his wife. When they hosted me at the Overlooked Film Festival a few years ago, I was struck by what a great, interesting couple they are. Chaz is a real force of nature, and she’s not just there as Roger’s wife. She brings a lot to the table herself in every conversation, and she leaves a heck of an impression on everyone who meets her. It speaks well of Gallo that he was able to walk into that encounter so open-minded and walk away changed. I don’t think THE BROWN BUNNY is the film that people expect, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens once people actually get a look at it starting next weekend in New York and LA.