The upcoming Cannes Film Festival will mark the 15th anniversary of the infamous world premiere of Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny.” The arthouse drama, starring Gallo opposite Chloë Sevigny, competed for the Palme d’Or in 2003 and caused outrage for an explicit sex scene between the actors. Roger Ebert notoriously panned the movie and called it the “worst film in the history of Cannes,” and now Gallo is bashing Ebert in a personal essay written for Another Man.
According to Gallo, the inappropriate way Ebert behaved during the Cannes screening affected the entire festival reaction to “The Brown Bunny.” Ebert allegedly started “ranting” aloud in the screening room within the first 20 minutes of the movie and never gave it the chance to win him over.
“It is outrageous that a single critic disrupted a press screening for a film chosen in main competition at such a high profile festival and even more outrageous that Ebert was ever allowed into another screening at Cannes,” Gallo writes. “His ranting, moaning and eventual loud singing happened within the first 20 minutes, completely disrupting and manipulating the press screening of my film.”
Once people heard how Ebert reacted to “The Brown Bunny” during its first screening, Gallo says the film never stood a chance at Cannes. The first public screening had people “booing, laughing and hissing” just during the opening credits before the film even started.
“The public, who had heard and read rumors about the Ebert incident and about me personally, heckled from frame one and never stopped,” Gallo says.
Ebert eventually changed his mind about “The Brown Bunny” and gave the movie a “thumbs-up” following a re-edit Gallo made after Cannes. But Gallo calls out Ebert and says that his cuts weren’t drastic enough to change somebody’s mind about the movie. Original reports said Gallo shaved off 24 minutes from the Cannes cut in his re-edit, but the director writes that it was only about eight minutes. Gallo apparently lied about the film’s runtime at Cannes
“The running time I filled out on the Cannes submission form was arbitrary,” he writes. “The running time I chose was just a number I liked. I had no idea where in the process I would actually be when I needed to stop cutting to meet the screening deadline. So whatever running time was printed in the program, I promise you, was not the actual running time. And the cuts I made to finish the film after Cannes were not many.”
For this reason, Gallo finds it improbable that Ebert could go from hating the film to liking it just by watching a version of it with eight minutes cut off.
“If you didn’t like the unfinished film at Cannes, you didn’t like the finished film, and vice versa,” Gallo says. “Roger Ebert made up his story and his premise because after calling my film literally the worst film ever made, he eventually realized it was not in his best interest to be stuck with that mantra.”
Gallo compares his experience at Cannes in 2013 to being Donald Trump. Ebert was essentially spreading “fake news,” as Gallo sees it.
“Thankfully, these days Donald Trump has at least created some doubts about everything related to the press,” he writes. “In 2003 I was the Donald Trump of Cannes and anything I said or did was twisted and filtered through the righteous tabloid barbarians posing as journalists and critics.”
The director went on to make “Promises Written in Water” in 2010. You can read his entire personal essay, which includes thoughts on Harvey Weinstein and Quentin Tarantino, over at Another Man.