Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Brown Bunny

In class on Tuesday, Rachel brought up the idea that “you have to know the rules before you can break them." It may have been her dad that used to say that. I don’t know if I agree or not, but the phrase definitely has merit within the art world. Another thought: does context define literature?

I think an interesting example is the 2003 film The Brown Bunny, which included a gritty fifteen-minute unsimulated blowjob but was definitely not porn. Because it was made by Vincent Gallo, greasy filmmaker darling of the hipster cinema world, it was considered art, and admirable, edgy art at that. (actually this is not 100% true. I found the film pretentious, self-indulgent, and boring and so did a lot of legitimate film critics. I mean, most of it was Vincent Gallo blown up to 35mm driving across the country in silence and some disconcerting groaning at the end.) Again, I’ll repeat what Rachel said: “you have to know the rules before you can break them.” We could argue that Vincent Gallo, as a somewhat-respected and seasoned filmmaker, knows the rules. So, was it okay for him to break them here? Does his conscious breaking of the rules make this film more legitimate than the amateur internet porn clip it resembles? Someone obviously thought so, because it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

On to context. Terry Eagleton explains on page 8 of Literary Theory that we can describe a work either functionally or ontologically, and this distinction can make all the difference in how it is received and interpreted. So, does this film’s functional role in the social context of the avant-garde art world as an experimental art film to watch and enjoy as a piece of culture, instead of a low-budget masturbatory aid (sorry to be vulgar,) render it a more valuable, viable art form? In what Eagleton calls ontological terms, both are kind of the same thing. They shock, maybe excite, the viewer by portraying a raw, intimate sex act. Again, this film made its debut at Cannes. So one is received as more culturally acceptable and valuable than the other because of its social context and its functional definition.
Jesus Christ, this is getting too conceptual for me. You are all right, the whole thing does turn into a cycle. See you tomorrow!

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