Known for bringing smaller films onto a global stage simply by praising them, the late Roger Ebert was also candid when it came to films he reviled.
There's one such confection of celluloid Ebert so famously hated it became known simply due to the reviewer's vitriolic prose.
"The Brown Bunny," written, directed, and starring Vincent Gallo, was that film.
When Ebert first screened the 2003 film, also starring Chloë Sevigny, at Cannes, he told reporters it was the worst movie ever shown at the famed annual festival in France. He also wrote a scathing review and is said to have been so bored during the screening, he started singing "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" out loud.
"I have not seen every film in the history of the festival, yet I feel my judgement will stand," Ebert said of his damning assessment of Gallo's film. Ebert contended that "The Brown Bunny" offended audiences "not because of sex, violence, or politics, but simply because of its awfulness." He noted that the Cannes audience was restless, many walked out of the screening, and that the film was "so unendurably boring that when the hero changes into a clean shirt, there [was] applause."
The film chronicles the cross-country journey of motorcycle racer Bud Clay (Gallo) who is haunted by memories of his ex, Daisy (Sevigny). "Imagine long shots through a windshield as it collects bug splats," Ebert wrote of the film's tediousness in his initial Cannes review.
Gallo fought back, insulting Ebert for being overweight and even, strangely, put a curse on his colon.
Ebert adeptly responded, "It is true that I am fat, but one day I will be thin, and he will still be the director of 'The Brown Bunny.'"
Ebert's written acknowledgment of Gallo's insults included the unforgettable line, "I had a colonoscopy once, and they let me watch it on TV. It was more entertaining than 'The Brown Bunny.'"
But something happened after all that venom was traded. Gallo released a re-edited version of his film, and Ebert wrote review numero dos -- giving the new version marginal praise and three stars. "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," the late film critic wrote.
Ebert added in his final analysis that editing is the soul of cinema. Way to take the high road!
Follow me on Twitter (@meriahonfiah)