Buffalo ’66 (1998) dir. Vincent Gallo
Starring Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci
“Buffalo 66,” Gallo’s first film reminds of us of the early work of Martin Scorsese raw, urban, stylish and personal.
The place is the great city of Buffalo (Gallo’s hometown) 1996 – still reeling after the Bills lost the Super Bowl to the New York Giants (this features prominently in the film). Vincent Gallo’s character, Billy Brown, has just been released from prison as a result of some gambling on that fateful Super Bowl game. The first thing he needs to do is take a leak and proceeds to comb the city for a toilet which he has trouble finding. His next stop is his parents house – only problem is that he’s covered up his prison time with a story that he’s been employed by the CIA for 5 years. He also claims to have a wife, and when he’s asked to bring her over for dinner, he has no choice but to kidnap the first girl he sees. Enter Layla (Christina Ricci), a girl-next-door-alluring tap dancing student who happens to overhear Billy’s conversation with his parents. She is kidnapped by Billy and forced to attend his family dinner as his wife.
Despite the brutal kidnapping, Layla is smitten with Billy’s sad vulnerability and pathetic insecurities. Like a caring mother she actually reaches out to him and helps him in his plan to ‘impress’ his parents.
Enter Billy’s mom and dad – the ultimate deadbeat parents (hammed up by Angelica Huston and Ben Gazzera). Both are despicable parents who’ve alienated their son his entire life in favour of their beloved Buffalo Bills. The lengthy scene in their house is a classic, and obviously inspired by off some repressed emotional real life experiences.
Billy’s life is a shambles and the only way he feels he can do something about it is by taking revenge on the person who caused such hardships – Scott Woods (a thinly disguised Scott Norwood), the kicker who missed that final field goal in the Super Bowl. But Layla is in love with Billy and pleads for him to stay with her. Ah there’s the rub, the dilemma of the ages – he must therefore decide his future path – is he a lover or a fighter?
The film feels like an early Scorsese film – ie. “Mean Streets”, or “Taxi Driver”. – it’s grainy and raw, edited with New Wave jump cuts and 70’s rock music. In many ways Billy Brown feels like a Travis Bickle – naïve, unsure of his place in the world, a loner and social outcast. Billy doesn’t know how to love, but unlike Bickle, he is loved. Layla truly loves him and turns him away from the dark side of life. So the film turns into a love story. In fact, it’s is one of the great unconsummated love stories (ie. “Lost in Translation” or “In the Mood For Love”).
In many ways the film is a series of distinct and artistically rendered scenes reminiscent of Godard’s “Vivre Sa Vie” –ie. The dinner scene, Billy and Layla go bowling, Billy and Layla at Denny’s, Billy and Layla at the hotel, Billy in the strip club.
Billy’s confrontation with Scott Woods in the club is so good, though perhaps out of style with the rest of the movie but great as a piece of pure cinematic goodness. Set to the driving music of Yes, Billy enters the strip club in slo-mo (like De Niro entering the bar in “Mean Streets”) looking for Woods. The end of the scene is violent and boasts the first-ever use of the Matrix’s “Bullet time” effect. It’s beautiful and brilliant and worth the price of admission.
The final final scene of Billy in the donut shop has always puzzled me – it’s a virtual carbon copy of the scene in PT Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” towards the end when, Don Cheadle buys donuts for his wife. Though “Boogie Nights” was released only 3 months prior to Gallo’s film, I don’t know who stole from whom.
“Buffalo 66” is a classic auteur film – written, directed, starring and scored by Gallo himself. Gallo, who was a musician first, then an artist, then an actor then a director clearly has a unique artistic perspective. “Brown Bunny,” his next film, though intriguing, doesn’t live up to the promise of “Buffalo 66”, but Vincent Gallo still has the potential to be one of the great American filmmakers. Let’s hope his next one will wow us. Enjoy.
Buy it here: Buffalo '66
Please excuse the French dubbing of this clip: