Monday, November 25, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On At the Movies #78 - Buffalo ’66 (1998, dir. Vincent Gallo)

“Just look like we are a married couple, *spanning time*!”

Vincent Gallo’s debut feature length film is a beautiful yet twisted love story. Simple and to the point, this film pulls no punches. The viewer is provided with a bird’s eye view of a blue-collar man dealing with life after being released from prison. Through the course of one day we follow an anxious, easily detestable, nervous wreck as he evolves and his true colors shine. Gallo’s film is deceptively simple and one of the most poignant love stories of modern independent cinema.
From the moment the film opens on Billy Brown, played by Gallo himself, exiting prison, a stark ambiance is set. The film is draped in greys and a haze permeates the scenery. The compositions and scenes are well thought out and remarkably executed by cinematographer Lance Accord. We’re immediately thrown into the meat of the story when jolted by an onslaught of jarring flashbacks from prison. Billy has a need to urinate, being turned away by a variety of different restrooms he ends up in a dance studio where the camera pans through the tap students, landing on Layla (Christina Ricci). From this point the chain of absurd events begins: Billy kidnaps Layla, forces her to drive him around, pretend to be his wife, and Billy starts his hunt for Scott Woods, the field goal kicker that ruined his life.
It is almost impossible to do the story line justice in such a short piece; the film follows the basic structure of a classic love story where the guy meets girl through random happenstance and while they don’t immediately fall together they develop feelings for each other. But there is another side to the story. Jean-Luc Godard once said, “All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl” – we’ve established the girl part of this equation, but we do also have the gun. Through a flashback we learn that Billy’s stint in prison was payment to a bookie for a bet he lost when the Buffalo Bills kicker (Scott Woods) missed a field goal. Billy believes that Woods missed the kick on purpose and has decided that he must kill Woods for ruining his life and then kill himself in order to not go back to prison. While Billy reluctantly falls for the quirky Layla there still burns a fiery desire for revenge. This all culminates in the most colorful, shocking and beautiful action sequence and a somewhat unexpected ending to this tale.
But, with all of that said the question still remains, what makes Buffalo ’66 such an amazing film? The brilliance of this film lies in the passion, the subtleties, and the idiosyncratic humor that embody the film and its players. Billy is not a loveable character; he’s brash, hot tempered, awkward and anxious, but as the film plays we grow to understand what made him who he is and his walls start to dismantle, exposing him as a vulnerable person. Billy’s transformation is brought on by the quixotic, beautiful and captivating Layla.  The key to this film is the two well-written main characters and brilliant performances of the actors who play them. Gallo plays Billy with an extreme passion, yet is amazing at subtly letting vulnerability shine through. This is coupled with Ricci’s ability to convey so much through facial expression and mannerisms having while very few short lines.
In addition to the performances of Gallo and Ricci (as well as the supporting cast including Ben Gazzara, Anjelica Huston, and Mickey Rourke to name a few), the delicate black humor and scattered forays into strange surreal sequences make this film truly something special. So why would I like to turn you on to this film? Because it is one of the most tantalizing, hilarious and touching stories that will capture your complete attention. It is a story surrounding characters that we are inclined to dislike and yet can’t help but love. So give this film a chance and “span” some time with Billy and Layla.
- Edward Hill

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