Viddy Well Recommends: Buffalo '66
Writer, director, star, and all around ego manic Vincent Gallo’s 1998 directorial debut is a magical experience. Self-consciously stylized and accessibly experimental, Buffalo ‘66 is a one of a kind, infinitely quotable, idiosyncratic dark comedy romance that you’ll definitely want to “span” time with.
After being released from prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Billy (Vincent Gallo) is set to visit his parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston) with his wife, whom he does not actually have. This provokes Billy to act out, as he kidnaps a girl, Layla (Christina Ricci) and forces her to act as his wife for the visit.
There’s something psychologically awry, deeply tragic, and wholeheartedly hilarious about Buffalo ‘66 that makes it a blast to watch every single time. In a weird way, it subverts your expectation at just about every turn, and it continuously unfolds in inventive and charmingly uproarious ways. The basic fundamentals of this kidnap-turned-romance romp are set into motion by a character needing to urinate, which immediately tells you the kind of realistic absurdity the film embraces. It’s also a humorous catlyst that builds to a highly funny moment of literal release.
Buffalo ‘66 is full of intriguing and oddly compelling moments like this; Ricci’s tap dancing interlude to King Crimson’s “Moon Child,” Ben Gazzara serenading Ricci with Frank Sinatra, the flashback’s to Billy as a little boy that inform the viewer of his dysfunctional relationship with his parents, the photo booth scene about “spanning time,” the strip club showdown — there are really just too many to name. These scenes are made all the more memorable by the film’s terrific ensemble cast that includes the likes of Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, and Keven Corrigan.
The film is essentially divided into two stories; Billy’s attempt to perpetuate the false narrative he concocted for his parents (who see right through him) while he was in prison, and his want for revenge against the Buffalo Bills kicker, Scott Wood (based of actually Bills kicker Scott Norwood) who blew the big game that landed him in prison. All narrative threads converge as Billy attempts to wrestle with his inner demons, loneliness, and depression, leading him closer and closer to Layla, who may be the real salvation he’s looking for.
The film’s visual style is simple, yet arresting. Released in the late 90s, the film has a unique look that sets it apart, harkening back to another era. This was achieved by using reversal stock to give the film a classic look similar to that of NFL film reels from the 1960s, with high color saturation and contrast. Gallo’s aesthetic swagger seems inspired by John Cassavetes and the French New Wave (namely Goddard), but is presented in a way that’s wholly unique.
The production had its fair share of difficulties due to Gallo’s megalomaniacal attitude, resulting in a bit of controversy surrounding the film’s visual flourishes. The film’s cinematographer, Lance Acord, is widely credited with the film’s distinct visuals, though Gallo maintains that he’s the creative persona behind the design of most of the film's cinematography, going so far as to say, “[Acord] had no ideas, no conceptual ideas, no aesthetic point of view."
Gallo shot the film in his childhood home in Buffalo, and he’s stated that the parents are based on his own — hopefully, that’s the only autobiographical aspect. In many ways, the film feels like Breathless or Pierrot le Fou filtered through an American lens and Gallo’s personal experience. With his memories like a wound unable to scab over, Gallo imbues Billy with a lot of pathos, allowing the audience to relate to him despite his morally reprehensible behavior.
Though Billy and Layla’s relationship is founded in thievery, a true connection is fostered over the course of the film’s events, which bursts with a surprising amount of heart and sweetness. Admittedly, Layla isn’t given the kind of development that’s given to Billy’s character, but subtly it's revealed that she is just as fragile and lonely as Billy. The more the film wears on the more we see how similar the pair are and how Layla could be the very thing that Billy’s been looking for, if only he’d drop his hate and aggression, and let the love in — something that’s ultimately decided while going out for a coffee.
Garnished with a really knockout third act that ends on such an adorable note, we feel that Buffalo ‘66 is the complete package. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who are receptive to its spell will be rewarded with something truly special that they’ll turn to time and time again. At least, that’s been the case for us.
Rating: 5 heart cookies outta 5.
If you’ve seen it, let us know what you think of the film? If you’ve never watched it, are you gonna check out Buffalo ‘66 now? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!