Saturday 31 October 2020

1,001 Films: "Buffalo '66" (1998)

Buffalo '66, passive-aggressive hood Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo) is released from jail after serving five years for a crime somebody else committed. Stopping off at a community centre for a pee, he pressgangs blonde bombshell Kayla (Christina Ricci) into posing as his girlfriend, in a desperate attempt to prove himself worthy of his gridiron-obsessed parents (Anjelica Huston and Ben Gazzara), perkily covering up their disdain for a son whose birth caused them to miss a crucial championship game. Gallo's riffy, noodly, meandering directorial debut (it has Yes and King Crimson on the soundtrack, which should tell you a lot) has a distinctive, straight-to-camera aesthetic, with images that open up like memories within other images, as in Peter Greenaway's equally fidgety The Pillow Book of a few years earlier. Yet it's a curious film, and you'll need a high tolerance for its editor-writer-composer-director-star, because the other people on screen are chiefly there to show Billy Brown some love (or be derided for not showing Billy Brown enough love), when Gallo himself isn't centre-screen showing off.

Buffalo '66 fixes Gallo's American-Morrissey star persona - that of the impossibly sensitive loner (motto: "You wanna stay, stay; I'm going") prone to brooding over lost loves and dead pets - which was later to reappear in 2003's The Brown Bunny; only here, rather than have sex with the female lead, his hero chooses to lie fully clothed with Kayla in bed, or they go bowling instead. (Someone should write a thesis on the centrality of bowling to the late 20th century indie pic: there was nude bowling in Dream with the Fishes, paedophile bowling in The Big Lebowski...) Most viewers, I suspect, will find Billy Brown a bit of a plonker: he's an apparently heterosexual male who - after five years behind bars, you'll remember - spends the entire film resisting the advances of Christina Ricci, at that moment in time (circa The Opposite of Sex) when it looked like the actress might well conquer the world. Weirdly autobiographical - heaven only knows what a Gallo family reunion must be like - and yet oddly conventional with it, it belongs to the same "you can never go home" subgenre that yielded the quieter, less self-conscious, better written Grosse Pointe Blank and Beautiful Girls. You can tell from the glint in his eye, and the casting of Gazzara, that Gallo really wanted this to bust the American cinema wide open, for it to become his generation's The Killing of a Chinese Bookie; what actually happened is that no-one got much past the first hour, and we ended up with Meet the Parents instead.

Buffalo 66 is currently unavailable in any format.

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