Buffalo '66

Vincent Gallo
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Vincent Gallo (original story & screenplay) & Alison Bagnall (screenplay).
Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquette, Anjelica Huston.
Screening Date:
  • 11 Feb 2020
  • Categories:
    Comedy, Crime, Drama

    After release from prison, Billy is expected to visit his parents with a wife, who doesn’t actually exist, so he kidnaps a girl to act as his wife. With a who's who American cast from the 80’s and 90's: Vincent Gallo, Christina Ricci, Ben Gazzara, Mickey Rourke, Rosanna Arquettte, Anjelica Huston.

    Film Notes

    Vincent Gallo's "Buffalo '66" plays like a collision between a lot of half-baked visual ideas and a deep and urgent need. That makes it interesting. Most movies don't bake their visual ideas at all, nor do we sense that their makers have had to choose between filming them, or imploding. Oh, and the film contains an astonishing performance by Christina Ricci, who seems to have been assigned a portion of the screen where she can do whatever she wants.

    Gallo plays Billy Brown, who is being released from prison when we first see him. He waits outside a long time, and then knocks on the gates, asking a guard if he can come back in to use the john. Turned away, urgently needing to pee, he takes a bus into town, is turned away at the bus station and the restaurant, and then barges into a tap-dancing class. While he's there, he grabs one of the students, drags her out, tells her she's being kidnapped and says she has to pretend to be his wife when he goes to visit his parents.

    This is Layla (Christina Ricci), who is dressed like Barbie as a hooker, and takes the kidnapping in stride: "Are your parents vegetarians? I hope so, because I don't eat meat--ever!" At Billy's house, we meet the parents. Dad (Ben Gazzara) glowers but doesn't speak. Mom (Anjelica Huston) has her eyes glued to the TV, where a tape of an old Buffalo Bills game is playing. She named her son for the team. The display of family photos includes Jack Kemp and O.J. Simpson. Eventually dad warms up to Layla, grabbing her clumsily and cooing, "I love my little daughter. Daddy loves his daughter." Later, he mimes to a record by a Sinatra sound-alike (actually, we learn from the end titles, Gallo's father).

    Gallo shot these scenes in his childhood home in Buffalo, and has said the parents are based on his own. His memories are like an open wound. Consider a flashback where his mother knows he's allergic to chocolate doughnuts, and feeds him some, anyway, and his face swells up like the Pillsbury doughboy. The movie plays like revenge time.

    But that's not all. Gallo, an angular and unshaven man with a haunted look, has acted for offbeat and experimental directors such as Abel Ferrara ("The Funeral"), Bille August ("House of the Spirits"), Mika Kaurismaki ("L.A. Without a Map"), Emir Kusturica ("Arizona Dream"), Claire Denis ("Nenette and Boni"), Mira Nair ("The Perez Family") and Kiefer Sutherland ("Truth or Consequences, N.M."). His career is proof that it is possible to work steadily and well in challenging and original films by gifted directors and remain almost completely unknown. Now, directing his own film at last, he seems filled with ideas that he wants to realize--sequences that spring to life even though they may have precarious attachments to the rest of the film.

    Consider his visit to the local bowling alley, still with Ricci as his hostage (he has named her "Wendy Balsam" and explained that they met "while overseas on assignment for the CIA"). Although he was in prison for six or seven years, his old locker is still waiting for him. (When they don't change your lock after you're sent to the Big House, that's a bowling alley with a heart.) He bowls, brilliantly. She, dressed like a finalist for Little Miss Sunbeam, does a tap-dance routine right there on the hardwood, while a spotlight follows her. What's this scene doing in "Buffalo '66"? Maybe Gallo didn't have any other movie he could put it in.

    We gradually learn a little of Billy's story, although nothing of Layla's. Carried away by the family obsession with the Buffalo Bills, he bet $10,000 he didn't have and lost it on a crucial missed field goal. His bookie (Mickey Rourke) forgave the debt, on condition he do the prison time for another guy. Now he wants revenge. Not on the bookie--on the placekicker.

    There's probably a dark and violent ending looming for the film, although there's a good chance, we think, that it may avoid it: The movie has stepped nimbly around all sorts of other obligatory scenes. "Buffalo '66" isn't really about endings, anyway. Endings are about conclusions and statements, and Gallo is obviously too much in turmoil about this material to organize it into a payoff.

    What we get is more like improvisational jazz, in which themes are introduced from other movies, and this one does riffs on them. Christina Ricci is like a soloist who occasionally stands up and takes the spotlight while the other players recede into the shadows, nodding and smoking. Why does her character go along with the kidnapping? Why does she throw herself into the role of "wife" with such zeal--and invention? Well, it's more interesting than if she was merely frightened and trying to escape. That would be the conventional approach. There's not a thing conventional about this movie.

    Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times,  7th August 1998.

    Alarmingly good writer-directorial debuts have been thick on the ground lately, but Vincent Gallo effortlessly trumps the lot. In the first place he's a hyphenate's dream - he's star, director, original story, co-screenwriter, music writer and performer. Oh and Vincent Gallo Sr gets in there too as Gallo's screen dad Ben Gazzara mimes to a song sung by Mr G.

    But if this sounds like a giant ego trip, don't be put off - it's disarmingly charming, perceptive, very funny and hugely original, and even makes last year's tiredest plot cliche - the bungled kidnap - work. If you know Gallo at all, it's probably from memorable acting turns in Palookaville and The Funeral. Here, he is a newly-released convict who has to visit his parents and produce the loving wife he's been lying to them about for years.

    So he kidnaps a complete stranger, Christina Ricci, from her tap-dance class (he's there as part of a lengthy, hilarious attempt to find what Americans insist on calling "the bathroom"). So you get the great bonus of Ricci in one of her double-whammy of blondes. In The Opposite Of Sex she's mistress of malice; here she's sweetly placid, doing her best to provide the glamorous background details of a non- existent life that Gallo's parents (Gazzara and Anjelica Huston, once Ricci's mum in the Addams family series) are far too self-absorbed to notice.

    What with Gallo's luminous, wild eyes and Ricci's disturbing resemblance to Miss Piggy, you can't take your eyes off either of this wonderfully bizarre duo. Gallo hits you with a range of superb set-pieces - check out his photo booth scene, his bed scene and a Ricci tap-dance in a bowling alley.

    He has his own style for flashbacks too and this is a colour film with a classic black-and-white mentality. Do rent it but beware - I thought I'd watch a bit before bedtime, and ended up hitting the sack at 2.20am, bleary-eyed but with a silly grin on my face.

    Rob Mackie, the Guardian, 9th  April 1999.


    What you thought about Buffalo '66

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    9 (21%) 25 (58%) 8 (19%) 0 (0%) 1 (2%)
    Total Number of Responses: 43
    Film Score (0-5): 3.95

    Collated Response Comments

    108 people were in attendance for Buffalo '66. We received feedback from 43 people, with a number only able to give a rating with no comment.

    This inability to add comments to the film might be summed up with one word that was used by a number of people - 'weird':

    "Well that was weird; but it had Christina Ricci in so that was good!"  "Glad it all worked out in the end. Rather weird though."  "Weird story, yet some how very watchable. With a mother like that no wonder he was messed up! Glad he found a girl in the end."

    "Buffalo 66 was a bizarre film. Primarily the film focusing on Billy’s life showed some seriously disturbing adult behavioural problems from Billy’s parents that reflected on Billy’s actions in life.  What was he yearning most, to be wanted or to be loved in life.

    It would have been interesting to have known what Layla’s lifestyle was before she meet Billy Brown. What was the message being conveyed in the film about Layla being continually treated so badly by Billy, like a dog always wanting to please the owner.

    Thank you for showing Buffalo 66."

    The performances and cinematography were, justifiably, called out by a number of people. 

    "Excellent photography! What a dysfunctional setup."  "Terrific performance by Christina Ricci."  "One of those films you don't enjoy whilst being able to appreciate the clarity of the film making and the acting. A few continuity blips, sadly."

    Overall, some very split opinions on a complex film.

    "Awful - story so disjointed. Foul language to the extreme. Anywhere else I would have walked out."  "It didn't quite 'bowl' me over but quite interesting."  "Really enjoyed this - funny and extremely sad at the same time."  "Very thought provoking."  "Original and full of original ways of shocking. Kept you guessing! Good that such a damaged person could find redemption in the end."  "Unusual - good ending! Not what I expected."  "What a contrast - dull Canada after colourful Uganda! Subtitles were really disruptive!"  "So so."  "What an unusual film - the script, scenario, and very funny despite the sad situation."  "Good film, engrossing, never quite sure what was going to happen next."

    "Great acting but completely ruined for me by the subtitles - was it for the hard of hearing?" 

    "Very entertaining Film. Stunning visually - I was horrified and amazed at the way the imaginary killings in the nightclub became works of art. Vincent Gallo gave an impressive performance as he transformed from violent ugly criminal to his much softer but loving self at the end of the film. All performances were excellent, I loved Angelica Hustons hilarious parody on a jewish mother and Christinia Ricci was mesmerising and never a victim."

    "This movie; Godard, filtered through budget versions of 'Mean Streets' and 'Twin Peaks' never seems able maintain it's intended trajectory and is much the better for it. Billy's simple goal, to play the hard man and exact a pointless revenge for his own stupidity on the Bills' hapless goal-kicker is constantly derailed by his own ghastly parents, burdensome past, transparent insecurities and utter lack of self analysis. It is from this that the bulk of the comedy derives and as such Gallo's is a generous performance as no-one, not even the Goon, looks as daft as he does. He is ably supported by the extraordinary, darkly luminous, Ricci, tap dancing to, of all things, King Crimson. The entrance of Arquette in a film of this level of turn of the century, indie cool is utterly inevitable. Most disturbing by far is the appearance of the surf god of 'Big Wednesday', Jan Michael Vincent as the raddled bowling alley owner. The febrile tone wanders between thriller and Coen Brothers comedy but in the end carves a unique path of its own and has more warmth than you'd expect and tremendous humour."

    "First of all I have to say yet again I found the subtitles very off-putting which really impaired the film experience. These audio-described subtitles in particular are very intrusive, and yet seem to be the "norm" for English language US films - I do hope the need for English subtitles is going to be reviewed again soon, I'm not sure I can sit through many more like this. The sound quality on this film was very good so they were really unnecessary (in my opinion).

    As to the film itself: I came away somewhat conflicted overall. I thought the acting was very good, Christina Ricci in particular was very natural and captivating, and Vincent Gallo gave a convincing performance of a rather nasty piece of work. Yet paradoxically these persuasive performances did not convince me of the storyline. Stockholm syndrome may be a real phenomenon but Billy is a nasty, pettily vindictive (e.g. the tripe scene) and pathetic person with no redeeming characteristics that could generate any appeal to Layla, surely? As an audience we get to see events from his childhood that have damaged his character development but Layla seems to fall for him without experiencing any glimmer of kindness nor (until perhaps quite late on) any insight in to what may have made him the way he is."

    "Well that was different! Some very good performances with the only likeable one being Christina Ricci as Layla! The other characters veered between the appalling, the odd and the sad. Never quite sure where it was going but nonetheless a surprisingly engaging film. I did, however, find the sub titles very intrusive and unnecessary for this film. Thanks."

    "I was really looking forward to seeing this film but sadly it was greatly diminshed by the size of the sub titles! I kept trying not to look at them but in some instances they took up a large portion of the screen and it detracted from the film a great deal."

    "A little slow to start, wondered whether to stay or go -  a little too much swearing, but then he was won round by  the  continuous affection of the girl he kidnapped and developed into a much kinder happier man.

    Well worth staying to see I  enjoyed the film and thought the acting was well done."

    "Astonishing, original (in many ways), certainly made you think, and, essentially, kept you watching, because of two things: its unpredictability, and the investment in the two main characters the film generates in the viewer, in spite of their unattractiveness (pace Christina Ricci).  Was not everyone glued to the screen to see what the next weird turn would be?

    Much was crudely done, right from the opening titles, but the sound, camerawork and storytelling were excellent. Acting brilliant throughout from an A-list cast: they clearly rate him. 

    Gallo is a one-off (read IMDB) but clearly talented; this is exactly the sort of left-field film GFS should be showing, amongst its other offerings."

    "Though gorgeous and inexplicably well-crafted, it lacks scope; far too content to swim in circles in a pool of Gallo's emotions to ever strike ground that truly resonates."  An extract from a review of Gallo's LP 'When', which is also apparently a one-man show.  The music has a strange fascination, as does his painting, and as does this film.  Reading an interview with him, I'm struck by the parallels with Warhol in the 70s.  An outsider who got noticed by being weird.  

    This is not a 'feel-good movie'.  But I suspect it appeals to the part of each of us who doesn't give a four-X for keeping up with the Jones's."

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