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Vincent Gallo is best known for his explicit sex scene in ‘Brown Bunny’, or perhaps he’s known for his provocative ‘artistic’ streak. It all depends on perspective and that’s one of the key storytelling devices used in ‘Buffalo ‘66’.
Billy is a man who has just re-entered society. Released from prison he finds that no one is willing to have him. After trying to get back into prison, he takes a bus into town in search of a bathroom. A restaurant refuses him so he heads into a tap dancing class but instead of using the bathroom, he kidnaps young female student, Layla instead.
He tells Layla that she will be his guest for dinner at his parent’s house. She has to act like his wife and oddly enough she seems happy with the opportunity. She skips along, dressed in blue tights, with a blonde bob. Gallo’s Billy is skinny too, but his appearance is angular contrasting the soft edges of Layla.
What’s interesting about Gallo’s film is the way that the story is told. His parents don’t speak much, but when they do it’s overt, and theatrical. Billy and Layla’s relationship is strained for the most part but there’s something there that ensures it doesn’t quite feel like the kidnapping that it is.
Billy is a stunted character. The film opens with an image of him aged 7, the only photo his parents have of him, and it becomes apparent that he hasn’t grown up, and his parents haven’t helped things either. He’s not a likable character, he’s a man who inspires pity, and this is likely why Layla wants to help him, even after experiencing his narcissistic tendencies.
Gallo is known for his offensive storytelling choices. The notorious ending to the ‘Brown Bunny’ left audiences shocked and his character Billy contains all of the off-putting traits associated with Gallo as a person. That’s perhaps the biggest turn off with ‘Buffalo ‘66’, that and Layla’s almost immediate acceptance of her captive position.
But in amongst the uncomfortable narrative choices Gallo hopes that Billy’s inherent charisma, and his need of saving, will convince us that he’s a harmless little boy who has yet to grow up.
The best moments in ‘Buffalo ‘66’ take place in vignettes, many stand apart from the wider narrative. There’s the opening sequence that introduces the cold and institutionalised interiors of prison, there’s the loneliness for Billy when no one comes to pick him up, and of course the photographs that establish Billy’s childhood and his relationship with his parents.
There’s one specific moment that stands out and it involves Layla. Billy takes her to his local bowling alley, and Layla tap dances under a spotlight to a King Crimson song. It’s a moment that expresses beauty in amongst the lies and it sticks out for its honesty, and for its poignancy. Even in captivity Layla dances.
Gallo’s film is certainly a polarising one. It relies on low budget visuals, an abrasive lead character, and a quiet and oddly subservient captive. For Layla she has her moment of self-expression in the dance sequence. Billy’s moment of honesty comes right at the end of the film.
Gallo uses a similar time stopping effect to the one made famous by ‘The Matrix.’ Without spoiling the ending, the moment stands out as one belonging to Billy, one free of the lies and mythology that he has built up throughout the film.
Great underrated movies like ‘Buffalo ‘66’ don’t conform to traditional storytelling formats. In any other movie Layla wouldn’t go along with Billy so easily, she would fight for her autonomy, and there’s no way that she would accept the position he puts her in.
But this isn’t a usual story. Gallo’s film is arrogant, self assured, and narcissistic. It reflects the actor and his approach to filmmaking and you can only approach this film with the knowledge that it’s a Vincent Gallo creation.
It isn’t a film that tells a coherent story. By the end of the film audiences will be asking if it was Layla who was lied to, or them. Did this story happen? Or is it simply a construct that belongs to Billy? It doesn’t really matter. Billy has a great imagination and Gallo captures this story through artistic visuals, dreamy vignettes, and the great chemistry between Layla and Billy.
‘Buffalo ‘66’, and other underappreciated movies like it are often off putting, they don’t always come across as entertaining or enjoyable. But if you accept the strangeness, embrace the oddities, then you’ll be rewarded by a twisted version of the classical tale of boy meets girl.
Are you a fan of Vincent Gallo’s work? Or do you find his narcissism unwatchable?
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