“We’re taking pictures for my parents… Do you understand that? We’re taking pictures like we’re a couple. Like, we like each other. Like, we’re husband and wife, and we span time together. We span time together as a couple, because we’re a loving couple “spanning time” … Just look like you like me. That’s all I want. Just look like you like me.”
Billy Brown has just been released from prison. Before he visits his parents, he will first kidnap a young girl and force her to act as his wife for the duration of the stay. This is where Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ‘66 (1998) begins, but quickly becomes something far more complex and rewarding than you might imagine. Layla (played by Christina Ricci) simply accepts her situation, allowing Billy to reflect on his past, his insecurities, and possibly save his future. Written, directed, and starring Vincent Gallo as the titular Billy Brown, the film unfolds in a therapeutic and surreal fashion that never compromises it’s heart or vision.
Vincent Gallo is a nearly indescribable artist. He acts, directs, performs music, and perhaps most famously found a rival in film critic Roger Ebert over his second feature film The Brown Bunny (2003) . Despite the negative ethos that the public cast onto Gallo during his film making run in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, his work has stood the test of time and remains some of the most inspiring and unforgettable cinema that America has to offer. None of his efforts are more accessible or entertaining as his debut feature Buffalo ‘66.
The thematic elements are so meaty in Gallo’s movies, it’s almost no use in trying to “dissect” what he’s trying to say or not say. Much like the films of Terrence Malick, it’s about feeling a primal emotion within the characters and their world. The unsettling nature of Billy’s acts are juxtaposed by fragments of stark beauty. The most striking being a scene where Layla performs an almost Lychian tap dance in a bowling alley set to King Crimson’s Moonchild. Ricci choreographed the dance herself, and moments like these give the film that surrealist charm I mentioned earlier. You get the sense that many of the events could be unfolding in the characters minds. Time may stop, memories and the present may mix together.
Surrealism and vision is nothing without authenticity. Thankfully Buffalo ‘66 feels like a labor of love. All of the locations, costumes, and aesthetic choices feel painstakingly personal. The house that Billy’s parents occupy in the film is the actual house that Gallo grew up in as a child. Gallo has denounced the work of Lance Acord (the film’s cinematographer), but whether he was making the visual choices or not the film remains gorgeous to look at. Shot on 35mm Kodak Ektachrome with Zeiss super speed lenses, this is a must see on the biggest screen available.
Personally, I find it frustrating that Gallo has not publicly released a new film since The Brown Bunny (2003). His film Promises Written in Water (2010) was exclusively shown at TIFF a few years back before returning to the abyss. The man is clearly making art for himself, and perhaps he just doesn’t want to share. Regardless, I will be here if/when he decides to come back. If you would like to take a deep dive into the work of Vincent Gallo, BUFFALO ’66 is currently streaming for free on Tubi. You can also rent it on Amazon Prime, Vudu, and Google Play (starting at $3.99).