Buffalo '66

Buffalo '66 ★★★★★

She brings the sunshine to a rainy afternoon;
She puts the sweetness in, stirs it with a spoon.
She watches for my moods, never brings me down;
She puts the sweetness in, all around.
She knows just what to say to make me feel so good inside.
And when I'm all alone I feel I don't want to hide, hide, hide.

Imagine if Blue Velvet met Lost in Translation, swirling a blend of Indie Americana, New Age Isolation, & the French New Wave. Cooler than Godard and at times warmer than Coppola, Vincent Gallo's vivaciously assembled debut shows the perfect combination of egotism and unparalleled drive. One can say Gallo verges on the line of narcissism, confidence gone awry and all; but this only heightens the realism in his performance and already motivated direction.

Buffalo ’66 is a showcase in Gallo’s control over the medium. Through playful editing, orgasmic shot compositions, provocative & unexplored subject matters, and elements to love from almost every genre; it doesn’t take a self-proclaimed cinephile to recognize this as a masterwork and piece of art in the highest degree.

On the first watch this was a very different experience, we follow Billy through an infuriating yet partially comedic beginning and are entranced by Layla from the moment she first enters the frame. Her innocent, beguiling demeanor is almost unreal; yet Ricci can pull it off effortlessly. The character of Layla is compelling in the sense that she’s presented in the manner a fantasy would at points, the haunting tap-dance scene to “Moonchild” comes to mind. It’s as if she’s a pixie, a wake-up call to Billy to change his self-destructive ways. After the spotlight is put on her (literally, and metaphorically) we come to the realization that the film demands us to analyze two characters.

Billy is the epitome of a man-child. A frightened adolescent in need of love who puts up a violent, and criminal exterior to hide his true emotions. He may treat people like a monster often, but deep down he’s lost. Some of his terrible acts done on impulse (ex: kidnapping) are inexcusable, as an audience we aren’t asked to accept it; just ponder. Layla has her own problems as well, far beyond typical “daddy issues” or the need to fill a void, there’s a certain something she sees in Billy which motivates her to aid him without putting up a fight. The scene where Billy forces her to stop driving to take his much-needed piss, she could have easily drove off or even hit him with the car. This is the first moment in which I realized there were deep problems with her character as well; human characteristics which distinguished a clear line between theory of her being a fantasy.

Layla feels an attraction to Billy enough to forgive him for unforgivable deeds, or push him to not commit any more. Ricci’s performance is so delicately done that even if we cannot understand who she’s portraying very well and why she makes the decisions she makes, we can sympathize with it. It isn’t Stockholm Syndrome per say, yet a need for intimacy and a possible attraction to Billy’s assertiveness. She senses empathy no matter how deep it’s buried, and I think that adds to the mystery of her character along with not knowing her background; very likely a troubled one.

Misogynistic has become an increasingly easy term to throw around, but not once does Buffalo ’66 glorify kidnapping, or emotional pressure Billy has pushed onto Layla. One could say that he used her as a punching bag for his bottled-up anger and I’d be obliged to agree. This is a love story to its core and whether you approve or agree with choices of the characters is your choice to make.

Personally, I see how Layla & Billy suit each other and their needs are more than fulfilled when Billy experiences his character arc. Buffalo is much more of a character study and emotionally draining genre-hybrid picture than your typical love-story, not advocating or condoning every presented action. There is no misogynistic romanticism or misogyny in general, Layla changes Billy by showing him the presence of a second life and that to me leads to one of the most beautiful changes in character/film finales I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. A heart cookie and hot chocolate don’t make what he did okay, but it’s a way he expresses his true love and complete flip in setting priorities straight. There’s a warmth in their relationship not present at the beginning, 100% romantic and 0% erotic. It’s quite the spectacle for the eyes and experience for the heart.

From the Frank Sinatra scene, Moonchild scene, and flamboyant strip-club scene; Gallo’s want to juxtapose light & dark with dreams & reality become more noticeable. Billy’s dad is seen in a different light (again, both literally & metaphorically) while singing, Layla is intrigued as she only sees his surface. This is following a disturbing flashback which informs us he killed Billy’s dog as a child and wasn’t ever a very loving father, and during this short pause of otherworldly beauty the camera cuts back to Billy holding the picture crying. It shows us the attractive appeal to suburbia then reminds us there’s nothing perfect about it, reminiscent to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet. Same with the tap dance scene, in the world of the film laws are endless. In both Pierrot Le Fou & Blue Velvet we see people passionately dancing to music go mostly unnoticed in public places, almost breaking the fourth wall. The strip-club scene is what would happen if Lynch & De Palma decided to collaborate, and my God is it glorious.

Picking the best scene in this is tough as there are so many of profound beauty and memorability, yet I can confidently say the ending/events following Billy’s arc. It’s tear-evoking in its emotional impact and absolute cinematic perfection.

This is one of the greatest American films ever made. Actually, fuck it; one of the best films in general. I say that with no exaggeration.

Top 20 on my first watch and top 10 on my second. We’ll see where it rises from there. If you haven’t seen this, do yourself a Goddamn favor!

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