Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Spanning Time"

At a screening of a rare print of Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66 last night, I realized I was having a strange, but rather glorious first-time cinema experience.  I had the seen the film, in fact, programmed it, during its initial run in 1998, nearly 15 years ago (!).  I probably saw the film first in the NY market in the summer of '98 and then again in the Fall when we booked it in Madison.  Last night was the first time I'd seen it since those couple times I watched it projected in '98.  I don't believe I've had that happen with another film before.  I recall liking the film quite a bit back then, though I was annoyed by Gallo's off-screen antics--calling critics and claiming complete creative ownership of the film, loudly proclaiming his Republican allegiances, etc.  Seeing the film now, in my mid-30s, I appreciated and really loved it even more than I did the first time around.

I was 20 when it was released and saw just about every indie release at the time.  For a cinephile and aspiring filmmaker, this was a rather inspiring, special time.  And, Buffalo '66 was certainly one of those inspiring, exciting films.  But, I, of course, didn't truly recognize nor quite appreciate what a golden age it would prove to be.  And, as that time also encompassed my college years, as well as the death of my father, there's a certain degree of pain and sadness associated with it, not only for the loss of a loved one, but also for the subsequent waning of the idealism and hopefulness that comes with being that age.  I pushed, actively or not, films like Buffalo '66 out of my consciousness for awhile.  Revisiting this one was a revelation for me.

As co-screenwriter Alison Bagnall said in the q & a that followed last night's screening, the script is filled with moments and dialogue that are funny and sad at the same time.  I definitely laughed more watching it now than I recall doing in '98, but I also embraced and felt the melancholy underlying the entire film.  Seeing the recently deceased Ben Gazzara, still appearing fit and formidable, as Gallo's father, was quite moving.  The same goes for seeing the tragic, once-beautiful Jan-Michael Vincent in a small role as a bowling alley proprietor; Vincent had already destroyed his voice box in an auto accident and looked ravaged by years of alcohol and drug abuse, but it was nothing compared to the state he is in now.  Mickey Rourke, who I'd forgotten appeared here, looks somewhere in between his formerly beautiful self and the post-surgery / post-boxing / post-steroids human concoction that he has become.

Major props go to Gallo for doing whatever he did to get these actors, along with the amazing Rosanna Arquette and Angelica Huston (admittedly, something of a weak link here), to agree to act in this oddball, funny / sad, ugly / beautiful (like the aforementioned Coonskin) masterpiece.  This is a '90s film, that unlike so many others that try and fail to, genuinely recalls the best of '70s cinema.  In spite of (or because of?) its auteur's bedeviling mix of vanity and "fuck all" attitude, it retains a vitality and a purity of spirit, along with a refreshing lack of bullshit sentimentality, that are way too rare and precious in any age.

As with all of the films we programmed at my university, we had countless trailers, one-sheets, and stills, which we ordered from the likes of National Screen Service and Consolidated.  We, of course, taped and stapled these things all over the place to promote the screenings.  Afterwards, the posters went to us programmers.  Many adorned my walls over the years, Buffalo '66 being one of those.  When I tired of one, I'd give it to a friend.  How I wish I'd hung onto my Buffalo '66 poster...aside from the fact that it is now quite rare and pricey, it had a gorgeous black and white image of Gallo and co-star Christina Ricci printed on heavyweight paper stock.  Best of all was the treatment of the title on the poster--it was filled with actual, glued-on silver glitter.  But, similar to the baseball cards and comics of my parents' generation, albeit on a much smaller scale, I didn't really value these films or their ephemera as much as I perhaps should have.  I was, and remain, fascinated by things that came before my time, that I was not able to actually "experience" when they were new.  And, so all those great posters that we used the hell out of, have gone to who knows where.

According to my friend, filmmaker Alex Ross Perry, who "presented" the screening last night, it's "possibly the last narrative feature shot entirely on 35mm reversal stock" and, let me tell you, it looked gorgeous.  It's a bloody shame, and then some, that Lionsgate doesn't actually have any 35mm prints circulating anymore (the print, along with the film's brilliant trailer, last night came courtesy of a collector).  I won't watch it in any other format, save for a well-authored Blu-ray (if that comes along).  Alex's own Buffalo '66-inspired cinematic statement, The Color Wheel, opens soon and was the occasion for this screening. 

Something also needs to be said for the very smartly-chosen soundtrack.  I love the pitch-perfect use of Yes's "Heart of the Sunrise." At that point, in '98, I'd burned or sold all the Yes records I adored as a high school geek in favor of punk and indie, but man, did this film make this tune cool and relevant again.  Now, as is typical, I've re-bought the best of those classic Yes LPs in remastered, reissued form.  The trailer, which does not appear on the DVD, is quite piece of art on its own, separate from the film, which it promotes.  I'm guessing it's absent because the Yes song appears throughout and would probably have to be licensed for re-use separately from the film itself, which surely got some sweetheart licensing deals, as evidenced by the special thanks in the credits to Yes, Jon Anderson, King Crimson, et al.

I guess the point of all this is to say that we, or I, should make sure not to undervalue or discard things--movies, albums, books, whatever--that we are able to experience as they are first released, in favor of the things that came before.  I will continue to worship at the figurative altar of my heroes that pre-date me, but I will more actively embrace the impressive works that have come during my adulthood and which prove to stand the test of time.  I guess that means re-looking at things like Dream With the Fishes, The Hanging Garden, Dreamlife of Angels, The Daytrippers, Happiness, and many others.  I hope some of them hold up.

Before Instagram.


Her, Suzanne76 said...

i too have strong memories of seeing this film screen the first time around... i was beyond a hot mess of a shell of a person (see BROWN BUNNY for details...) at the time BUFFALO was released, but i still made it out to ansmellika to be totally bowled over and amazed by the film.

ive revisited it several times since on DVD, and it always feels fresh + thrills. It is a strange film, it's strangeness coming less from the obvious source (the purposefully uncomfortable humiliation on display and the comic/tragic relationships/tone), and more from still mysterious ones: the oddness and dissonance of gallo's looks + voice, the bizarre reactions of his parents to his pain, the music, the patience exerted by Ricci's character in the face of the desperation of almost everyone else... Ned, i really appreciate what youve shared here on a personal level.

Ned Merrill said...

Thanks, Her, Suzanne76,

Your comments and reactions are mucho appreciated.

You hit the nail on the head with regards to the film's strangeness and the appeal of said strangeness.

bill teck said...

Great post Ned. Love how personal it is. Made me think bout when i saw said thing too. I was wrestling with 'the crushing hand of fate' and basically bummed and cynical about movies and hating Vince Gallo for all the reasons you mentioned. And then i saw it and for me, it affected me very profoundly and emotionally - i got Involved in a movie like i hadn't in ages. Was on my feet, yelling at the TV. I was so INTO it. Made me believe in what movies could do again. Prob too much praise but that's how it affected me personally. Thanks for the post man.

Anonymous said...

I interviewed Gallo in 1998. He was actually incredibly sweet, kind, humble and very very very smart. He played me micro cassettes of him writing Buffalo 66. Alison Bagnall is heard only laughing and the one time she made a suggestion Gallo screams shut up and listen. Gallo told me Bagnall only recorded and transcribed the script and in exchange for her time Bagnall was given the chance to find money to direct the film. She failed at that and years later when Gallo was to begin production on his film she filed a lawsuit for money feeling like she should get paid as she was convinced Gallo was making a ton. She wanted $100,000 and Gallo to avoid a delay in production because of a lawsuit, agreed to give Bagnall his entire salary of $10,000 and shared script credit. It is very strange to hear Bagnall is still actually taking credit instead of telling stories of how great it was to be able to witness a wild Gallo writing his masterpiece.

Ned Merrill said...


Thanks sharing your personal experiences with the film...very that it affected you so deeply.


Fascinating stuff...those are some pretty big, to say the least, revelations, if all true. To be fair, during the q & a, Bagnall did not stake all that much claim to the writing of the script; she indicated that she functioned as a second set of eyes and ears for Gallo and suggested where he might tone something down / take something out or go in the opposite direction and emphasize / play something up. There was no mention of a lawsuit, etc.

J.D. said...

Fantastic review! I love this film also. It has an energy and vitality that has aged very well and, as you pointd out, also reminds me of just how great the '90s were for indie cinema. Watching this again also makes me wish Gallo would direct more films. He shows a great eye for details and gets some pretty amazing performances out of the cast. Too bad he is such an ego maniac, bad-mouthing Ricci over the years but that's all part of the crazy package that is Vincent Gallo.

I have a friend who lives in Buffalo and swears to the authenticity of how depressing the city looks and feels in the film. Whenever we get together he points out where everything was shot, which I always get a kick out of.

Ned Merrill said...


Thanks so much, man. Yeah, I have heard that Buffalo natives vouch for the authenticity of the Buffalo seen in BUFFALO '66. Very cool that your pal is able to give you some firsthand knowledge in this regard. I appreciated Ricci's performance a lot more this time around than when I saw it in '98...had to be pretty difficult to be 18 and standing toe to toe with Gallo throughout an entire film.