Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Buffalo '66 (1998) - A Parable about Finally Growing Up

Either Vincent Gallo is your cup of tea or he isn't.  I think he is great in the right role, and, for me, this is the right role for him.  He plays a small-time hustler with big-time obsessions, and he does it so well that you'd swear he studied that guy you knew years ago.  You know, that guy, the one who sold used cars, or watches, or drugs, or just knew how to scam people without them really minding.

In some ways, this may be the most politically incorrect film you ever watch.  And I don't mean those phoney "un-pc" films that Hollywood churns out which fake you out by making fun of a few minor pc rules, but otherwise actually follow the fundamental pc orthodoxy slavishly.  This one has a kidnapped girl (Christina Ricci) falling in love with her abductor.  That it all flows so smoothly and almost logically is a testament to the performances of Gallo and Riccei.

This is a small film.  It focuses on one, idiosyncratic loner and what he does one day out of sheer orneriness.  It is entertaining, but only if you like that sort of thing.  Do you like art-house cinema?  If so, see this sometime.

Buffalo 66 is filmed linearly, as one (very full) day in a man's life. But the actual events are not merely a slice of life - that misses the entire meaning. The tale itself is contrived to show a single, simple reality of life. The film makes you step outside the box. Nicely done.

It all boils down to a horribly put-upon man's final moment of truth, when face-to-face with his bloated, champagne-swilling Nemesis, the hatred of whom kept him going for five years in prison. Everything preceding that once-in-a-lifetime, wrenching moment of truth should be seen as an impressionistic survey of the influences that molded him and brought him there.

Sure, having a kidnapped girl fall for him, as presented, is implausible and flies in the face of everything society is telling us is good and decent.. That misses the point. The kidnapping itself is a metaphor, that somehow in his miserable life the man at some point somehow, to his lights undeservedly, snagged some happiness. The deeper point is the wonder in that fact that we all, at least hopefully, despite all of our neuroses and flaws and obnoxiousness, somehow find someone that enriches us. In a way, his cruelty in his way of introduction may be seen as commentary on how much we all take for granted in our lives, and how little we understand the grace of what we have despite all the overbearing forces that work against us. The tap-dancing scene shows that we can build our own happiness even in the shabbiest of circumstances, if we just have the will.

Do a little dance, make a little love, it's all right, it's all right....

The parents are way over-the-top (but for some of us who grew up in the '70s, not as much as you might think). The cheesy house and decor, and indeed almost every dismal thing in the film, brought back some memories of my own, I might add. Having his parents blame his birth for missing the big game, that's a Master's touch. Their almost predatory behavior toward him, their utter banality and callousness, it all boils down to a possible excuse/justification for his fate. The question is, does he take it?

His friends are overly imbecilic and pathetic, but the point here is that our loser friends (and we all have some) cannot be the cause OR solution to our own problems. And, in their own way, they are a gift, too, particularly as portrayed by his fabulously loyal friend at the bowling alley, who also provides a window into the soul of the protagonist. What did he do to merit that adoration? There are redeeming features there, however buried under a mountain of attitude.

As an aside, for anyone with any familiarity at all with the Bills or Norwood, the portrayal of Scott Woods is hilarious.

The moment of clarity? It deals with the futility of blame, the emptiness of revenge, and the liberation of self-responsibility. Woods finally stepped up to the plate and took his swing against destiny (and missed). This is another man's turn at the plate. And he doesn't miss.

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