Tag Archives: Ben Gazzara

CAPSULE: BUFFALO ’66 (1998)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Vincent Gallo, , , ,

PLOT: When Billy Brown looses a $10,000 bet he can’t pay for the Buffalo Bills to win the Superbowl, he’s forced to do prison time for a crime he didn’t commit; when he’s released from jail, he kidnaps a random girl to pretend to be his wife in order to pull the wool over the eyes of his unwitting parents, who think he’s working for the government.

Still from uffalo '66 (1998)
WHY IT SHOULDN’T MAKE THE LIST: There’s not a scrap of strange and fantastic here, and sometimes the stark realism is agonizing and tedious. Vincent Gallo portrays Buffalo, New York as a soulless town with a cast of idiots. Buffalo ’66 plays like a Daniel Clowes comic but without the eccentricity: dazed and dissociated people wander through a wasteland of football, TV, chain diners, and strip joints. Unlike in Clowes, the protagonist comes out of it a changed man.

COMMENTS: Vincent Gallo plays Billy Brown, a guy who really needs to pee. He spends nearly the first twenty minutes of the movie looking for a place to go and, in the process, reveals that he’s an incorrigible jerk by beating up a stranger in a bathroom he deems a “faggot” and kidnapping a girl to pass off as his wife. Perpetually peeved, Billy even bothers to complain about how filthy the windshield is during the kidnapping in which he also fusses about how he can’t drive her “shifter car.” Finally, once in a residential neighborhood, Billy gets out of the car and pees, releasing his anger and annoyance in urine. But where does it all stem from? Why is this guy such a jerk? Via overlapping flashbacks displayed while Billy lies on a park bench in a monochrome landscape of grey, we watch his monotonous jail time: glimpses of water fountains and chess games. He goes from grey to grey, from the prison to Buffalo, New York, in winter. It’s a place where, in a football-centric household, his parents stare vacantly into space and shove food in his direction. His dad is a retired lounge singer totally uninterested in his son, but he takes a sexual interest in Billy’s fake wife, Layla. Billy’s sugar n’ sunshine mother, dolled up in her Buffalo Bills merchandise, can’t even remember her son’s severe allergy to chocolate. During an uncomfortable bedroom scene in which Layla forces Billy’s dad to sing some show tunes from days gone by, Billy tears up at the sight of a photograph of him as a boy. Underneath his unremitting jerk exterior, he’s a pathetic figure living in the shadow of what could have been, if the Bills had won the Superbowl. As bitter and miserable as he behaves, there’s a child living in him who’s never truly had a chance to grow up.

The film begins with a freeze frame of Billy as a boy, underscored with Gallo’s own song with the lyrics “all my life I’ve been this lonely boy.” When huddling alone in a bathtub in a sleazy motel, Layla remarks that Billy looks “like a little boy” We see Billy teetering under the weight of the tough guy role he feels he has to play through a confused lament in a Denny’s restroom. He’s convinced himself he’ll go into a strip joint and kill the placekicker whose missed field goal has ruined his life, and then kill himself; but then, as if Clarence has come down from heaven to make him appreciate being alive, Billy, the over-grown child and tough guy jerk becomes kind and comfortable in his own skin. In drastic contrast to the painful realism of a film characterized with its grotesque personages, Billy undergoes a quick change in personality: from cantankerous to joyful. This transformation of an inveterately unlovable character changes this film from sour to saccharine, with an artificial sentimentality that couldn’t even warm Frank Capra’s heart.

While Billy may be the main focal point of the film, Chrisina Ricci’s character is infinitely more interesting. Wearing searing blue eyeshadow and a promiscuous blouse to a tap dance lesson, Layla is sex-starved and ready for adventure, so when a scruffy stranger kidnaps her, she resists only a little, putting the bulk of her energy into crafting a romantic history for Billy’s parents. She is the sweet and sincere to oppose Billy’s sour phoniness. His stridency hardly bothers Layla because he’s the only boy who’s ever shown her any attention, so she pays back his nonstop cruelty with love. While Billy’s theme song may be “Lonely Boy,” Layla’s is King Crimson’s “Moonchild,” played during her awkward tap dance number in a bowling alley. This scene portrays her as a beautiful but naïve creature, in violent contrast to Billy’s hackneyed disenchantment.

Although bearing complex and distinct characters, Buffalo ’66‘s artificial resolution rings hollow enough to undermine the power of the miserably real plight of Billy Brown, the embittered protagonist who bet more than he had on a football team his mother taught him to believe in.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…plays like a collision between a lot of half-baked visual ideas and a deep and urgent need… There’s not a thing conventional about this movie.”–Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (contemporaneous)

138. DOGVILLE (2003)

“To take ‘Dogville’ primarily as the vehicle for this [anti-American political] view, however, is to make it a much less interesting movie than it is… Mr. Von Trier offered, ‘I think the point to the film is that evil can arise anywhere, as long as the situation is right.’ It is the pervasiveness of that evil — the thoroughness of the film’s pessimism — that may seem most alien of all to doggedly optimistic American sensibilities.”–A.O. Scott quoting Lars von Trier in his New York Times article on Dogville

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Paul Bettany, , , , , Philip Baker Hall, Chloë Sevigny, , Siobhan Fallon,

PLOT: Tom Edison, who fancies himself an intellectual and a moralist and dreams of becoming a writer, is bored with life in the tiny, isolated mountain township of Dogville, until one day he comes across a beautiful, refined young woman who is fleeing gangsters for unknown reasons. Tom falls in love with her and convinces the town to take the woman in and hide her; they agree that the woman, Grace, will do chores for the townspeople to earn her keep and gain their trust. But the more the self-effacing Grace offers to the people of Dogville, the more they abuse her forgiving nature, until they have turned her into the town’s slave; then, the men who were searching her out arrive…

Still from Dogville (2003)

BACKGROUND:

  • Dogville is the first movie in a proposed trilogy from von Trier entitled (ironically) “America: Land of Opportunity.” The second in the series, Manderlay (2005), was shot on a similar minimalist set, also narrated by John Hurt, and featured the character of Grace (played by Bryce Dallas Howard). Manderlay was not as well received and was a financial flop. The third film has not been announced. Von Trier refuses to fly and has never been to the United States.
  • Von Trier set up a reality-show style confessional booth next to the set where (sometimes disgruntled) actors could enter and speak to the camera. This footage was edited into the 52-minute documentary Dogville Confessions, which appears as an extra on some DVD releases of the film.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The shot of Nicole Kidman lying in the truck bed among the apples, seen through the transparent canvas, is probably the film’s most beautiful image. Dogville itself, however, is the film’s most memorable image: a single blank set, with house walls and gooseberry bushes indicated on the floor with chalk.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Think that maybe Dogville may not be such a weird movie? Imagine you are about to pop this DVD into your player when your friend with the most ultra-conservative movie tastes walks in the room and asks what you’re about to watch. You respond, “Nicole Kidman plays a saintly woman fleeing mobsters who’s taken in by a small American town and used as a sex slave. Oh, and it’s shot in a warehouse with the buildings painted on the floor.” If your friend doesn’t immediately leave the room muttering “sounds too weird for me” then congratulations! Your most normal friend is a complete and utter weirdo.


Misleading original American release trailer for Dogville

COMMENTS: What director has a lower opinion of humanity than Lars von Trier? An acid moral parable, Dogville is almost weirdly ultra-rational, in Continue reading 138. DOGVILLE (2003)