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Photo: ‘Buffalo ‘66’/Lions Gate Films
‘Buffalo ‘66’ Synopsis
Around thirty-years-old, the protagonist, Billy Brown, played by Vincent Gallo, is released out of jail after completing a five-year sentence after being found guilty of theft. As his hunched, butt-cracked-out body awaits in the cold at the bus stop, not a single soul arrives to save him from his disarray. While in desperate need of a restroom to release himself, he ventures around the nearby town, appearing as a helpless child about to wee himself. He finds himself in a dance studio with failed attempts and closed toilets where he encounters and kidnaps Layla, played by Christina Ricci, a teenage ballet major dressed in tap shoes and ocean blue eyeshadow. Laya is taken hostage by Billy, who orders her to portray her as his wife so that he can present her and appear as successful to his clueless and awful parents.
During a single day, packed with Billy Brown’s threats and detestation by Layla, the truth of Billy’s past is revealed by his misconstrued upbringing and betrayal. Soon enough, Laya warms up to her kidnapper and finds joy in the moments together as they play pretend in a photo booth as they appear to be “spanning time.” As said by Billy in ‘Buffalo ‘66,’ “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. These photos are us, in love, *spanning* time.”
Did someone say Stockholm Syndrome? At the end of this day and after letting Layla free in a rusty old motel, Billy has ultimately decided that he will murder the former football team, Bills place-kicker, Scott Woods, who ruined the game-winning field goal, costing Billy the bet that landed him in jail for five years. But, as romance would have it, Billy and Layla ultimately fall for each other, and Billy chooses Layla in the end. Happily ever after, right? Wrong.
The Romanticism of Stockholm Syndrome
For those who have not heard of Stockholm Syndrome or never have experienced listening to the godlike tunes of One Direction’s song ‘Stockholm Syndrome,’ it is described as a process of infatuation created during captivity where a person forms an affectionate bond with his or her captor. Directed by Billy Brown himself, Vincent Gallo, ‘Buffalo ‘66’ indirectly asks the audience to follow along with Layla’s trust that has no proper logical explanation.
It is without a doubt evident that Billy Brown does not have a charming interior with his insistence to demean Layla throughout the film. “Don’t let me see you move them one finger, not one finger move, not one twitch of a move or I’ll come back and choke you to death. I swear to God. I’ll take a bite out of your cheek and I’ll shit you out.” It could be his exterior designed with the luscious brown locks, manly facial features, tight jeans, and the red leather cowboy boots. You know what, it was probably those damn red leather cowboy boots.
I feel this insistent connection with Layla and her innocence in looking for happiness in places and people who do not deserve it. She is this wondrous girl with a heart of kindness, but there are points in herself that disappear into a dreamlike sequence even then. Without a single doubt in my heart and with all of the films I have watched, the bowling alley scene as Layla taps along in her little blue dress and cardigan is single-handedly one of the most beautiful pieces of cinema.
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As the spotlight caves in and encloses Layla from the world around her, all we hear are the taps from her little shoes and hums of King Crimson’s ‘Moonchild‘ as she dances in bliss. While being held by a captor, at no point is Layla truly trapped, more so because from the start, she never entirely shows fear in her eyes. Hollywood’s bitterness marked Ricci by calling her “fat” or “overweight” in this role, and I honestly cannot wrap my mind around how evil the media can become. I would want nothing more than to look like Christina Ricci as Layla, and she is truly a fairy dream.
Gallo himself would classify the film as a musical with its dreamlike sequences taken away from reality into a music-oriented world. As said by Gallo, “No one notices [the music], the film is a pure musical, – That’s how it was conceived by me: it’s a musical and the musical numbers are significant, and they’re traditional musical numbers in a way. And certainly my creative sensibility – my aesthetic, my point of view – was certainly formed and developed through listening to and playing music, – I wanted desperately, desperately, to make a musical; I just wanted to make a very unique, subtle musical.” I most definitely think he achieved while I would not entirely classify as a musical but more so a visual artform combined with musical elements.
When the two eventually make it to Billy’s parent’s home, the impact Layla would have on his well-being would come to a rise as she would play pretend without having been instructed how to fill Billy’s parent’s minds with stories of Billy’s success. There is a sense of uncertainty in Billy’s captor motive that makes the audience at no point feel that Layla is in danger. The screenplay written by Gallo has Billy constantly repeating his motives as if he is trying to convince himself and Layla. Here is an example of this repetition from Billy as he tries to persuade Layla that he does not want women because they are evil when he could never get one. “Want to know the truth? I could have had any girl l wanted in school. Any girl I wanted. You know why I didn’t have a girlfriend? Huh?
Because there was nobody that l liked. Nobody that l liked. That’s the truth. I could have had anybody. There was nobody that I liked, because girls stink. They stink. They’re evil. And they’re all bad, all of them. They’re backstabbers like you.” But the moments between Billy and Layla are also sweet and are laced with good comedy to make his abuse seem like a form of romance.
From the beginning of ‘Buffalo ‘66,’ we see Billy as a fragile boy who comes off as an ungrown man who had undergone a difficult upbringing. As said by Billy, “You’re making me look awful… Ever again, I’m never going to speak to you. So you will be my best friend, if you do a decent job. That’s my best friend I ever had.” If that is not a young boy speaking to another kid on the playground, I do not know what is.
In truth, Billy Brown is an immature grown-up who lacks responsibilities and common sense that comes from being raised with the correct behavior. Some viewers find a distaste in ‘Buffalo ‘66’ because they interpret that the young Layla is disrupted mentally by an already badly mentally impacted grown man. Although, I would take notice that at no point in the film did Billy sexually lead on Layla because honestly, he is mentally stuck in a young child’s age, so the thought never occurs to him. “We’re the couple that doesn’t touch one another.”
In his head, he is a young boy who was locked up, leaving him angry and confused all while trying to impress his parents, who at no point showed him gratitude or how proud they were of him. Yes, a man acting like a pre-teen kid is nothing of delight, but he does have an innocence that forgives. Billy is not a deliberately immature man and has to stick to some carefree time in early adulthood. The first shot of the film is a picture of 7-year-old Billy, and if his detained growth is not evident, Gallo includes his song ‘Lonely Boy.’ The audience needs to feel compassion for Billy, and while Gallo does not make it simple, it is in the innerness of the film that takes interpretation from both Billy, Layla, and the outside characters.
At the end of the film, Billy buys Layla a heart-shaped cookie after deciding against murdering the Bills ex-football player. In a way, the film implies that what Billy had planned for five years is comparable to what Layla has given up in the day being with her captor. But then again, Billy’s mind is not entirely grown to understand that women need undoubtedly more than a cookie to be bought into a relationship. This is not proven wrong as Layla accepts him into bed but allows the audience to decipher the idea within itself, even if it is not proven otherwise. There is a sense that the ending is happy because he bought her the cookie, but, in a way, there is an inference complex that the film was never entitled to end good nor bad. The film was an art form configured of stylistic filmmaking choices that separate the viewer from reality into a dreamworld swarmed inside a romance, comedy, and parental issues with the addition of relationship problems for someone who has never been in one.
In a sadistic way, Billy’s words have no impact of cruelty or stab to the heart curled with fear. With lines such as, “And if you make a fool out of me, I swear to God, I’ll kill you right there. Boom! Right in front of Mommy and Daddy.” or “And if I find out you go near my locker, I swear to God I’ll give you a karate chop right in the head.” He is a child who is saying senseless words filled with no impact so the kidnapping situation at no point feels threatening.
Gallo is no ordinary indie creator as a writer and director: the choices of songs with the inclusion of his own musical work, the magnificent dull photography intertwined with the style from the 1970s, the melodrama’s strength—all are incredibly well done. But, it is difficult to report that Vincent Gallo describes himself as a “radical” Republican, and at the time of filming, Gallo and Ricci were quite distasteful of each other outside of acting. In an interview with Conan, Christina Ricci revealed the behavior with her co-star, Gallo, “To create this unlikeable character, he was actually mean to you off-camera?”
Conan asks. “Well, yeah, because he was really getting into his character, and it was sort of scary because I didn’t know that he was doing this,” Ricci says. “And he was really nice before we started actual production. Then once we started production, before takes and stuff, he’d yell at me. Not really yell, but he’d told me once, he said, ‘Oh look at you with those two pimples.’ – Then I realised he was just in character… I guess he wanted my reaction to be sincere – which it was.” While it is one thing to get into character it is another to demean your co-stars into making them feel less than.
This is one of those films where it is best to separate the artist from the art. Otherwise, it would be difficult to enjoy the beauty, such as Roman Polanski’s award-winning film, ‘The Pianist,’ who has been and continues to be accused of sexual assault involving a child. But, I get it, and I understand entirely why some viewers find this film to be misogynistic. However, I cannot be wholly overturned because of Christina Ricci’s strength in portraying Layla and her undoubtedly strength in performing alongside someone such as Gallo.
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What It All Means
In an interview with The Public, Gallo’s filmmaking style is depicted in his choice of using reversal stock. “[Reversal stock] was developed years ago for news photography, so that you could film something and show it right away without making a print,” Gallo says. “But it’s never used in 35mm cinema because it’s virtually impossible to make a negative, which you need in order to make multiple prints. It’s very hard to light – I had to use tons of light to make the film work. And you can’t really color-correct it once you’ve processed it … With reversal stock, you have to light precisely, you have to art direct your colors precisely, because there’s not much you can do with the film afterwards.” While incredibly stylistic visually the storyline of troubled love and even more troubling unbalanced life circumstances, Buffalo ‘66 is a beautiful film.
Somewhere in the film, Layla soon discovers that Billy is not a captor who would do the things he says, but deep inside, there is a child who is terrified of being rejected by his peers and craves attention. A boy who had not experienced all that one should or the ordinary behaviors one grows into after living. Layla discovers that he will be a survivor of his shortcomings and those that have wronged him, and she has a chance to make him develop and succeed. Whereas a less intelligent, less mature individual may have spoken back, fled, or called the cops, Layla patiently works on Billy to improve his behavior, eventually enabling him to rediscover the depth of their relationship and a second shot at life with him.
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