Monday, 1 October 2012

Buffalo 66

I love films (don't we all?) and, seeing as I have a blog now, I figure why not gush about all the films I love, without fear of being told to shut up?

If I had to pick one all-time favourite film, it would Ghost World. But, guess what? That's not the first film I'm going to talk about. Cos today, I'm feeling more Buffalo 66.

Buffalo 66 is Vincent Gallo's directorial debut. Gallo plays the film's protagonist, Billy Brown, a man who has just finished serving five years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. On his way to go see his parents, he impulsively kidnaps Layla (played by Christina Ricci), after passing through her tap dancing class on his search for a toilet, and forces her to act as his wife.

One aspect of this film I love is just it's overall look. The colours are all very washed out, with a lot of pale pastel shades. It all seems quite cold. This even spreads to the two main actors in the film, from Ricci's powder blue eyeshadow to Gallo's sunken pale skin.

Despite this, Layla still manages to standout as an almost ethereal presence... which, for all intents and purposes in this film, she is. She is an accessory to Billy dealing with his issues of being wrongly imprisoned and with is underlying depression. In my opinion, Layla isn't supposed to be a realistic female character - would many women take the amount of verbal abuse Billy throws at her throughout the film, and still develop, not just feelings for him, but a delicate, (seemingly) genuine love.

I would even go as far as saying that this entire film is not meant to be interpreted as a real-world narrative. Nowhere is this implied more clearly than in the bowling alley scene. It's a beautifully shot glimpse inside into the mind of both the former triumphant bowler Billy was as a child, and the dejected man he's become, still trying to recapture that feeling of winning, of being the best. He's hardly come across as likable, but as he slowly approaches the lane, I can't help but hope he can recapture that feeling.

The shot of his bowling shoes walking past Layla's glitzy, out-of-focus tap shoes is not only pleasing to the eye, but also serves to show us the juxtaposition of his "old life" and his current state, of Layla's life, that is still very much in the zone of youth, hope and glory (through her dancing), and his own.

We're then lodged firmly in the here-and-now as we see Billy celebrating as he bowls strike after strike. The reactions we hear clearly aren't real, but the real clue to the film's detachment from reality comes next, with Layla's spontaneous tap dance. 

It's both surreal and captivating to watch. Layla's moves are basic, and slightly awkward, and she doesn't look at all interested in what she's doing. If anything, she looks bored, going through the motions.

Overall, I do think this a very easy film to dislike. Which is fine. The characters aren't that likable; for the most part, their actions don't seem to make any sense. But, for some reason, I think it all works. If you're aware that this isn't supposed to be representing reality, you can't help but find yourself watching these characters with a strange sense of fascination. Why are they acting this way? What are they going to do next?

The fact that Gallo is able to present us with this character of Billy, a character who just keeps on doing things that should make us detest him, and still manage to have us feeling even a remote sense of sympathy towards him can't have been an easy task.

In a lot of ways, the whole story could be seen as a privileged male fantasy being played out on screen. Many older films have suggested that, no matter how badly you treat your girlfriend, she'll still be there for you. That you can be completely obnoxious and narcissistic, yet still be loved for it. Perhaps this is what it would look like if you applied that fantasy to a less-glamorous setting - yes, Layla is still around at the end of the film, but is Billy happy? Is the fantasy even worth it?