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GALLO, VINCENT: Buffalo 66

GALLO DOES IT HIS WAY
Actor, writer, producer, director, composer. Vincent Gallo does it all and says it all in his movie Buffalo 66. This is a guy who speaks from the hip and doesn't give a damn about what he says and why he says it. PAUL FISCHER attempts to unmask the man behind the mouth in this rare interview.

Back in the mean streets of Buffalo, New York, there lived an angry young adolescent named Vincent Gallo who led a precarious existence in what would today be called a "totally dysfunctional family." One afternoon, in an effort to fend off a beating from his father, the electronics whiz-kid set up a couple of microphones and taped the old man singing Fools Rush In to an old Nelson Riddle arrangement for Frank Sinatra.

Today, that kid is all grown up, and he's made a film that reflects the performer's anger, fantasies, romanticism and unique sensibilities. The film is Buffalo 66, written by Vincent Gallo, directed by Vincent Gallo, and starring Vincent Gallo. He plays Billy Brown, a just-released convict going to see his screwed-up, self-absorbed parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston) in Buffalo.

"I'm a conceptual artist"

He has dragged along a pretty teenager (Christina Ricci) - whom he's kidnapped - to prove that he has a wife. There comes a moment when Gazzara, as the surly, egomaniacal father, takes the girl aside and sings Fools Rush In to impress her. That is, he appears to sing it: The voice heard in the film is actually that of Gallo's father. Yet ask the actor/director whether his film is autobiographical and he comes up with a resounding no.

"To me, it's a very clever mechanism for my long-term ideas. I'm a conceptual artist and the screenplay is very conceptual. I wanted to make a movie where the first fifteen minutes of the film a guy's gotta pee; I wanted to make a movie where a character doesn't evolve till the last scene; I wanted to make a movie where we go to a family's house and it's actually my mother and father; I wanted to make a movie where I can use a cassette-recording that I made of my father 20 years ago; I wanted to make a movie where a guy kidnaps a girl in a violent way, beats the shit out of a fag in a bathroom, comes out of jail looking filthy, and yet in the last five minutes of the film, every fag and chick in the world loves him."

OK, so Gallo calls 'em as he sees 'em, yet what he's made, despite these disparate ideas, is a surprisingly cohesive film which comes from a dark subconscious, which may or may not have anything to do with Gallo's brutalised childhood. "After I got through the CONCEPTS that motivate me, then I developed a way of telling these concepts, a clearer idea of what my subconscious motivation was for making the film. And that had to do with the long-term evolution of my point-of-view about the development of human behaviour, development and government. The narrative has a very clear relationship with my philosophy, let's say."

"Music had the most cultural impact on me"

Ironically, it was music, not film that instilled a passion in a teenage Gallo. "Music had the most cultural impact on me, growing up in New York city at the time I did." Though now regarded as an acclaimed actor (in such quality, idiosyncratic films as The Funeral, Palookaville, Angela, and Arizona Dream), there has also been Vincent Gallo the musician, the composer, the painter, the model, the movie nut (a collection of 5,500 videos), the free thinker, the free speaker, lover of women and so on. His adolescence and early adulthood was entrenched in New York's frenetic underworld art scene. His passions for music and art were his initial obsessions. "I was in this kind of industrial noise band, which became a successful hip band in the underground art scene." That led him to forging a career as a painter "in the most dynamic art world period of time." During that time, Gallo says reflectively, "I had never got over my yearning to have a more mainstream public social status, because there was something isolating and elitist about being an artist that didn't translate into general culture."

As a filmmaker, however, Gallo was not in a position to embrace the independent film world at a time when the independent industry was in a fledgling state, and truly independent. "It was a time when the avant garde filmmakers were making films for $20,000, so I was comfortable doing painting and music at that time, because it had the same audience and impact."

It was cutting-edge director Jim Jarmusch and his breakthrough film Stranger than Paradise that made Gallo stand up and take notice. "I had friends of mine who suddenly ended up with movie careers and I became intimidated by that. Soon after that, the art world began to lose its social charisma, so I shifted my focus. The shift was to acting, but not for the reasons one might think. Gallo wanted to become a movie star and with it, the yearning for celebrity and with that, power.

"Why else would anyone want to become an actor?"

"Why else would anyone want to become an actor? Let's be REALLY honest, and let's reduce Brando, De Niro or Pacino to the most core motivation of their mind. There has to be a moment, as a kid, when you realise the impact that thing had on you, and you want to have that same impact on others. Along with that impact, you want people to like, recognise and admire you." For Gallo, his cinematic heroes were a diverse lot, from Steve McQueen to Robbie Benson to Sylvester Stallone in his early Lords of Flatbush. "Those guys in certain films had power."

Not that he necessarily wanted to emulate those heroes, for even through his desire to be a movie star, Gallo the radical artist was still somehow within. No wonder he only used to "date chicks with incredible taste in music and films." He recalls that he'd only meet girls "at the freakiest concerts or specialised record stores. My girlfriend from junior high school I met at a Vandergraf Generator concert; I figured any girl willing to see that must be pretty cool."

Gallo's sense of acceptance from within his own "selective circle of friends" is what attracted him. Though he's never achieved movie star status in the conventional sense of the term, "for me, I was a movie star in my first movie, because I was accepted by those that mattered to me." Times have changed, and with those times, the movie industry, the notion of acting and stardom, and most importantly, audiences have changed. Gallo has not, yet concedes that 20 years ago, "there's no chance that I could have made Buffalo 66." Gallo was after total control over his art, and acquiring that was an uphill battle.

"Here I was starring, producing, directing, doing the music, designing the clothes, controlling the cinematography, developing the film stock." He likens his determination for such complete authorship to the power of government. "To me the world is like a government agency. It's filled with people pandering to the lowest common denominators and trying to work with as little passion and little effort as possible. If you go into the make-up trailer on a movie set, do you REALLY think that the make-up people on a daily basis are fanatical about their aesthetic development or actual technique of their job? Do you really think that on a daily basis they're FIENDS of what they're doing? I'm a fiend, so anybody who's less than a fiend working at a job that I've delegated power to, is not doing their job; it's painful."

"Gallo's obsessiveness with perfection translated on the set"

Gallo's obsessiveness with perfection translated on the set of Buffalo 66. While critics couldn't help raving about Christina Ricci's beautifully mature performance in the film, Gallo says that he worked with the actress intensely to deliver that performance. "I clothed her, I did her make-up I told her what I wanted and she did it - and did it amazingly."

It paid off, because the film ended up a commercial and critical success. That sense of mainstream acceptance lurking in Gallo's mind, has come to fruition. Gallo will next be seen on camera in LA Without a Map, and is currently looking for "an acting gig so I can earn some quick cash." Oh, and while most actors are searching for the right script, to enhance his individuality, Gallo wants to work "with beautiful and intelligent women. Can you suggest anyone?"

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