It was 12 noon, the appointed hour, on a recent sunny Sunday, but the
buzzer didn't answer and
didn't answer and didn't answer, so the next most logical thing was to
look around for a street phone, and spot one on the next corner, the
intersection of Elizabeth and Spring, and go to it and put a quarter in
and dial the guy's number -- or just be in the middle of dialing when
there he was, Vincent Gallo,
in his undershirt, crossing from the other side of the street toward his
own doorway, his hand raised in a hi-ya salute.
Photo by Jeff Vespa
"I was up there, working on some tape," Gallo said, indicating an upper
floor of the building across the way. "I was looking out the window and
saw you, so I came running down."
He points to the top of his own building, the Little Italy tenement, in
which he's had a tiny pad subsequently expanded into a tiny duplex,
since he was 17, a runaway kid from Buffalo, N.Y.
"Scorsese's parents were married on that roof," he says. "Joe DiMaggio's
father or uncle or something owned the building next door. Eric
Bogosian's place is somewhere around here too."
Etched here and there at our feet into what was once the wet cement is
the name GALLO in big block capitals. A few feet away: VINCENT GALLO.
"There are around a hundred of those scattered all around town," the
actor murmurs. Then,
straight-faced: "Seventy percent of them I did myself. Then girls
started doing them too, adding
their names and telephone numbers."
"Well, I'm listed in the phone book. I'm very open to girls calling."
That's in that breath. In another he talks of his lone-wolf loneliness
-- his near-celibacy -- for a
long time now.
And so, in its own sweet sharp full-of-contradictions way, does the
kookie, original, quite lovely movie he's turned out,
written by Vincent Gallo, directed by Vincent Gallo, starring
One of the hits of the Museum of Modern Art/Lincoln Center's 1998 New
Directors/New Films series,
"Buffalo '66" brings a difficult guy named Billy Brown out of prison and
back to the scene of his
screwed-up boyhood under ludicrously self-involved, dysfunctional
parents (Ben Gazzara, Anjelica
Huston), who couldn't care less whether Billy lives or breathes.
Accompanying him willy-nilly in this visit is the gorgeous teenage dance
student (Christina Ricci)
whom Billy has kidnapped and is dragging home to prove to those same
wacko folks that, yes, he has a wife.
To this totally unfrightened girl (whose gearshift car he can't drive,
so she does) he blusters, like a 10-year-old: "If you make me look bad,
I'll kill you right in front of my mom and dad - and I won't ever talk
to you again in my whole life." Beautiful.
Perhaps the knife-edge face of Vincent Gallo, blue eyes blazing with
sensitivity, is already familiar to you from Abel Ferrara's "The
Funeral" (in which Gallo plays a slain 1930s working-class radical),
Alan Taylor's "Palookaville" (about a gang that couldn't rob straight),
or Emil Kusturica's "Arizona Dream" (wherein Gallo did a knockout parody
of Cary Grant versus the crop-duster in Hitchcock's "North by
Perhaps you've seen him in any of a half-dozen pictures he's made
abroad, three of them directed by
Claire Denis in France.
Most probably you've seen him, even if you didn't know it, as that lean
and hungry hunk in the Calvin
Klein CK cologne ads shot by Richard Avedon. You'll soon also have the
chance to see him in
Roland Joffe's "Goodbye, Lover" (as, says Gallo, "a very methodical
assassin"); as "a very sweet
pothead" in Aki Kaurismaki's "Los Angeles Without a Map"; and as "a man
on the run from the law and the mob" in Kiefer Sutherland's "Truth or
Busy fellow, Vincent Gallo. But never so busy as in these past weeks,
getting "Buffalo '66" ready for
"Come upstairs," he said on that recent sunny Sunday. "I worked all
night, to 8 a.m., on the
poster and the soundtrack cover and the sequence mix of the music for
the film. Like I did the trailer
too -- one of the best things I did.
"I tell you something," Gallo said, plucking at his miniature
Mephistopheles beard. "If you're a
perfectionist, it can be overwhelming. When I made the movie, in my mind
I was making a classic
"So when Ben Gazzara sings (or, to be exact, lip-synchs to a scratchy
24-year-old recording of
"Fools Rush In" by Gallo's own father), or when Christina Ricci does her
tap dance, or in the
bedroom scene where we kiss (she leading the way for a frozen, terrified
Billy), it's choreography. Those are musical numbers like in those old
"To make a movie with '50s realism, that's what John Cassavetes does.
People should understand I'm not interested in that."
What Vincent Gallo the actor, the director, the musician, the composer,
the artist, the model, the
free-thinker, the free-speaker is in fact interested in is . . .
everything; not least each and every one
of the 5,500 movies in his video collection.
The Billy of "Buffalo '66" was born in that city in that year, on a day
on which the Buffalo Bills
ignominiously blew a championship football game. Billy's mother had to
miss the game on TV because she was giving birth to Billy. She wishes
she'd skipped the childbirth instead.
Vincent Gallo was born in Buffalo on April 11, 1962, four years before
his fictional alter ego, and if
the bit about his mother is only, shall we say, poetic license, any of
the extreme behavior in
"Buffalo '66" ascribed to his father (terrific performance by Ben
Gazzara) is, that father's son
will tell you, understated.
"My father is also a Vincent Gallo - Vincenzo Vido Gallo, no senior, no
junior. He's just the other
Vincent Gallo - the one with less money now. My mother is Jacamina
Fantuzzo Gallo, called Jan, or
Janet (as in the film). They like to say they're Sicilian."
It was to avoid a beating from his father that 13-year-old Vincent, an
electronics whiz-kid and
budding thief, had, back there in Buffalo, taped his old man singing
"Fools Rush In" to an old Nelson
Riddle background arrangement.
"So 10 years ago," says 36-year-old Vincent, "I'm driving across the
country in a car with one hundred of my cassettes, and at the end of the
B side of some punk-rock thing there's this old, dirty,
sun-baked tape, and I hear that 'Fools Rush In' and I'm stunned at my
father's talent and my 13-year-old engineering skills.
"And that's the inspiration for the whole movie -- that and my feeling
about Christina Ricci the moment I first saw her in 'Mermaids' (when she
was 9 years old).
I knew at that point, driving in that car, that one day I would make a
movie, and that there would be a scene in it of the father character
singing that song."
This being the same father who - you've said - yanked you out of the
back seat and smashed your
face into the rearview mirror when, on a Christmas trip home to Buffalo,
you told him that Stella Adler ("and she taught Marlon Brando") had
accepted you into her acting class?
"Yes. It didn't mean shit to me about Marlon Brando, but I said it to
impress my parents. It incensed my father to hear me speak out about
myself in any favorable way, so he - readjusted - my way of
thinking. How untalented and unattractive and unspecial I was. It made
me look at myself very
closely. I guess there was some part of me thought he was right.
"Incidentally, I never did raise the tuition for the Stella Adler
classes, which was all for the best."
And in the movie, when the girl asks if she can see photos of you as a
kid, and the mother bellows:
"Honey, where's the Billy picture?" - i.e., the one and only Billy
"Very true to my childhood." (Pause.) "Whereas they have a shrine to my
brother. I was
the best athlete, the best student in the family, and had the best
girlfriends, but he dated one
pretty cheerleader or something." (Pause.) "If I had three kids (Vincent
also has a sister]) and I was one of them, I'd be my favorite by a lot."
Billy Brown couldn't have put it better.
"So at 16," says the real Billy Brown, "I quit Sweethome Senior High
School and hitchhiked to New
"I had $22, and had known one girl here, whom I'd picked up at a rock
club on a three-day trip to New York a few months earlier. I had her
phone number and address, but when I buzzed her buzzer, lugging this
huge suitcase I'd brought with me, there was nobody there.
"I spent two and a half days on the street, sleeping on stoops, and then
I took the subway to Brighton Beach and hung out there. I wasn't a
vagabond either; I was a smart kid. It was lonely, isolating, and
"Then I met a young guy, a hustler, a hip kid, and he let me crash at
his place in that great big
building at 200 Central Park West. He lived with some life-insurance
guy. Ever seen the movie 'The
Servant'? It was a relationship like that.
"Went back to Buffalo for three months to get my high-school degree,
sold all my possessions, came back to New York with a few hundred
dollars, and checked into the Bond Hotel, on Chambers Street, $22 week.
Finally I found this apartment, and that hustler kid introduced me to
(artist and musician) Jean-Michael Basquiat, and everything flew from
"It wasn't like George Clooney or any other bullshit actor wants to tell
you about their starving,
struggling days. That's all bullshit. To me, it was fun, hanging out
with some of the coolest people in all the cool clubs. It was wonderful,
intense, really intense. It was just that nobody had any money. Nobody
got big. Except maybe Madonna.
"Being big," said Vincent Gallo, sitting there in his Stanley Kowalski
undershirt in the
six-foot-square kitchen of his little white-on-white, Quaker-style
apartment, "just means
you have impact. And if you can do something with it, it's exciting.
"I'd always thought money was the big thing in my life, and then I
suddenly realized that I might be
dying any day and that you can win the money thing and lose the impact.
"Marcel Duchamp had impact, very sophisticated impact, the best kind.
He's my favorite artist."
Yes, Vincent, and he quit as an artist at the height of it all.
"Yeah. I think if Rauschenberg and Jasper John had quit like that, it
would have been better for both
Gallo isn't quitting, not yet. He's trying to raise the money for a
movie to be called "The Brown Bunny" - if he can have the ironclad
guarantee of "one-million percent" creative control.
"I still want money, but not at the risk of losing impact. That's why I
can't make a bad second film," he says, fist hitting kitchen
table. "Because then 'Buffalo '66' is wiped out."
he'll say about "The Brown Bunny" is that it's about two brothers who
drive across the country to see a girl. "It's a really dark, tragic
The Brown Bunny stars
Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevigny
Did it really happen?
"No. But again, like 'Buffalo '66,' it's related to my own emotional
tragedy. Again, catharsis."