Buffalo '66 still doesn't glorify the City of Buffalo

Seventeen years later, film shown at North Park Theater

Kidnapping, prison, marriage and murder are only some of the things that happen in Vincent Gallo’s 1998 film, Buffalo ’66.

Last Thursday, the North Park Theatre celebrated the 17th Anniversary of the first screening of the film that was shot entirely in Buffalo as the director was a native of the area. David Schmid, an associate English professor, hosted the screening with an introduction and a “lively discussion” afterward.

Gallo, the Buffalonian director, co-writer and star of the film, plays Billy Brown, a man fresh out of prison who kidnaps Layla (Christina Ricci, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles) so she can pose as his wife in front of his parents – played by Anjelica Huston (The Master Cleanse) and Ben Gazzara (Ristabbanna). All the while, Brown plans an attempt to kill the man who sent him to prison, fictional former Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Wood (Bob Wahl, Buffalo ‘66).

Anybody who lives in Buffalo and follows the Bills will be able to immediately spot whom Gallo is referring to – Scott “Wide Right” Norwood, the Bills kicker who missed the game-winning field goal in Super Bowl XXV 1991.

Even though Gallo did projects with big Hollywood names like Kiefer Sutherland (24), his head and his heart were still at home in the Queen City.

The first time we see Billy Brown is with his mother, who’s dressed completely in Bills gear, watching the same game that put Brown in prison. Billy’s mother tells his “wife” the Bills have not won a championship since 1966 and she missed the game because it was the same day Billy was born.

“I wish he had never been born,” she utters.

Perhaps Buffalonians do not relate directly to the sentiments provided by Billy’s mother, but they feel her pain. Buffalo ’66 may be the definitive Buffalo film, not in its story or characters, but in its setting and mood.

“Buffalonians, whether we're native-born or transplants are starved of any representations of Buffalo on film,” Schmid said.

Even though Buffalo ‘66 features some wonderful cinematography, the portrayal of the city is not glorifying – it is real and recognizable. Some shots of the city streets could very well be Elmwood or Delaware and could be hosting any number of UB students.

“It doesn't give a particularly flattering picture of either the city or the people who live here but, in my view, that doesn't matter because I think it's very true to life,” he said.

Take the film Bruce Almighty (2003), a film that also takes place in Buffalo. Although more popular than Buffalo ’66, it would never be showcased at the North Park Theatre. Why? Simple – it presents a working-class town from an upper middle-class perspective.

Buffalo ’66, on the other hand, presents the city the way it is, with a director at the helm who understands the spirit of the city.

Buffalo '66 captures better than any other film I know what Buffalo is like and for that reason alone I think it should be celebrated,” Schmid said.

Buffalo is a city that desires to be loved, yearns to be heard and seen, either as the affluent, cultural center it once was and still strives to be or the proud, blue-collar town embraced by its inhabitants. Much like Billy Brown in the movie, perhaps the city may never be looked upon in the light it deserves until the Bills bring home that championship. Until then, Buffalo needs to find its own sources of affection and attention consistent with the themes Buffalo ’66 ascribes to it.

Reuben Wolf is a contributing writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com