nathan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Share your life. Share your decision.
I never expected to like Buffalo 66 even remotely the first time I watched it, which is why it’s so funny to be on my fifth go, only two months after the initial viewing. If you're part of online film circles, the name Vincent Gallo comes with a pre-determined set of associations, and I'd always been pretty scared to go near any of his work - the Chloe Sevigny Brown Bunny deal aside, he's infamous for an ever expanding list of reasons that always scared me off. Quite frankly, I assumed all the love for Buffalo 66 was ironic, some sort of 'bit' I was missing out on - the Gallo memes had been swirling for months at this point, and while curious, I didn't think I'd ever 'get it'. About fifty minutes in I was already declaring it a masterpiece.
First and foremost, it is incredibly easy to understand why someone might dislike Buffalo 66. Christina Ricci speaking out about her time working with Gallo will forever give the movie a somewhat uncomfortable tinge, and as hinted at before, he is a pretty reprehensible person. Pretty much all his fans acknowledge this, and enjoy his work regardless, but yes, he's apparently a republican, he writes dialogue riddled with homophobic slurs, and his attitudes towards women are not exactly what you could call feminist. These are important things to keep in mind when watching Buffalo 66, or rather unavoidable when contextualising it, but they don't stop the unlikely fanbase that cherish his filmmaking from seeing the diamond in the rough. Gallo has struck a chord with a crowd you might not expect when examining how he presents himself personally- why do trans people like Buffalo 66 so much (or more accurately, here is why I, a trans person, dig it)?
Billy Brown, played by Gallo himself, was definitely not intended to represent the struggles felt by trans people, but I argue that he unintentionally mirrors them. To me, Buffalo 66 is a story about trying to fix other people's perceptions, fighting against past selves, and righting the wrongs that were enacted against you. Like Billy, I know all too well the struggle against the version of myself formed in other's heads, and the person I see when I look at myself divorced from the outside world. At the beginning of the film, we meet him at the start of a journey he's dreading, a free man (in this reading, to be taken as no longer closeted), returning to the past he left behind. With transition, sometimes the impulse is to pretend that all the time when you didn't know or didn't have the resources to do anything simply didn't happen - but it cannot be completely denied, as those connections can't be severed. The figures from his adolescence that we meet all have pre-concieved notions about his Billy because of this, and we watch him go back and attempt to fix them, using Layla, who knows only 'this' Billy, for affirmation and backup. She often says the things he's too afraid to express.
These themes are further echoed with the story of Rocky the Goon, who pleads to be known by his new name, and is told he'll always be Goon no matter what - it's not even a stretch to compare this to changing one's name as a trans person. Rocky is denied basic courtesy based on Billy's perception of him as stupid, further perpetuated when he's belittled in the prison scene. He is determined by the labels other give him rather than what makes him comfortable. In fact, the denial of basic human need runs throughout the film, Billy in perpetual discomfort when he is denied a bathroom in every establishment he visits, everything closed off to him when he needs it most. When he finally reaches one he is stared at, and offered unsolicited comments on his body (and regardless of if Gallo inserted these for narcissistic purposes, it set off an alarm in my brain). The fact that bathrooms fit my analogy is a happy (?) accident really, but regardless, the feeling that doors are shut to you at every turn is a quintessential, if miserable, part of the modern transgender experience.
Billy's desire for love also resonates with me deeply. He's a lost soul, finding no affirmation from his parents who barely know him, blaming the elements that got him to this place and being cast from society. It is only towards the end he decides to stop raging against his own identity and the version of him that exists in the minds of others, instead settling with someone who sees and understands him the way he desires. On the brink of disaster Billy finally sees that if he lashes out, acts destructive, his parents will carry on in their ways as usual, uncaring - his very existence is associated with his mother's crushed dreams, and always will be. With Layla, there's something there, and she has hope for him despite everything. There is no question to why this might make sense to a group of people so wronged by others. Acts of kindness save someone so vulnerable from the mistakes he might have made, and despite Gallo's reprehensible politics and attitude, there's a message here which seems to transcend - love is the way forward.
Outside of this, and how the themes might click with the trans audience, there's a lot to love about this film just as a piece of art - and I know some girls just want to look like Christina Ricci, blue eyeshadow and all, and I respect that too. Beside my personal connection to the story, though, I feel compelled to recognise that Buffalo 66 is transfixing, and with a record collection like that you BET Gallo knows how to curate a soundtrack. The cinematography and the unique montages of scattered memories are mesmerising, drawing you in, and I actually felt pity towards Billy, even though I struggle to respect VG outside of his directing ability. I can't fault anyone for being quick to dismiss the movie, because I heard bad things too, but if it counts for anything I'm eternally thankful for giving it a chance. The emotions on display are raw, tender, and real to my experience.