It’s too soon for me to say anything qualitative about writer-director-star Vincent Gallo’s Buffalo ’66, but I can report that, while in some ways the film makes Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas look like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it ultimately succeeds in disproving that gibe from A Chorus Line, “Suicide in Buffalo is redundant.”After a Directors Guild of America screening two weeks ago, the scruffy, contentious Gallo spoke to the crowd, radiating auteur charisma while mouthing off in a seemingly antipromotional way that actually ends up creating a buzz around the movie. Some find the guy overly control-freaky, his self-deprecation shtick often flipping over to comically irritable egomania, but one does listen when he serves up all that hostile good copy. To pick two typical comments, he said that “Godard is more exciting for people like [an indie rival],who take a lot of drugs and make their little films” and he referred to “those miserable pricks in Cannes who dumped me so they could make room for Godzilla and Primary Colors and other abortions.” But tell us what you really think, Vincent.
As for Buffalo ’66, Gallo said that originally, Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop)was set to direct, “but I realized my hero had become miserable, stubborn, and out of touch. He thought the cinematography should be invisible. We parted ways.” Even after Hellman became invisible, Gallo wasn’t too thrilled with his partners in cinema crime. “They should have stopped Hitler in Austria when they had a chance,” he said. “When I had the chance, I stopped the 10 Hitlers on my set. I was very strict, especially with Ben Gazzara.”
He actually ended up loving Gazzara, who plays his dad, but mom, Anjelica Huston, makes Gallo feel less than filial. “She fucked me so bad,” he claimed, “with the conniving manipulation of her agent. It’s not enough that she’s getting a quarter of a million dollars for three days–the great Anjelica Huston! Suddenly, she has to have her own hair person and a $20,000 wig, which basically came out of my money. And God forbid she should have a job where she works.” He said that Huston refused to shoot on Easter, but then that very day she had her people ask if Gallo would rehearse with her. “I said, ‘You tell that vicious cunt to get the fuck off my set,’ ” he related, triumphantly. “She looked at me and started bawling–because that’s how the girls get you. Then, of course, she became an angel–‘What can I do for you?’ ” What Huston ultimately did for him, Gallo added, was say she loved Buffalo ’66 until it left the parents’ house–in other words, until the end of pretty much her last scene, long before the movie’s over. “You throw these monkeys a bone,” winced Gallo, “and they come back and attack you!”
To toss the Oscar-winning primate something more substantial to chew on, I asked Toni Howard, Anjelica’s agent at ICM, for a response to Gallo’s cantankerous claims. She told me, “Vincent was kissing the ground she walked on the day Anjelica said yes. Afterwards, he said stuff to me like, ‘It was the greatest experience I ever had. I wish you were my agent.’ Anjelica couldn’t have been more cooperative.” Buffalo‘s producer, Chris Hanley, then called in to say that Anjelica’s name and rep are what got the film green-lighted, “plus the wig actually cost $5000 and I paid for it–and I’m not complaining.” Well, the esteemed Ms. Huston is certainly worth flipping over a wig–and flipping a wig–for. But I’ll stay out of this or there’ll have to be more interventions than in Lorna Luft‘s book (albeit of a presumably less toxic sort).
While all the above were clawing each other’s eyebrows out, I wrapped a festive turban around my wig ($20, and I paid for it) and opted for a serene spirituality far from the mundanities of Buffalo or indie filmmaking. Looking quite fierce, I contacted the guy who contacted Sonny Bono after Cher contacted him–I’m talking about medium to the stars James Van Praagh, who’s apparently better at, um, contacting the dead than Gallo is at contracting the living. In a phone interview, Van Praagh insisted to me that he’s no gypsy, tramp, or thief–he’s for real, so contact this! Cher learned of Van Praagh when her mother gave her his book, Talking to Heaven,though the singer-actress later told the psychic, “I don’t read that much.” That’s not surprising since she once thought Mount Rushmore was carved by nature, but, hey, we love the lady and all her heavy headwear.
Cher met with the guy anyway, and the beat went on when he reached Sonny–collect. “There was such a strong love bond,” said Van Praagh. “You felt the connection.” And what did that gnomelike Svengali have to say for himself? “He was surprised about what happened to him [the skiing accident, not the Cher TV special]. It was like a blank, a dream. But he’s going to be around, helping everyone. He still loves Cher and is very proud of her.” I.e., she’s got him, babe.
Van Praagh said his otherworldly connections are something like long-distance calls–just dial 1–but he admitted he wasn’t always such a smooth operator. He worked at William Morris “pulling staples out of contracts in the basement,” while dreaming not of dialing deadheads, but of writing sitcoms. Everything changed when a medium told him he has a gift of spirit, and he’s been pretty much gabbing to heaven ever since. Now he claims he has a three-year waiting list–screw sitcoms–and is tapping into afterlife obsessions so well that I suggested he work in tandem with Dr.Kevorkian, who can off ’em, after which Van Praagh can get ’em on the line.
His most successful star trips? He reached Marilyn Monroe, who said, “I wish they’d all pay homage to themselves instead of me.” He got Audrey Meadows in touch with Jackie Gleason, who told her, “Get it right”–meaning Meadows’s book should correct the myth that he was an alcoholic. And while Van Praagh says Barry Manilow wanted to contact Judy Garland–quelle surprise–“I told him, ‘What makes you think Judy’s around you?’ You have to have a link with that person.” That must be why I can’t seem to get my agent on the phone.
Over at Pieces–“where every year is 1979”–brilliant impressionist Jimmy James‘s act last Wednesday seemed to reach every deceased diva we’ve longed to hear from, on a big, fab conference call. “So many people have died this year–lots of new material for me,” said Jimmy, sardonically. He did a dead-on Tammy Wynette, Karen Carpenter, Judy, Billie, and even a flawless Sonny and Cher, but that last one came only after an assurance that Ms. Sarkisian Bono Allman Whatever will never die. “Long after the nuclear holocaust,” he cracked, “there will be two things left–cockroaches and Cher.” Doesn’t quite have the ring of Sonny and Cher.
Finally, Jocelyne Wildenstein and I–now that has a ring to it–commingled at Life’s “Get a Life” party the next night, where I presented the beleaguered, but very alive fabulosity with a NightLIFE Achievement Award in lieu of cash or freedom. Before a crowd consisting only of photographers, I read a dazzling tribute poem to Wildenstein (“Your husband’s a pig/But your celebrity’s so big . . . “), as she–looking thrilled (I think)–took the plaque with one hand and slipped me her purse with the other. A fair exchange–and hey, it matches my face!
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 9, 1998