Vincent Gallo: Artist, Auteur, or Just Plain Annoying?,
by Tim LaTorre
As filmmakers like Tarantino and the many wanna-be-Taranteenies attempt
to usher in a new kind of fame by adopting a filmmaker-as-rock star
attitude, Vincent Gallo seems to be the only filmmaker who naturally
fits the bill. He uses extreme embellishment and scandalous statements
to both fulfill a child-like necessity to fit in as well as to make his
presence an event in itself.
It’s better to hear Gallo than to read him. He has been quoted slamming
fellow filmmakers and actors; he announced he was relinquishing his
passport to protest the denial of his directorial debut, “Buffalo ’66“,
into the 1998 Cannes film festival. But most people writing on Gallo
have focused merely on the sound bites he consciously produces, yet this
approach fails to uncover the breadth of his knowledge on filmmaking,
fashion, photography and art. While the failure of his film to win the
Dramatic Competition at Sundance this year and access to the Cannes
competition make it obvious that he has fucked himself politically by
speaking his mind, watching his film makes it clear that his is an
exciting and original new voice.
On May 21, a screening of “Buffalo ’66” was held at the DGA theater in
New York City and Gallo took part in a Q & A session after the film,
hosted by Brian Rose. The following is a transcript of that session.
Vincent Gallo: When I grew up in Buffalo I wanted to revenge my parents
by the time I was two or three years old but I wasn’t sure exactly how I
was going to do it. I was in the Cannes Film Festival in ’92 with a film
called “Arizona Dream” and I was at a hotel. This very sick creepy, rich
joint that some creep bought and we were all drinking hundred dollar
drinks by the pool. There were very pretty girls with very ugly wealthy
men and no one was nice to me at all. I was with Johnny Depp so I
started pitching a film, I just made it up and I said “Yeah, I wrote a
script”. I just started imitating my mother and father and I said “The
film opens up with a guy and he’s gotta pee. He’s gotta pee. And the
whole first 40 minutes of the film is this guy just walking around going
[in street voice] “You gotta bathroom? Excuse me, sir, you gotta
bathroom? Excuse me, miss, you gotta bathroom?” The whole . . . fuck it
. . .an hour of the film is going to be him trying . . . I’m pitching
the film, pitching the film, and I had them, you know, I had them . . .
for a second. And I was so excited by that I just kept talking about it
over and over and over and over and over. And I can’t write with a
typewriter or anything like that. I can’t spell. So with the written
word I get nervous and I just kept pitching the script over and over to
where I had it flawless. I could play all the characters and I had what
I felt was a workable narrative.
I brought a friend of mine in, Alison Bagnall, to work with me to get
it into script form, really just to translate the tapes of these
improvs. And then I had a director that I liked Monte Hellman . . . and
so Monty was going to direct the film. The great Monte Hellman. And we
started collaborating to prepare to do the movie and I realized that my
hero had become a stubborn, miserable, out-of-touch man. In a way that
shocked me because his earlier films, the ones I liked very much, seemed
so inspired. He was very against cinematography. I had this whole idea
of the reversal film, the film stock, and methodical storyboarding and
he felt that the cinematography should be unnoticed. That it was an
insignificant part of cinema. That cinema was only about performance and
characters. And I’m a very visual artist and I became deeply seduced by
the visual part of cinema and we parted ways.
Brian Rose: Did you realize then that you would have to direct this?
Gallo: I knew that if I had the chance to direct a film that it would be
an unpleasant experience, which it was and still is and never ends
because one has a million chances to control things and people.
Especially people and things, things and people. Controlling people . .
. it’s just hateful, it’s the most horrible thing in the world and I’m
very vindictive and unforgiving and punishing and it’s horrible. And I
knew I would be sucked in and I would have to control the food at craft
service and I would have to control everything and if one thing didn’t
go right I would have to punish everyone.
Rose: So Monte Hellman pulls out and you decide then to take over and
Gallo: Some company said “If you direct the film we’ll finance the
film”. And I said, “I don’t really want to direct the film, it’s just
going to be evil and then I’m going to be evil and people don’t really
like me, and then they are going to hate me. So, can’t we just find a
nice director who will do everything I say?” They said, ” No, no, you
have 24 hours to decide.” And that’s really how it happened, I had 24
hours to either go ahead with the film or not.
Rose: And you knew you’d be starring in the film?
Gallo: Well, the whole point is that in the 17 films I’ve acted in
before this film I would feel incredible pain being out of control of my
performance, of editing, of sensibility of choices, of my hair, of the
makeup, it had always been very unpleasant. So the whole premise of
creating a narrative which I could perform in was really for me to feel
like I had done one performance in my life that was in control of, in
some kind of control of. The biggest disappointment was Emir Kusturica’s
“Arizona Dream” because we filmed for 8 months, the film could have been
700 different movies, and I felt it became convoluted and less than
ambitious in it’s final cut.
Rose: If you always felt that you were having other people control you,
it sounds (like) you naturally wanted to be a director of your own
Gallo: Not really, and the truth is that in the process of making the
film, I felt that I was ruining the movie. The feeling was that I could
adapt myself to the character defects, the emotional life of the actors
themselves and of the characters that they were playing in a way that I
could be really focused on that relationship. When I filmed myself, it
was difficult for me to concentrate because I was forced into producing
the film, I was forced into a lot of responsibility that took away my
focus. And I had felt a lot of pain over the performance. I had never
felt so uncomfortable acting in a film and I had never felt that I had
let down a director myself in a performance.
Rose: And yet, let me be honest, this film has some of the most
incredible performances, to the point that you start to wonder if every
single role is crafted for these specific performers. Do you want to
talk about how you came to shape it for these actors or was there
Gallo: I’m very comfortable working with improvisation, but Christina
Ricci was not and when I was working with the other actors I had them
all for such a brief period of time that I felt that I didn’t want to
really go there with them. I didn’t want Mickey Rourke to come in and
write his scene. I was not making that film. And I didn’t want Mickey to
bring his hair. I didn’t want Rosanna to ball-bust me because she wanted
the character to be likeable. I didn’t want to go there with anybody. So
I was very strict. Especially with Ben (Gazzara) because . . . you
should have seen these guys, man. You don’t even know. Just as they
should have stopped Hitler in Austria when they had the chance, and they
had the chance, and I felt the minute I had the chance I stopped them
all, the 10 Hitlers that I had on my set.
My introduction to Anjelica Houston, she had fucked me so bad . . can I
say that . . she had screwed me so bad in preproduction in the conniving
manipulations of her conniving agent to boost my budget 50 grand.
Rose: She didn’t like the hairstyle?
Gallo: Suddenly, it wasn’t enough that we paid her a quarter of a
million for 3 days. The GREAT Anjelica Houston. God forbid that she
should have a job where she works. Forget that we paid her a quarter of
a million, suddenly she has to have her own hair person. They have to
fly first class her own makeup person, her assistant, the wig, the
$20,000 wig. And it’s all coming out of basically my salary. The final
straw is that she refused to work Easter Sunday. So, Easter Sunday we’re
forced to film an exterior shot because we have no cover set, we had
planned Anjelica’s inside scene and there’s this blizzard storm of rain
and snow which was not a good continuity match for other scenes. So,
we’re filming with this tarp over the thing, but I’m dying. I mean, my
life is over, my film is ruined, I’m screwed because of Anjelica and she
pulls up in a limousine. She comes in a big limousine and the window
rolls down and the assistant comes out and says to me . . . while I’m
filming on set . . . “Anjelica thought that maybe you can take an hour
off and rehearse with her for tomorrow’s scene.”
Rose: So she’d rehearse on Easter Sunday but . . .
Gallo: Yes, that was the point. That was the whole point. I said, “You
tell that vicious cunt, you tell that bitch, that cunt to get the fuck
off my set.” I looked right at her and she looked at me and then she
started balling. Because the girls, you know, they got to twist you that
way. She started balling and then she pulls away. We straightened it out
later that night, but then still, you’ve got to stop. But then she was
an angel, then suddenly she’s the nicest . . . “OK, what can I do for
you, Vinnie Gallo?” You can show up on Easter Sunday and not break the
team. But Ben, Ben, he’s a genius, he read the role of the father and
his take on the role as the father was actually, literally, from my
father’s point of view. He saw the son as this evil, conniving bastard
holding the knife. He doesn’t get it that it was a scene of absurd
superstition. No, he kept saying, [Gazzara voice] “Yeah, uh, so, uh, you
really wanted to stab your mother. You really wanted to stab your
father.” I said, “Ben, the father is nuts, the son is nice. The father
is nuts.” But Ben attached himself to this whole thing with Christina,
where he’s all over her boobs. The father is really nutty, he says some
nice things, but no, he turns him into a lecher, a lecher. But he’s so
good . . . he’s drinking a little, right? He’s throwing them back, so
a couple times we had confrontations and . . .
Rose: It all worked . . .
Gallo: He’s so talented, but when you’re on set with him there’s a whole
other thing that’s present and you lose a slight bit of focus. But he is
so gifted. He’s a hundred times better than you would think by watching
his performance. He’s the best actor I’ve ever worked with in my life,
Ben. He’s a monster talent, a monster talent, and I was very lucky with
Ben . . . very lucky . . . very lucky.