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  • Cimmy Nakum

You Look Like a Little Boy in the Bathtub: The Genius of Vincent Gallo

Y’know that ache in your bones when you’re sick, or the pit in your stomach like something bad is going to happen and you just can’t shake it? The films of Vincent Gallo are that feeling; both The Brown Bunny (2003) and Buffalo ’66 (1999) exude this dull, painful human ache. And THAT is the genius that is Vincent Gallo.

A loose description of Buffalo ’66 is that a man (played by Gallo) gets out of jail, kidnaps a tap dancer, brings her to his parents’ house to pretend to be his wife, and then as he goes on his self-destructive and loathing path, he falls in love with her. The Brown Bunny has an even simpler plot in which Bud Clay (also played by Gallo) is a motorcycle racer who goes from New Hampshire to California for his next race, and along the way he meets many women, none of whom he can form a meaningful connection with. Besides a race, he is traveling to California to reunite with Daisy (played by Chloë Sevigny), his lost love.

His films, as well as his music, are so self-indulgent, so self-loathing, and so reminiscent of the self; this approach is what gives him a unique edge over any other artist. This egomaniac of a man who thinks of nothing but himself is what allows for his two films to be so raw, sensitive, and vulnerable. With each of the two plots (and characters) being semi-autobiographical, we not only get a glimpse into Gallo’s own mind but also at the myriad of terrible emotions that make up the human experience. Gallo is one of the few artists to truly open himself up and show the good, the bad, and the ugly of himself, which connects the viewer to his films in an incredibly intimate way. His movies and music are whatever we, as viewers or listeners, want them to be because there is a tenderness and nakedness to his work that strips away any of the grandiosity and fakeness that other films have that separate the viewer from any type of emotion. As we watch the protagonists go on their self-pitying journey, we as a viewer are taken along with them and stoop to their level; looking at Gallo is like looking into a mirror.

When I watch films, I can often imagine people set up behind the camera, holding the mic, the equipment, looking at monitors, etc., but with Gallo’s work, my brain cannot even fathom that what I’m seeing isn’t real, and I don’t recall any other work that has that effect on me. I truly have no idea how Vincent Gallo is able to create two of the most beautiful and tender movies that exist in cinema, especially The Brown Bunny. How he was able to put together such a moving film that contained little to no dialogue or people other than Bud Clay is beyond me. The best scene in this movie is where Clay is driving and the camera shows nothing but the long, rural road through the windshield while Jackson C. Frank’s Milk & Honey plays. This scene is packed with more emotion than Before Sunrise or Blue Valentine, and while people could claim that "anyone could do that scene, it’s so simple," I am of the belief that no one other than Gallo could make that scene as emotive as it was. Other directors, specifically Terrence Malick, have attempted to make scenes like this, with songs playing over an open landscape; however, they lack any form of authenticity and humanness, which are the fundamental driving forces in Gallo’s work.

Gallo also did the visual accompaniment to John Frusciante’s 2001 album, To Record Only Water for Ten Days, and for a series of videos that are mostly just Frusciante being himself, whether that’s playing guitar or walking around, it has Gallo’s signature feel to it.

Gallo has two albums out: 2001’s When and 2002’s Recordings of Music for Film. I think that When has the same effect on an individual as his films, they are deeply intimate recordings of Gallo singing and playing guitar or wordless songs that are made up of instrumental loops. As you listen to the tracks, in order of course, you are bombarded with the fact that Gallo is alone in every sense of the word, each line is written from the perspective of a man who has no one, and even the instrumental tracks are as hollowed out as he is. It’s truly amazing how good he is at getting his feelings across, or perhaps it takes nothing and he’s just pulling feelings out of the consumer that already exist.

I really do think Vincent Gallo is one of the last real auteurs in cinema, and that says a lot because his last movie came out 20 years ago. His movies, and music sure do know how to twist your insides all about until you’re left in the same self-loathing pitiful state that Gallo was in when making his movies or songs.


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