BUFFALO 66 TRAILER: Breaking the Rules / Representing the Film

Jijo Reed, a veteran trailermaker and producer, (and my boss at SizzlePitch), recommended this trailer to my attention, saying he loved how Vincent Gallo flouted the conventions of trailer production while making such a memorable and effective piece of film advertising. I’ve looked at it repeatedly since, trying to understand how it does what it does and why it works so well.

Admittedly, this is a preview of a film that is not for everyone as the trailer plainly indicates. The film–written, directed and scored by Mr. Gallo, who also stars, is a classic of American Independent cinema, that tells the semi-autobiographical story of a falsely imprisoned and just-released felon who kidnaps a young tap dancer (Christina Ricci) who he asks to impersonate his wife in order to impress his impossible parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Houston). It is a comic-drama in which psychology and motivation are not, shall we say, conventional or clear-cut.

Apart from a 20 second live action coda, the trailer consists of stills, cut to a jazz instrumental music cue. Graphic and cast cards employ different fonts, colors and sizes, and the still images are themselves not uniform. Some are black and white; some are in color; some fill the screen; others are cropped. The title card, Buffalo 66, which appears twice, is also slightly different each time. And yet, because of our training (as movie goers and trailer watchers), we know all we need to know to make a consumer decision, despite the unconventionality of the presentation,

Apart from cards reading: “LionsGate Films/Presents /Vincent Gallo /Christina Ricci/ Ben Gazzara /Mickey Rourke / Rosanna Arquette /Jan-Michael Vincent / & Anjelica Huston/ in / a film by / Vincent Gallo /Buffalo 66″ there is no copy or voice over to explain the images that appear on screen, apart from the images themselves. And what we see is by no means narratively obvious.

The trailer unfolds thus: Mr. Gallo (as Billy Brown) is shown alone [in a bus? on a train?] and as if in anguish. He then assaults and kidnaps Ms. Ricci (as Layla), who incomprehensibly, quickly appears sympathetic to her captor and romantically interested.

We next flashback to Billy as a boy, his face alternating with that of his father, Mr. Gazzara, as a younger man. Cut to a shot of domesticity and conflict at the dinner table, Mr. Gallo between Mr. Gazzara (his dad) and Ms. Huston (his mom) who are all frozen in angry debate. This is followed by a series of close-ups of faces, including Mr. Gallo, Ms. Houston, an unidentified Asian Man, an unidentified white man with a pot belly, and a black and white shot of a pro-football kicker. (These are the images that are least assimilable, but then, at this point, you, the audience, may feel in on the joke and able to enjoy the irreverence concerning formula.)

The next act returns to scenes of domestic conflict, this time Ms. Huston is centered with Mr. Gallo to her right and Ms. Ricci to her left. She appears to be making a case against her son and insisting that Ms. Ricci take her part. Mr. Gallo looks exasperated and exhausted. Gallo and Ricci take leave of his parents, who affectionately embrace Ms. Ricci, who it seems has delighted them. Gallo and Ricci visit a bowling alley where he triumphantly throws a strike and she performs a pole dance in her baby-doll dress, her various poses cut to the beat, as if to simulate movement. AFter the bowling alley, they take candid shots in a photo booth. (These images are cropped as if taken from the film strip produced at the booth.) Next, we are treated to shots of Mr. Gallo outside, suffering additional emotional distress.

In the penultimate act of the trailer, Gallo and Ricci visit a strip club. We see topless strippers strike various poses. Next, Ricci is seated at the driving wheel of her car, followed by a shot of Mr. Gallo in his underpants, bent over in a non-descript bathroom.

The final scene, in live action, shows the two erstwhile lovers together on a motel bed, as seen from above. They curl in toward each other, kiss, then Mr. Gallo straightens out his long, thin body and turns away from Ms Ricci. A sad vocal cue plays, as the title card re-appears.

A trailer like this, while explicitly unconventional, is not therefore illegible. Despite the images from the cast run, which in the case of Ms. Ricci, Ms. Arquette and Mr Vincent, do not show their faces but rather body parts (bra and chest; lower half of her face and torso/waist, respectively) the intention and the identification is clear.

And, although We may not recognize the name Vincent Gallo, the other actors are all well known and distinguished, so that between the distributor (LionsGate) and the cast, we know this is a film with claims to our critical attention.

While we can’t understand the reasons for Mr. Gallo’s assault and kidnapping of Ms. Ricci, our alarm at her treatment it soon vitiated by her apparent calmness and cooperation with the itinerary of their romantic roadtrip. Obviously, Mr. Gallo is himself as tormented by his behavior as those around him are. If we wish to know more, the trailer insinuates, we know what to do.

The domestic scenes, while harrowing, are also hilarious. The interior decor is depressing; Ms. Houston is clearly a monster, but then conflict at the dinner table is a familiar situation, regardless of its content. Given her stature as an actor, one of the promised delights of this film is the chance to see her uglified to such a degree and chewing the scenery.

While Billy may not have won his parent’s love, Layla has succeeded in endearing herself. From there, they embark on their own evening of activity, stopping first at the bowling alley, next at the strip club, and finally settling in for an intimate evening in their motel room. As the trailer indicates, not much happens in the way of action and event, but then this is not that kind of movie. It’s a character study, as indicated by the stills of faces in whose eyes and mouths emotional experience is plain to see.

If this photo album of troubled people and dysfunctional families in luridly lit and badly decorated, down-market settings appeals to you–whether your aesthetic taste or sense of the kitsch–then you may very well want to know more, to understand what connection inheres between Billy and Layla; what childhood trauma occurred in Billy’s development; what the relationship is like between his narcissistic caregivers. At the very least, you won’t be able to complain that this trailer mislead you about the independent spirit of this romantic road movie in which normal motivation is in abeyance and the aberrant psychology and family dynamics of a Buffalo household are on display.

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movietrailers101 by Fred Greene is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

About Frederick Greene

Entertainment Copywriter & Visiting Assistant Professor, UCLA Dept. of Theater, Film & Television. I teach a graduate seminar in new movie marketing, which focuses on the history, contemporary practice and likely future of a/v advertising for motion picture entertainment.
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