The Director's Chair Interviews

Vincent Gallo: Artist, Auteur, or Just Plain Annoying?
by Tim LaTorre

Click here for Vincent Gallo films, books, and soundtracks


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 direct?

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 performances.

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 improvisation?

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.
 

Vincent Gallo: Artist, Auteur, or Just Plain Annoying?, Part II

by Tim LaTorre


In Part II of our transcript from a Q & A session held with Vincent Gallo and Brian Rose after a screening of "Buffalo '66" at New York City's DGA theater on May 21, Gallo goes beyond the usual sound bites he consciously produces, uncovering 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.

Rose: For me, one of the most striking things was the visual aspects of the film where every single scene seems to have such an incredible text. Not just focus, but it's your framing, the way your shots are composed...

Gallo: Yeah, there's this girl named Tamra Davis, wife of Mike D from the Beastie Boys, and she got to make films. Who knows how? She made awful films. And she came up to me once and . . . you know, not only did I invent the film stock and invent the processing and shoot five days without a cinematographer and storyboard so methodically -- When people come up to you after you make a film like this and they say, "Really great film, you're really lucky, great cinematography". What does that mean? You know, what does that mean exactly? It's so pretentious, it's such a pretentious thing now that one needs to, when one makes a film, really avoid being seduced by the delusion, the deluded continuity between the narrative, the performers, the production design, the cinematography, the lighting . . . they need to have one aesthetic point of view, one sensibility, one context. And to do that, one really has to take extreme control. I don't think I'll every be able to have as much control over my films as a filmmaker as I did in this film because I won't have a producer that's on drugs, lost, so he'll leave me alone to do whatever I want. I won't have a deal from the Director's Guild, which really helped me control my director's cut. It might not work out so conveniently the next time.

With the cinematography, my cinematographer was brilliant. The real superstar in the movie for me visually was my gaffer, my lighting guy, and my first AC [assistant cameraman]. That's why I chose [in the credits] to really identify each member of the technical crew as a special person. But one puts together a team of camera people and lighting people, and electricians, when the people who do those jobs are really good at it and they're directed into a very narrow focus, I feel most comfortable watching that type of cinema. I'm distracted by most of contemporary cinema because it seems superficially shot, the visual fetishes are without context or point of view or aesthetic sensibilities. You know, you go on a movie set and the cinematographer is looking around to make something look good and it's inconsistent. So, in this film . . I had never made a film before but I had a real clear idea of what my movie should look like. I had a very accommodating cinematographer and lighting guy.

Rose: Did you have that vision even when you were selling the script? Because it seems that it is so completely focused of what that vision is.

Gallo: It's because my aesthetic sensibility has evolved over many years. I've done other things, I was a painter for many years, showing at a gallery in New York City. All my framing or my composition or my lighting sensibilities or texture sensibilities or color sensibilities, they were pretty consistent over a long period of time. So it was very easy for me to adapt them into cinema.

The truth is that aesthetically I was proudly most influenced by contemporary fashion photography, more than contemporary cinema. I feel that even though a lot of fashion photographers are doing work that maybe doesn't have impact culturally, maybe there isn't a real emotional impact. But there is a visual aesthetic impact that is very sophisticated. When I would work with some very good fashion photographers and I had got to meet their production designers, their lighting people . . . I found my lighting guy, my camera guy, my 1st AC, my makeup girl, my production designer all on fashion shoots working with Richard Avedon or Steven Meisel or people like that.

So, it was very important that all the people who worked on the film creatively had a very sophisticated sensibility in that way. I know that that sounds weird or half fake, but in this period in evolution people in fashion are more sophisticated, in my experience, than the people I've worked with in cinema. The movie job, in general . . the makeup girl is like a beauty parlor level. The costume girl, she buys a couple of shirts at Goodwill and she thinks that is really shocking. Production designers, they get magazine cut-outs and . . . there's no real evolution. You don't feel like there's a real point-of-view, a sophisticated point-of-view. In fashion, there can be that thing . . . I have a couple of photographer friends here tonight and I'm more excited about them seeing my movie than all of the filmmakers that I know. They can appreciate the methodical sensibility that you seem to be talking about more than other filmmakers. Especially when you go to independent film festivals or a circus like that. It's very rare that I'm excited by someone's aesthetic point-of-view in cinema. All low budget movies seem to have a . . . I love this word "independent", it doesn't mean anything. There's good movies and bad movies, movies that aren't expensive and movies that are. In the . . what we call independent . . but just the lower budgeted films one would think that you have the most opportunity to be radical and severe and groundbreaking and innovative, but people that I've worked with in those circles seem to be the least interested in exploring the possibilities of cinema. Especially the producers and the people who do the posters and who cut the trailers. It's very unexciting and it doesn't feel like I have a group of younger filmmakers or filmmakers working in lower budgets where I feel like we're really redefining the evolution of pop culture. Everybody's looking to have a hit movie so they can make a studio movie or something. It's very infrequent that I felt excited by that sort of thing.

So when I got my chance to direct a film, I felt that it might be my only chance of my whole life and I obsessed on every detail. I don't know if I'm completely thrilled with everything in the film, but at least I feel responsible for everything so there's no pain. When I watch the film there's no pain the normal way I feel pain when I try to watch movies that I was in . . . something like that . . . you know what I'm saying?

Top of page

Email this Page to your friends(s)

Back  Home