Vincent Gallo

Recordings of Music for Film (Warp)

Vincent Gallo once described himself as the kind of guy who'd attend a football game in a visiting uniform and cheer until he got killed. Divisive as a portcullis with the stare of Rasputin, the Buffalo-bred director/actor/composer has certainly garnered his fair share of praise and scorn over the years: He's been everything from an oily-haired Renaissance genius to an ultraconservative homophobe/bigot. Yet long before he made a splash in the world of indie filmmaking with his 1998 masterpiece, Buffalo 66, Gallo tinkered obsessively with old analog recording equipment, searching for sounds both radical and original.

Spanning 20 years of lo-fi trial and error, the bulk of these 29 tracks represents a time during the '80s in New York's art scene when hip, young creative types were painting, making Super-8 films, playing in a band, or -- as in Gallo's case -- doing all three simultaneously. Following a brief fling in a conceptual quintet called Gray (a band that also featured millionaire art star Jean Michel Basquiat), Gallo found himself broke and throwing together soundtracks for friends -- including experimental upstart Eric Mitchell. Besides acting in The Way It Is, Mitchell's 1983 black-and-white homage to Jean Cocteau's 1949 Orpheus (a film that also marked the screen debuts of Rockets Redglare and Steve Buscemi), Gallo wrote and recorded music for his pal's low-budget footnote. Done on a mid-century Ampex two-track recorder, these resurrected, murky tapes sound as if they survived several brittle winters in a storage unit. Remastered from the original gummed-up reels, they convey industrial mood and nuance ("A Brown Lung Hollering"), incidental motif ("Her Smell Theme"), and sad, wandering improvisation ("Six Laughs Once Happy"). Strictly instrumental, the primitive soundtracks blend guitar, bass, clarinet, Mellotron, drums, marimba, tape loop, stick, saxophone, and piano into unearthed artifacts that sparkle like an old, dirty Polaroid.

More melodic but equally depressing are the nine quiet tracks from Buffalo 66that, taken out of context from the film's abrasively hilarious script, conjure a pungent and palpable hollowness. Recording on the fly after he drained his budget securing the rights for music by Yes, King Crimson, and Stan Getz, Gallo recycled one outtake from his earlier soundtrack ("Lonely Boy," the collection's only vocal track, singer uncredited) but scored the rest in two brainstorming days. Glaringly absent is the original crooning of Gallo's abusive father singing "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)," a tune lip-synced during the film with memorable creepiness by actor Ben Gazzara.

Six additional cuts from two early film shorts, Downtown '81 and If You Feel Froggy, Jump, round out Gallo's curious vanity project with similarly grim results. But like his alter ego Billy Brown from 66 -- a bitter neurotic who finally realized that the best revenge is simply living a good life -- Gallo makes cheering for the wrong team feel heroic.

 
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