illustration of Vincent Gallo in green
Illustration by Mi Young
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illustration of Vincent Gallo in green
Illustration by Mi Young

A retrospective on the actor and director, who is just as known for his series of shocking actions as his actual work.

Vincent Gallo is a man of many trades, and controversy happens to be one of them — and what he is most notorious for. His career first began as an actor in minor roles, for instance, “Henry’s 70’s Crew #3” in “Goodfellas” (1990), but his career grew as he continued to find work. However, while he has contributed his acting to several popular films, Gallo is more commonly known for his independent films, projects developed with his whole heart. Not only is he a multi-faceted individual, he is also someone known for his sarcastic, outspoken nature, which has helped embroil him in endless controversy, most of which stems from his films and his mouth.

For several years, Gallo was an actor who made appearances in big-budget films. In 1998, Gallo released his first independent film, one he wrote, directed, scored and starred in alongside actress Christina Ricci. The movie, “Buffalo ‘66,” marked his debut as a writer and director; the film itself tells the story of a troubled young man, fresh out of prison pursuing his own self-interest. Not only did he develop and act in the project himself, he also created the music, serving as the composer for the movie’s soundtrack.

Untitled - October 3, 2022
Untitled - October 3, 2022

Even decades later, this film remains shocking, and the plot continues to be talked about and dissected today. In the movie, an unstable man tries to reverse his parents’ conception of him as a “loser,” and his character makes a rash decision: He kidnaps a young girl to be his wife, and the rest follows suit. As you can imagine, he treats her terribly and constantly offends her in the span of their “trip.”

As the film progresses, Ricci’s character, Layla, develops (of course) an unhealthy infatuation with Gallo’s character, Billy — although one can definitely question whether it stems from real love since she was threatened and kidnapped. Though many fans of the film have tagged it a romantic comedy, others see it differently. Audiences who disliked the movie instead claim that it romanticizes Stockholm syndrome and daddy issues. Seeing the movie in more negative, psychological terms, many have found the film’s plotlines to be concerning and not something to be admired.

Of course, outside of the film, Gallo’s mouth precedes his directing and acting. After the film was released, he initially claimed there was no bad blood between him and his co-star. Two years after, he described Ricci as “an ungrateful c—” who was “basically a puppet,” someone who he “told … what to do, and she did it.” Even apart from his problematic films, Gallo has become well known for lashing out and speaking out of turn.

In an interview with HuffPost Live, Ricci described Gallo as someone who was difficult to work with. She said the nature of his directorial work was “exacting,” “precise” and “demanding,” and ultimately hard to work with. Moreover, she made complaints about both his conduct on-set and the nature of the film. Ricci detailed many scenes that were challenging to shoot, many of which involved him yelling at her after takes. Though the film has easily become a cult classic, there’s not to say it wasn’t a troubling experience.

After so much criticism, who’s to say whether anyone expected any more films from Gallo? The film “Brown Bunny” (2003) is a more notably controversial film that received even more backlash. Gallo, who played the main character, and Chloe Sevigny, starred in a film with yet another questionable plot. Although the entire film was bizarre, the criticism really came down to one thing: an oral sex scene that happened to be 100% authentic. Speaking about the scene, Sevigny described it as “art” and something the public would not understand; she was right about one thing — the public definitely did not understand it.

When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2003, it received negative feedback. In fact, Roger Ebert was visibly un-okay with the film and he even walked out of the screening, describing it as the worst film ever. Of course, Gallo had a response: He called Ebert a “fat pig with the physique of a slave trader,” and wished colon cancer on the man, an insult that seems oddly specific. Though Gallo blamed Ebert for the film’s poor turnout, others assert that the film is actually just terrible.

Even though the “bad blood” between the men was allegedly hashed out, the issue did not rest. The magazine Another Man published an incredibly long letter by Gallo that went on various rants that discussed the backlash to his character, the feud with Ebert and other film politics. Really, the letter reveals a lot about who Gallo is and the nature of his films.

Most of Gallo’s work has been seen through the lens of his eccentric behavior, and much of the feedback has been criticism and disdain. Gallo’s works have been considered controversial and are still widely talked about (mostly among film buffs) today. Still, rather than address the hate, he has confronted it and it has fueled his desire to develop his own films.

True to his gaudy character, Gallo has since put up a website with a ridiculously bizarre list of curated “goods.” Some are relatively normal, like overpriced limited-edition jewelry and shirts that go for $666 apiece; however, he also offers escort services and even worse, sperm — both listed under “personal services” on a page that offers an in-depth description of what the purchase of his $1,000,000 sperm entails. If Gallo’s work and history prove anything, it’s that this website and the merchandise are completely on brand for him.

After so many years, Gallo’s films are still popular and talked about among film buffs. Whether his films are actually art or purely scandalous remains the question. Many viewers and critics have found his films to be outlandish. Still, his most notable works are the ones he has made himself and now his bizarre website. After a couple of independent films and his work as an actor and musician, no one knows what else Gallo has up his sleeve.

Writer Profile

Ally Najera

California State University, Northridge
Broadcast Journalism, minor in Marketing

I am currently studying broadcast journalism. I read religiously and love watching films. I am very passionate about words.

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