There’s a certain sort of movie that’s set in Buffalo.
Gray skies and gloomy streets. Mounds of grimy snow. Hooded parkas and beat-up cars.
And worse, loser characters stuck in dead-end jobs or replaying lost Super Bowls over and over.
Think “Buffalo ’66,” which made the entire city look like the dirty windshield that main character Billy Brown angrily tries to wipe clean.
Or “Henry’s Crime,” which a Village Voice reviewer described as “set in the tumbleweed thoroughfares of downtown Buffalo.”
So it was hard to get worked up when the producer of “Draft Day” took a pass on Buffalo last week because there weren’t enough tax breaks to make up for the high cost of doing business here. There’s a serious discussion to be had about the use of tax incentives to lure film crews and the jobs they bring, but I was focused purely on the superficial stuff.
Who needs another film that’s going to portray Buffalo as a bunch of losers – lovable or not? Just the fact that Buffalo lost out on the film produced the typical sort of headlines that reinforce Buffalo as the butt of jokes.
But this one, said Film Commissioner Tim Clark, was going to be different.
“It was really going to be a very good story with a redeeming end and a city that ends up being America’s football city,” Clark said.
Clark concedes there have been movies in which Buffalo’s Rust Belt reputation plays a role. But he’s also seen film producers who have been amazed at the art galleries and architecture the region has to offer.
“It’s really eye-opening for a lot of people,” Clark said.
But what about what the rest of the country sees when they pop in a DVD of a movie like “The Savages?” The film – shot in Buffalo and Niagara Falls with Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman – plays right into Buffalo’s stereotype, with bitter cold scenes and lackluster backgrounds to enforce the depressing lives of the main characters.
“We’re in a motel room in Buffalo,” Linney’s character proclaims. “It’s embarrassing. We’re a cliché.”
It’s not just an outdated Buffalo stereotype in these movies. People who don’t live here believe this image.
“As anyone who has ever spent time in Buffalo will attest, it is a town uniquely out of sync with the rest of the country,” wrote a Washington Post reviewer when “Buffalo ’66” debuted. “Gallo beautifully captures that otherworldly quality with his mixture of modern and 30-year-old decor and a cast of characters who behave as if they were living in another era.”
It took years to wipe the grimy image portrayed in “Buffalo ’66” from the city’s fragile self-esteem.
“Bruce Almighty” broke the mold. The comedy shows Buffalo as a place filled with tree-lined streets, sunny brownstones and happy people.
The kicker, as everyone here knows, is that it wasn’t filmed in Buffalo. It looks like a sunny Hollywood set because it was a sunny Hollywood set.
There are days here – especially in mid-March – when the sky is gray and the snow is gray and everyone’s mood seems gray.
We’re never going to be sunny Los Angeles, but Hollywood filmmakers’ versions of Buffalo are just as fictional as the stories they tell.