Johnny 316 is the arthouse love story you didn't know you needed to see
Only diehard Vincent Gallo fans have heard of Johnny 316, a movie sandwiched between Buffalo ‘66 and Goodbye Lover in his IMDb actor credits. Why did this ‘lost’ film fall off the radar? The details are still blurry, but here’s what we know. French filmmaker Erick Ifergan made it 20 years ago, and it screened at the 1998 New York Underground Film Festival. It wasn’t until nine years later, after another festival screening, that a review in Variety appeared to shed some light: “[The film was] lensed in 1998 (while Gallo was struggling to get completion funds for his first film, Buffalo ‘66), [and it] was then reworked with added shooting and finally finished in 2006.”
And yet, Johnny 316 was still impossible to see for another six years. It surfaced out of the blue on YouTube in 2012, like a lost time capsule of the late 90s. The director’s production company, Serial Dreamer, released a trailer alongside a caption that dubbed it “the hidden gem of controversial actor Vincent Gallo”. Meaning yes, you can press play on the full 77-minute oddity this very second and discover the gem for yourself. But before you do, here’s a few things you need to know about this slept-on indie described as “a true curio for Gallo’s hardcore fan club”.
GALLO PLAYS AN LA STREET PREACHER
Originally titled Hollywood Salome, the movie takes Oscar Wilde’s Salome and transfers it to Hollywood Boulevard. That’s where Gallo pops up as a preacher. He’s on a street corner, clad in an all-white suit like the dark-haired brother of Wayne Coyne. “God loves you, God bless you”, he says to passersby while handing them pamphlets. A love story unfolds when he meets a hairdresser called Sally who falls for him despite his 100% devotion to God. “Let me touch your hair”, she says. “Don’t touch me!” he barks back. The sexual tension and frustration soon bubbles up. And, well, in this arthouse tale of impossible love, things don’t exactly go well from there.
IT CAPTURES THE LAST DAYS OF SEEDINESS ON HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
Ifergan shot the movie in the shadow of the Hollywood sign, in what was, at least back then, the less glitzy end of the Hollywood Boulevard. Rundown cinemas, motels with dirty swimming pools, signs that read, ‘LIVE NUDE SHOWS’ and ‘CHEQUES CASHED HERE’. This is the sleazy east end of the Boulevard, where eccentrics are ten a penny, from old cowboys to street preachers. And yet, that Hollywood dream, just out of reach, adds to the temptations Gallo’s character struggles with and rallies against, as he preaches from the stars lining the sidewalk. And yeah, this backdrop also happens to be beautifully gritty, like a Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s photograph brought to life.
THE CAST INCLUDES FASHION MODEL NINA BROSH AND INDIE VETERAN SEYMOUR CASSEL
Aside from Gallo, the film boasts the acting clout of Nina Brosh, the Israeli fashion model. In the 90s, Brosh was a big name on the catwalk and led campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel, Dior, and Miu Miu. Johnny 316 is her only feature film credit, followed by a 2000 short directed by Susanne Oberbeck, co-founder of industrial/electronica band No Bra. Other casting curiosities include: Seymour Cassel, the veteran indie actor who appeared in countless Cassavetes classics; and Louise Fletcher, who you know best as Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
IT'S THE ONLY FEATURE BY ARTIST ERICK IFERGAN, BEST KNOWN FOR HIS MUSIC VIDEOS
Johnny 316 is still the only feature movie made by Morocco-born filmmaker Erick Ifergan, best known for his work as a music video director. He’s made videos for Isaac Hayes and Tori Amos, the latter of whom appears in the video for ‘1000 Oceans’ inside a glass box in the middle of a city, like an artsy version of David Blaine’s London stunt. Ifergan lived in the States for 20 years, where he also took his best-known photographs and worked on ad campaigns for the likes of Apple, Sony, and Dior. Ever the polymath, he also paints and makes sculptures. Whether he has another feature up his sleeve is anyone’s guess.
THE FILM BOASTS EXTRAORDINARY VISUALS THAT ARE EQUAL PARTS DARING AND DAZZLING
Watching Johnny 316, you can see the director’s background in music videos. He brings that same visual dynamism and eye-popping photography – extreme close-ups, slow-mo, characters bathed in vivid neon streetlight. Take the opening shot of Gallo levitating in the middle of the street. It’s shot from above, his legs out of view. It looks like one of Spike Lee’s famed ‘floating’ dolly shots, where the character inexplicably glides through a scene. In Ifergan’s movie the effect is equally celestial, though it leans more towards the arthouse; meaning, viewers will be split into two camps: those who find it visually inspired, and those who find it maddeningly pretentious. Whatever you think, you can’t deny the cinematic flair that places Ifergan alongside Jonathan Glazer, as another visionary music video director drawn to the big screen.