Buffalo Bill's Defunct
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Dismantling the past: "Buffalo Bill's Defunct"

An ambitious and often moving feature, produced locally and directed by Seattle's Matt Wilkins, "Buffalo Bill's Defunct" is both shrewd and sophisticated filmmaking.

Essentially a collection of poignant short tales about the grown children and grandchildren of ornery but magnanimous "Buffalo" Bill (Earl V. Prebezac, co-founder of Edmonds' Driftwood Players), the action begins when Bill accidentally rams his truck through a wall of his dilapidated shed.

Deciding it's time to demolish the rustic hut, widower Bill enlists his kin in removing its family paraphernalia from bygone years. This dismantling of the past becomes a catalyst for learning more about Bill's kids (and their kids) through spare vignettes that have been compared, with good reason, to stories of the late Port Angeles writer Raymond Carver.

One of the best pieces stars Keith Fox as an emotionally reckless and taciturn father whose grown daughter (Frances Hearn) reluctantly bonds with him while humiliating her drunken boyfriend (Michael White).

Improvising dialogue and behavior, the entire cast and Wilkins find a quiet if urgent soulfulness somewhat obscured at times by overly busy editing.

—--Tom Keogh, Special to The Seattle Times


"Buffalo Bill's Defunct" continues to amaze me every time I watch it. I feel as if I am in the hands of an emerging master, who is working in that wonderful time in his career when budgetary constraints and limited resources only add fuel to the bonfire of his indefatigable imagination.

The archival footage of the characters at various stages of their lives was mind-blowing, and added to the hyper-realism achieved by the ensemble cast. Actor Keith Fox was hilarious. Earl Prebezac was fascinating. Frances Hearn was mesmerizing. I have never seen anything like the diaper scene—--a sad and funny encounter between two grown men that ends in a surprising display of affection.

The structure of the film seems to be built of gossamer, and flows perfectly to an ending that affected me first physically, then emotionally. It is, dare I say it, brilliant.

That this film isn't playing in every art house and film festival in the world only proves that a confederacy of dunces has a strangle-hold on programming. Anyone who saw this film but couldn't see transcendence into pure cinema should be decommissioned forthwith.

I would gladly spill my own blood to ensure that Matt Wilkins continues to find bigger and bigger budgets. If anyone should be given 100 million dollars to make a movie, it should be me. But if anyone should be given 50 million dollars to make a movie, it should be Matt Wilkins. You should all come to see "Buffalo Bill's Defunct" while Matt is still accessible to the public, for some day, in the not too distant future, I predict that his films will define a new standard for subtlety, sensitivity, complexity and purity in the cinema.

-- Karl Krogstad, Filmmaker and Host of The American Avantgarde

by Laura Cassaddy

Local director Matt Wilkens has made a fictional family album, complete with bittersweet memories, hilarious snapshots, yellowing pages, and moments that might have been better off forgotten. The remarkable part is that it's done without employing cliche or manipulation. You'll cringe at the uncomfortable moments, but that's expected. You're not cringing at the film, you're cringing with it—and on the other hand, the film is weirdly heartwarming, but not enough to embarrass you.

Revolving around a harebrained scheme, spearheaded by Grandpa Bill (the titular Buffalo), to tear down a dilapidated garage on the family land, the film explores the generational push/pull of family members who love one another, sure, but might not always speak the same language. To its credit, the movie doesn't take a heavy-handed approach to the dysfunctional family thing—--in fact, the family is refreshingly functional. There are satisfying undercurrents of awkwardness and broken ties. You see it in the odd way that little Wiley smacks his dolls around and the way that Bill is clueless and inappropriate and asks his daughter if her boyfriend has any weird sexual habits. Is he starting to lose his grip, or is he just a weird old guy? In the end, he's so sweet it doesn't matter—but then again, he's her dad, not ours.

Wilkens has said he's interested in nonverbal communication, and while much is "said" by Bill with his sea-blue eyes, half-closed by age, his family does talk and talk and talk as well. But Wilkens often separates their dialogue from the action. Their speech is used as in voice-overs in tangentially related scenes where the actors almost never face the camera. The script in Defunct was largely improvised, and, because the largely local cast is easy and talented, these scenes paint an incredibly real-feeling family in the midst of some real-feeling changes. (NR)


Crotchety, curmudgeonly Grandpa Bill (Earl V. Prebezac) leads his goofy brood not in raising a barn, but tearing down a garage. Seattle director Matt Wilkins' largely improvised feature is somewhat untraditional in structure, but it feels keenly real in its graceful and humorous sketches on family relationships. (Shannon Gee) Guild Theater


beyond the multiplex
Friday, October 15, 2004

WEST HOME -- When he accidentally drives through the door of his dilapidated garage, an elderly curmudgeon named Bill (Earl V. Prebezac) tries to cover up his ineptitude by declaring he's decided to tear the thing down. As various family members are enlisted to help with this absurd task, the shed is emptied of ramshackle heirlooms and board games, sparking gossip and remembrance in the form of flashbacks. In one tale, Bill's granddaughter takes her boyfriend to meet her father, and a cruel drunken prank ensues. In another, the family's youngest generation confronts natural reality in the form of a roadkill fawn.

Dancing elliptically around themes of familial disintegration and modern disconnectedness from the world, "Buffalo Bill's Defunct" earns its subtitle: "Stories From the New West." Director Matt Wilkins and producer Eliza Fox, winners of a Judges' Award at the 2001 Northwest Film and Video Festival for the short film "Interior Latex," have crafted a solid, impressive-looking film. The semi-improvised performances are consistently naturalistic, and the production as a whole marks a promising feature debut for these Seattle-area filmmakers.

"Buffalo Bill's Defunct" plays Friday at the Northwest Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.


by David Walker
Buffalo Bill's Defunct

Filmmaker Matt Wilkins' funny and touching tale of family dysfunction was a big hit at the Seattle International Film Festival. Wilkins paints a portrait of an extended family in eastern Washington, brought together by a lie told to cover an accident. Local indie filmmakers would be well advised to watch Buffalo Bill's Defunct, a solid film that was primarily improvised.


"When aging Grandpa Bill (Earl Prebezac) backs his old pickup right through the garage door, he covers up the accident with a spontaneous project: He razes the old shed and the entire family gets in on the haphazard demolition derby. Matt Wilkins' family portrait is the third local production from Wiggly World's "Start to Finish" project, and the most personal. The lives of Bill, his children and his grandkids over these couple of days are viewed like snapshots illuminated with uncompromising glare of a flashbulb. The naked observation of family dynamics in mundane moments, squirmy behavior and oblivious selfishness that only sometimes breaks through to empathy unsettlingly gives the film a startlingly unique quality."
-Sean Axmaker, SEATTLE P-I


"Matt Wilkins' BUFFALO BILL'S DEFUNCT: STORIES FROM THE NEW WEST has a looseness to it that's reminiscent of free verse..."
-Moira Macdonald, SEATTLE TIMES


* Buffalo Bill's Defunct--* Stories from the New West
"Crotchety, curmudgeonly Grandpa Bill leads his goofy brood in not raising a barn, but tearing down a garage. Local director Matt Wilkins' largely improvised feature is somewhat untraditional in structure, but it feels keenly real in its graceful and humorous sketches on family relationships."
-Shannon Gee, THE STRANGER


More THE STRANGER notes on SIFF:
"BUFFALO BILL'S DEFUNCT quickly sold out the Broadway Performance Hall, and as of press time there was a rumor of a slim chance that it would move to a bigger house to accommodate more people."
-Andy Spletzer, THE STRANGER



"Wow, what a wonderful movie. I was so immediately charmed and into the story. I am so impressed with the filmmaking. What a beautifully told story. Made me realize how much I still have to learn about filmmaking and story telling. If you talk to the filmmakers please pass on that they have another fan of the movie and their work! Great performances from the cast as well.  I was truly impressed.  This is a well made movie.  You should work with them again if you are ever given the chance. As for you-. your best stuff yet. I really think so. You are so alive in each moment. I don't think I've ever seen you so free and in the moment so completely. I know you mentioned there was some improv, maybe it was loosely scripted, not sure, but in either case, you were so free and yet so restrained. It was so damn fun to watch.  I really truly enjoyed it and wish it had lasted longer. I have to comment that the dad who harasses his kids and paints on his sons face is one of the most disturbing characters I've seen in a while. And the storyline of the dead animal was surprisingly revealing of character, it was impactful. Now for some of my favorite moments from Earl P, one of the most charming characters I've seen in a while:

"And I'd hold the wings- and the head would fly off and oh man!"
"Oh no, no tetanus shot for me.  Oh no.  Just need a bandaid."
"Now Wiley, get your ass outta there."
  "Because that's the guideline for the cable."
"No no, Suzanne, come on let's get with it."
"I don't care if it falls uphill, I don't want it to make a mess, we went thru this already Suzzane, for crissake."
"Is this gonna work?  Hell yes it's gonna work."

And I think my favorite scene was the moment with you on the couch with the little couple on the metal swing set and your grandson.  So tender and so honest. Was that your true story about your eye?  I have never asked you what happened to your eye. I loved seeing pictures from your earlier years.  It was a great way to start my Saturday and it really touched me.  It was just another reminder of family and mortality.  Two themes that run strong in my own personal journey.
Thanks for sharing it with me. Congratulations to you and the rest of the group for creating such an honest story."
--Jeff Probst, Filmmaker, Host of "Survivor", and friend of Earl V. Prebezac



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