A true curio for Vincent Gallo’s hardcore fan club, vet musicvid director Erick Ifergan’s “Johnny 316” takes Oscar Wilde’s “Salome” and transfers it to Hollywood Boulevard. This “Sally” never dances, but she does meander the boulevard in a movie that similarly wanders and never finds a groove, tone or point of view. The rather inspired central idea of Gallo as a modern-day John the Baptist goes undeveloped, with a ton of pretense in its wake. Pic will lure fests with its indie name cast and may score with buyers at Euro art labels.
Lensed in 1998 (while Gallo was struggling to get completion funds for his first film, “Buffalo 66”), pic was then reworked with added shooting and finally finished in 2006 (with a corresponding copyright date). Gallo’s co-star Nina Brosh, who plays Sally, was one of the world’s hottest supermodels at the time of shooting, and seemed prime for a film career. Nine years later, Brosh has retired from modeling and showbiz for a quiet family life in her native Israel, leaving behind “Johnny 316” as her only film credit.
The protracted manner in which the film was made is directly visible onscreen, as long, lingering shots (often in hyper closeup) of Gallo’s Johnny calmly preaching are not so fluidly intercut with similarly claustrophobic shots of Sally impatiently dealing with her infirm mother (Louise Fletcher)before going to her job at a Hollywood Boulevard hair salon.
The same effects and devices that can work well for brief musicvideos — spatial displacement, visual exaggeration, deliberate repetitions and big facial closeups — undermine scene after scene in Ifergan’s film, including a key sequence in the salon when Sally goes into a zonked-out state while viewing a televised version of Wilde’s play. Wandering the streets, she’s attracted to the handsomely rugged Johnny, who’s apparently wandered into town from the desert — at least according to a friendly shop owner (Seymour Cassel), who considers the street preacher to be an odd but docile customer.
Roughly following some beats of Wilde’s bizarre drama, the script traces Sally’s initial fascination with the self-proclaimed holy man, her erotic attraction and his rejection, followed by her final act of vengeance. The vast difference with Wilde’s version (or with any other, even the compressed version in such films as Nicholas Ray’s “King of Kings”), is that this Salome’s reaction is so dramatically delayed that it seems to come out of nowhere.
As a work capturing the atmosphere of life on Hollywood Boulevard, “Johnny 316” offers up a genuine time capsule of the street’s seedy, late-’90s condition before recent renovations. A slightly younger Gallo convincingly summons a spiritual and peaceful guy (in an ice cream suit), in what amounts to a solo performance. By contrast, Brosh looks out of her element.
Music cues are all over the map, from Bach cello suites and Tom Waits ballads to free jazz and a Nick Cave closer. Telecine print screened was below average, taking away from what appears to be intense cinematography by Toby Irwin.