Buzzard is a simple story told in a string of blackout scenes. People talk. They eat. Sometimes they hit each other. Blackout. Next scene comes up. And so on. Godard used to do it this way. So did Jim Jarmusch. It’s a nice style, and it can be effective, especially when you’re depicting characters who are, shall we say, smaller than life.
The movie’s hero (or ‘anti-hero’) is Marty Jackitansky (Joshua Burge), a touchy young guy who works a temp job at a mortgage company. When we first see him he’s closing out his checking account so he can take advantage of a new $50-dollar offer from the same bank to open a new account. He’s kind of a prick, and he knows it.
Never meeting a scam he doesn’t like, Marty eventually gets his hands on some old company checks and signs them over to himself, which seems like an easy way to get quick money. When he learns his crime is easily traceable by the firm, he grows paranoid. Thinking his shabby apartment will be surrounded by cops and surveillance cameras, he hides out in the basement of a co-worker. They bicker and get on each other’s nerves. When the stress of hiding out becomes too much, he snaps and assaults his friend. Then he hits the streets, hoping to lay low until the coast is clear.
The second part of the movie is decidedly grimmer than the first. Using his native ability to scam people, Marty manages to stay in hotels for a while, but they become increasingly smaller and grimier as his money runs out. We eventually see him scavenging from dumpsters, like the buzzard of the movie’s title. He turns to violence, which isn’t a surprise, since he’s such a hothead. He wants to be a rebel, but he’s not sure what he’s rebelling against. He rails against corporate America, but if you asked him why corporate America was bad, he probably couldn’t tell you. It’s just a notion he probably heard on one of his heavy metal albums.
The world of Buzzard is an indistinct grey, the sort of bland cityscape you see in comic books and graphic novels. It supposedly takes place in Detroit, but you wouldn’t know it. The time period, too, is a mystery. There are references to Soundgarden, and the characters seem mangy enough to have existed at any time during the past two decades. There are no mobile phones, and no references to apps or the internet. Maybe it takes place in the 1990s. I don’t know. All that is clear is that the people around Marty seem unbearably stupid and self-absorbed. It’s no wonder he feels no guilt about ripping people off. Bank tellers seem robotic. Store clerks seem smug. To blow ‘em all up would seem a reasonable conclusion for a guy like Marty.
While the movie may remind me of an early Jarmusch, this is only in reference to its style. The characters in Jarmusch, for instance, were adults, with adult behavior. They gambled, they liked sports, they occasionally thought about women. In Buzzard, the characters have jobs, but they’re still playing with plastic Star Wars swords, and living in their parents’ basement. Marty, for all of his anger and frustration, is a nerd, too. Even in a dire moment, he doesn’t mind explaining the difference between Bigfoot and the Florida Skunk Ape. He even builds a glove that resembles the one worn by Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street. He wears monster masks out in public. Here’s a guy on the run from the law, yet rather than remain inconspicuous, he’s so dumb that he wears masks and a giant glove with blades. Then again, he’s so used to going through life unnoticed that he probably can’t imagine anyone seeing him, even with a rubber mask on.
I liked Joshua Burge as Marty. He looks like Buster Keaton, sounds like Donald Sutherland, and is always a click away from doing some damage. Writer/director Joel Potrykus even has the chutzpah to put Marty in a dark movie theater, peering through the blades of his Freddy glove, looking exactly like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, waiting for the explosion to come. Is this a conscious move? An homage, like Godard dressing his French actors like Bogart? Or a warning that even our nerds will become dangerous? Marty would usually be played for laughs as a supporting character in another story. Here, he’s front and center. And he’s fascinating. I especially loved the long scene, shot in one delirious take, where he sits in a hotel room eating a plate of spaghetti and watching TV. He stuffs his mouth with such animal pleasure that he finally seems, with his hotel robe and slippers, like a king in his castle.