Buffalo Bill (character)

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Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb
Hannibal Tetralogy character
Silencelamp7.jpg
Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
Created byThomas Harris
Portrayed byTed Levine
Information
AliasesJohn Grant
Jack Gordon
GenderMale
 
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Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb
Hannibal Tetralogy character
Silencelamp7.jpg
Ted Levine as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
Created byThomas Harris
Portrayed byTed Levine
Information
AliasesJohn Grant
Jack Gordon
GenderMale

Jame Gumb (known by the nickname Buffalo Bill) is a fictional character and the main antagonist of Thomas Harris's 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs and its 1991 film adaptation, in which he was played by Ted Levine. In the film and the novel, he is a serial killer who murders overweight women and skins them so he can make a "woman suit" for himself.

Contents

Overview

Background

The novel reveals that Gumb was born in California in 1949 and abandoned by his mother — an alcoholic prostitute who misspelled "James" on his birth certificate — and was taken into foster care at age two. He was severely abused by his foster parents. He lived in foster homes until the age of 10, after which he was adopted by his grandparents, who became his first victims when he impulsively murdered them at the age of 12. He was sent to Tulare Vocational Rehabilitation, a psychiatric hospital where he was taught how to be a tailor.

He was working in a Baltimore curio store when he met and began a relationship with Benjamin Raspail. After Raspail left him, he killed Raspail's new lover, Klaus, and flayed him.[1]

Modus operandi

Gumb's modus operandi is to approach a woman, pretending to be injured and asking for help, then knocking her out in a surprise attack and kidnapping her. He takes her to his house and leaves her in a well in his basement, where he starves her until her skin is loose enough to easily remove. In the first three cases, he leads the victim upstairs, slips a noose around their necks and pushes them from the stairs, strangling them. Then he skins part of their body (a different section on each victim), and then dumps each body into a different river, destroying any trace evidence. In the case of his first victim, Fredrica Bimmel, he weighed down her body, so she ends up being the third victim found. In the case of the fourth victim, he shoots her instead of strangling her, then inserts a Death's-head Hawkmoth in her throat, and dumps the body.

Influences

Harris based various elements of Gumb's M.O. on six real-life serial killers:[2][3]

Analysis

Marjorie Garber, author of Vested Interests: Cross-Dressing and Cultural Anxiety, asserts that despite the book and the film indicating that Buffalo Bill merely believes himself to be transsexual, they still imply negative connotations about transsexualism. Garber says, "Harris's book manifests its cultural anxiety through a kind of baroque bravado of plot," and calls the book "a fable of gender dysphoria gone spectacularly awry".[4]

Barbara Creed, writing in Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in the Hollywood Cinema, says that Buffalo Bill wants to become a woman "presumably because he sees femininity as a more desirable state, possibly a superior one". For Buffalo Bill, the woman is "[a] totem animal". Not only does he want to wear women's skin, he wants to become a woman; he dresses in women's clothes and tucks his penis behind his legs to appear female. Creed writes, "To experience a rebirth as woman, Buffalo Bill must wear the skin of woman not just to experience a physical transformation but also to acquire the power of transformation associated with woman's ability to give birth." Buffalo Bill wears the skin of his totem animal to assume its power.[5]

Judith Halberstam, author of Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters, writes, "The cause for Buffalo Bill's extreme violence against women lies not in his gender confusion or his sexual orientation but in his humanist presumption that his sex and his gender and his orientation must all match-up to a mythic norm of white heterosexual masculinity." Halberstam says Buffalo Bill symbolizes a lack of ease with one's skin. The character is also a combination of Victor Frankenstein and his monster in how he is the creator gathering body parts and experimenting with his own body. Halberstam writes, "He does not understand gender as inherent, innate; he reads it only as a surface effect, a representation, an external attribute engineered into identity." Buffalo Bill challenges "the interiority of gender" by taking skin and remaking it into a costume.[6]

Notes and controversy

The film's screenplay omits Gumb's backstory, but does imply that he had a traumatic childhood. In the movie, Lecter summarizes Gumb's life thus: "Billy was not born a criminal, but made one by years of systematic abuse."

The film adaptation of Silence of the Lambs was criticized by some gay rights groups for its portrayal of the psychopathic Gumb as bisexual and transgender.[7] A Johns Hopkins sex-reassignment surgeon, present in the book but not the film (his scene was deleted and is found in bonus materials on the DVD), protests exactly the same thing; FBI Director Jack Crawford pacifies him by repeating that Gumb is not in fact transsexual, but merely believes himself to be. In the film, a similar scene is shown with Starling and Lecter in the same roles as the surgeon and Crawford, respectively. In the director's commentary for the 1991 film, director Jonathan Demme draws attention to various Polaroids taken of Buffalo Bill in the company of strippers; these are visible in Gumb's basement in the film.

References

  1. ^ Harris, Thomas (1991). The Silence Of The Lambs. St. Martin's Paperbacks. ISBN 0-312-92458-5. 
  2. ^ Bruno, Anthony. "Buffalo Bill" page 2 - "All About Hannibal Lecter - Facts and Fiction" @ Crime Library.com
  3. ^ Bowman, David."Profiler" Interview with John E. Douglas @ Salon.com July 8, 1999.
  4. ^ Garber, Marjorie (1997). Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. Routledge. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-415-91951-7. 
  5. ^ Creed, Barbara (1993). "Dark Desires: Male masochism in the horror film". In Cohan, Steven; Hark, Ina Rae. Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in the Hollywood Cinema. Routledge. pp. 126–127. ISBN 978-0-415-07759-0. http://books.google.com/books?id=9_Ijvzk6dR0C&dq=Dark+Desires%3A+Male+masochism&q=buffalo+bill#v=snippet&q=buffalo%20bill&f=false. 
  6. ^ Halberstam, Judith (1995). "Skinflick: Posthuman Gender in Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs". Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Duke University Press Books. ISBN 978-0-8223-1663-3. 
  7. ^ http://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/Silence-Lambs.html