Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Song and Dance Man

I don't exactly remember the first time I saw the often brilliant Christoper Walken on screen. Probably it was in 1977's The Sentinel, a horror flick about the guardian of the Gates of Hell in a New York City Brownstone. It starred a slew of folks whose names everyone knew in the 70's, but are completely unknown by the Twilight generation. Walken played Detective Rizzo. I remember being completely freaked out by it's combination of special effects and actors who had real birth defects and deformities. The scenes in the clip below really don't do it justice, but you get the general idea:

I remember him next in Michael Cimino's 1978 Vietnam flick The Deer Hunter, in which Walken portrayed Nick, a POW forced to play Russian Roulette by his captors. I didn't really appreciate this film when it forst came out - it was a war movie, after all (and someday we'll talk about my aversion to war movies), but Walken is brilliant in this intense scene with Robert DiNiro:

We'll skip Cimino's infamous and ill-fated Heaven's Gate and move on to Herbert Ross' 1981 bizarre Depression Era musical Pennies from Heaven, where he lip-synchs to an old recording of Fats Waller's "Let's Misbehave," and in which he finally gets to display the dance training he received as a child:

Then there was Douglas Trumball's 1983 Brainstorm, infamous as Natalie Wood's last film, about a machine designed to record dreams which ultimately ends up recording Louise Fletcher's character's death experience:

That same year, he played Johnny Smith in David Cronenberg's adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone:

Skipping through Walken's 1985 Bond appearance (A View to a Kill) and 1988's Neil Simon memory play, Biloxi Blues in 1988, we come upon 1989's Communion, based on author Whitley Streiber's semi-autobiographical alien abduction novel. It's probably the movie that cemented Walken as a weirdo, but it remains one of his most interesting performances:

Four years later, Walken played Max Schreck in Tim Burton's Batman Returns. Named for the actor who first played Dracula (albeit unofficially), Schreck is an evil department store owner who is planning on taking Gotham City down with the help of Danny DeVito's Penguin:

Walken's career just goes on and on. From his many appearances on"Saturday Night Live"

to his amazing dance routine in the 1997 video for Fatboy Slim's "Weapon of Choice"

and his hysterical turn as Wilbur Turnblad in the movie version of the musical Hairspray:

So, what made me go on this Walken spree? Well, this clip from a BBC "chat-show" in which Walken gives a dramatic reading of the lyrics to Lady Gaga's hit "Poker Face" (via):

I'm the first to admit that I've glossed over dozens of Mr. Walken's performances on film and TV in a decades-long career most actors would kill to have had, but a post talking about all of them would take far longer to write than I can do without spending an entire day researching and commenting. Someday, I'll probably talk about his other movie, video and TV appearances than I was able to mention here. Needless to say, I am in awe of the man's versatility and staying power in an industry which routinely shews up and spits out performers with the regularity that rivals my own digestive system's (Oh, gross! Did I actually just type that sentence?) Anyway - here's to CW! Long may he rule our screens!

More, anon.

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