Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Walken watchin’


Surely we can all agree that Christopher Walken bears watching. Even if we’re not always sure why. Walken is a wonderful dancer, and a magnetic actor, but he’s not always good. Walken’s oddly parsed delivery of even the most straightforward of lines is more affected than effective. Which puts him in company with… William Shatner.

(For a professional analysis of Shatner’s vocal rhythms, watch the video below. Note especially the next-to-last lesson therein: that Shatner, unlike almost any other humanoid, ends his sentences with a quick intake. Most of us do that first.)

The other night I watched “The Anderson Tapes” for the first time in 37 years. The last and only other time I saw it, I was nine years old and the guest of my parents. Yes, this was the first “adult” movie I saw, and it left an indelible impression. Perhaps partly because it featured Christopher Walken in his very first film role.

In “The Anderson Tapes,” Sean Connery puts together a group of fellow thieves and ex-cons to rob the entire contents of a luxury hotel. Watching this from the remove of adulthood, I have to wonder what misgivings my parents were having back in 1971 as we watched this together. The movie is filled with extreme violence (for the time), but more troubling for my mother, it’s rife with sexual situations and double entendres. Dyan Cannon bounces between the recently released Connery (who notes that with 10 years in prison he is desperately in need of release) and the wealthy slimeball who has been keeping her on the side. Martin Balsam is a flaming antiques dealer, complete with pompadour and cravat, who gets lucky when he discovers a designer of a similar persuasion upstairs in the hotel.

And then there’s Walken, who plays “The Kid.” He doesn’t have many lines, and he wears an odd hold-up mask for probably half of them. But everything he does in the movie bears watching. One scene in particular never left me. Late in the movie, he drives a panel van out from inside a Mayflower moving truck and away from the police, in an attempted getaway. He careens into a police car, his van twisting in midair and slamming onto its side. We get a shot of Walken’s dead body wrenched the wrong way inside, a gush of blood smeared down his face. This scene, viewed once, had stayed with me for nearly four decades. I remembered it as a much larger set piece; now I see that it is at most 10 seconds of footage. Is it the violence of the crash, so startling for its time but so quaint now, that stuck with me? Or is it that this was the culmination of Walken’s role, and I’d followed him throughout? Whichever (or both), he remains memorable.

Who played the suicidal brother of Annie Hall? Walken, in one of the most remembered scenes in a movie filled with them.

Walken is the star of the flat-out worst scene in “Pulp Fiction,” the rectum/watch scene, horribly over-written and badly paced and too long by half, but he almost makes it work nonetheless.

Who better — who other — than Walken would have been suited to play the deviant cosmopolitan who ensnares the unwitting tourists in “The Comfort of Strangers“? I saw this film in 1990 in the middle of the day in a cinema across from the Fox lot unfortunately in the same small audience as the actress perfectly cast as the stupid sister on “Family Ties.” Her obnoxious giggles and self-entitled post-adolescence abruptly halted when the themes of the film and especially the slippery disturbed portrayal by Walken swam into view. Only two other times has a movie so thoroughly worked me over that I left a theatre with such dread (“The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and, of course, “Eraserhead,” seen late at night deep in the woods at the Little Art Theatre in Port Republic, NJ).

Or look, don’t take my word for it. Here’s Henry Rollins on the genius of Christopher Walken:

Imagine my delight, then, unmitigated delight, in discovering Christopher Walken earlier tonight on Twitter. Even removed from any script or camera, he’s eminently watchable. Take these sample tweets:

“I do my best thinking in a barber’s chair. Sadly I do my worst remembering there too. Sure, I could take some notes but who does that?”

“A neighbor kid shows up from time to time dressed as Superman. I think it’s him anyway. Very difficult to say for sure without the glasses.”

“I am now invited to a dog wedding. I don’t have the words to make that stupider than it already sounds. They’re registered at Whiskers.”

“You know that Andy Dick and how he seemed funny until we noticed that he wasn’t? You’ll tell me when it’s time to stop, right?”

Each of these bears the ineffable wisdom of a zen koan. (I’m also relieved to see that someone of Walken’s odd taste and high bearing is also onto Andy Dick. Phew.)

If you aren’t Following Walken, you should. Yes, life is short, but Twitter is even shorter. So you do have the time.

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