YouTube Hall of Walken
Seven Psychopaths, Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to 2008′s excellent In Bruges, comes out this weekend, and while we’re certainly looking forward to the director teaming up with Colin Farrell again, it’s a pretty good bet that nine out of 10 scenes will be effortlessly stolen by Christopher Walken, arguably the original modern psychopath. With over 120 films on his résumé, not to mention all those SNL hosting gigs, and countless other cameos over the years, going down a Walken YouTube rabbit hole can be a daunting undertaking. So come in, have some champag-nyeh, and let the Grantland staff be your guide to the best of Walken on the Internet.
Madonna, “Bad Girl”
Molly Lambert: Walken plays the angel of death in David Fincher’s neo-noir video for Madonna’s excellent 1992 single “Bad Girl.” This was Fincher’s fourth video for Madonna, following “Express Yourself,” “Oh Father,” and “Vogue.” It was based on a treatment Madonna wrote about “Louise Oriole,” a powerful New York businesswoman who drowns her sadness in alcohol, cigarettes, and sex with strangers until a one-night stand strangles her with some pantyhose. She was inspired by the late ’70s Diane Keaton casual sex horror film Looking for Mr. Goodbar. Tim Burton and Ellen von Unwerth both rejected the gig before Fincher agreed to do it. It feels like a warm-up for Se7en, as Fincher refines his cool palette, focuses on loitering detectives, and continues his penchant for mixing the sleek with the seamy. All the while Christopher Walken lurks around every corner — perching on streetlamps, glancing in windows, guarding Madonna, reading the Post, and dancing, dancing, always dancing.
Andy Greenwald: It would seem counterintuitive that a serious dramatic actor would be the funniest thing in the greatest comedy of all time. So kudos to Christopher Walken, whose Duane Hall is but the first in what would prove to be a triumphant, decade-spanning run of chilly weirdos. (Fun fact: It was apparently these 90 seconds that convinced Michael Cimino that Walken was the right guy for The Deer Hunter.) While Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer squirms miserably, trapped in a possibly psychotic WASPs nest, Walken underplays like a champ, fetishizing the “sound of shattering glass” as he imagines driving the family sedan into oncoming traffic. Woody’s rejoinder is classic: “I have to go now, Duane. Because I’m due back on the Planet Earth.” But the thing about Walken is that he stayed, quite comfortably, in that bizarro galaxy of his own making.
The Dead Zone
Mike Philbrick: For those of you unfamiliar with this film, it’s the story of Johnny Smith, a teacher who wakes up after being in a coma for five years to discover that if he makes physical contact with you he can see your past and future. This scene has Walken trying to warn a dad that if he plays hockey on the pond in his backyard a bunch of kids (including his son) will drown.
When most of us need to make a life-or-death point, we might raise our voices. When you’re Walken, you need to swing a cane and smash a candy dish first, because “the ice is gonna break!” Also, bonus fun in this movie is that it stars a young Jed Bartlett (D-NH) as a maniacal politician whose plans include starting a nuclear war.
Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead
(NSFW, strong language)
Rafe Bartholomew: During a three- or four-year stretch in the mid-1990s, Walken delivered some of cinema’s most memorable non sequiturs and elevated his weird-funny act to a level no one before or since has matched. With the grace of a dancer — which, of course, he was — he tiptoed along the line between self-aware, gonzo performance art and shameless exploitation of his shtick, and he almost never took a false step. The classic examples of this Walken are the “cantaloupe” scene with Dennis Hopper in True Romance and the gold watch scene that begins the middle third of Pulp Fiction. But he was just as good in several tête-à-têtes with Andy Garcia in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, in which Walken plays a paralyzed boss in the Denver underworld whose sadistic impulses are nothing but joyful and creative. For many years, I became so accustomed to quoting this scene among friends that even when I heard people I barely knew ask questions along the lines of “Why are you doing this?” I would reflexively shoot back: “Because I have pressure sores; they leak pus.”
Alex Pappademas: “Looks like you’re gonna sing ‘White Christmas’!” Walken demonstrating his customary freeze-dried sangfroid as alien abductee Whitley Streiber, in the movie version of the book that introduced the “Extraterrestrials literally can not stop sticking things up people’s butts for science” meme to pop culture. In this scene, Streiber gets hypnotized by Frances Sternhagen and remembers floating around nude inside a UFO (“Here I am, I’m naked [WALKEN-ISH PAUSE] I’m naked”) and trying to intimidate his abductors by being inappropriately sexual to them, which is a real raise-the-stakes way of preventing yourself from being hose-raped that does not work.
Man on Fire
Chris Ryan: I have never been more excited for a movie based on one line of dialogue from a trailer than I was for Man on Fire and the line “Creasy’s art is death. He’s about to paint his masterpiece.” (Note: This is not a good movie.)
Dan Silver: I’m fully aware that by selecting this clip, I’ve now publicly admitted that I’ve actually seen this film. Which is just awful. But, as horrendous as this film is, these 30 seconds are an encapsulation of all the reasons why Christopher Walken is awesome. He distinct cadence, dancing, humor, creepiness, and tough-guy demeanor are on full display. In my mind, this is how I picture Chris Walken walking around his house during the day — heel-tapping down his foyer and talking smack to inanimate objects.
Pennies From Heaven
Steven Hyden: Does anybody remember this movie? Pennies From Heaven is the most brutal musical not involving the songs of Def Leppard ever made. The film’s central gimmick is juxtaposing the deliriously happy pop songs of Depression-era America with the era’s harsh economic realities. (Surprisingly, it takes place in the 1930s and not the early 2010s.) Every dynamite song-and-dance showstopper is presented like a bowl of maggots smothered in deliciously red cherries, none more so than the showstopping-est number of them all, Christopher Walken’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” I’m tempted to call Walken’s performance — which is really only a cameo — “starmaking,” except the guy was already an Oscar winner coming off The Deer Hunter. I also won’t overstate how incredible it is to see him go from a malevolent pimp to a light-as-air, magnetic-as-all-hell pimp in this scene. The “Christopher Walken is actually a really good dancer!” factoid is among the moldiest of all cinematic factoids. Except did you know that Christopher Walken is indeed the best dancer? Like, he could’ve been the missing link between Fred Astaire and Justin Timberlake (with a dash of the young Brando) if he wanted? Not saying the path he took wasn’t also clearly fascinating and wonderfully weird, but man.
Catch Me If You Can
Amos Barshad: One reason no one wants to hear your Christopher Walken impersonation is that it’s pretty much impossible to pull off a perfect one but fairly easy to do a crappy-but-still-recognizable one. I’ve found that one way to keep doing a crap Walken, but avoid the ire of your friends and family, is to memorize Catch Me If You Can‘s awe-inspiring “two little mice” fable. Your reluctant audience will still think you’re over-enunciating like crazy, but at least they’ll be super inspired by the end of it. Gentlemen, as of this moment, I am that second mouse of bad Christopher Walken impersonations.
“Five Generations of Lodge Family Breeding.”
“Nature versus nurture, Lodge. Nature Always Wins.”
On paper, these lines are not funny. When Walken says them, however, they couldn’t be more hysterical. In a scene of 10 to 11 hilarious happenings (Vince Vaughn repeatedly getting destroyed, Todd painting, The Sack being the bro that he is), he somehow found a way to easily steal the scene. He hasn’t a flaw in that creepy body of his.
Bill Barnwell: Sure, it’s Gigli, which means we’re all going to make fun of how bad it was even though approximately 0.0004 percent of Americans actually went and saw it during its three-week run at the box office. (DVD sales are low, presumably because we’re all waiting for the Criterion edition to come out, right?) I did see Gigli in the theater because I am a sucker for a truly awful movie, though, and while it is admittedly pretty bad (Justin Bartha aside), this 30-second clip of Walken talking about his desire to go to Marie Callender’s is the best 30 seconds of the entire movie. Remember, Martin Brest directed Gigli! He got Walken AND Al Pacino to each show up for a day of shooting. Pretty impressive.
King of New York
Sean Fennessey: There’s lots to like and lots to say about Abel Ferrara’s 1990 New York crime don masterpiece — particularly a cast that features Wesley Snipes, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, David Caruso perfecting his sneer, and Laurence Fishburne dancing to Schoolly D in a Day-Glo crack house — but this is Walken’s movie through and through. And he is a cool, mean son of a bitch as Frank White, a recently released kingpin-in-waiting. The above clip is probably the most famous, noted for Walken’s weirdly thrilling “You welcome. YOU’RE ALL WELCOME. [GUNSHOT.] Enjoy.” Exit. But I’m in it for the way he says “starved” at the 1:30 mark. Schtarved. Say it out loud: SCHTARVED. Who does that?
Man Makes Chicken With Pears
Mark Lisanti: It’s a testament to Christopher Walken’s hypnotic watchability that one can sit through three minutes of a cooking video with the same level of unbearable anticipation as one might with, say, his big speech from True Romance. And even though the camera never pans away from the bird to reveal a human head in a nearby roasting pan, as you half-expect it to, the spell is never broken. This is the most fascinating video about making chicken with pears in existence.
Saturday Night Live, “More Cowbell”
The life cycle for memes:
- Meme gains steam in the dark corners of the Internet.
- Capitalists cash in on said meme.
- Meme loses steam.
- Elite memers metameme the original meme.
- Sports team owner finds meme hilarious six years after the fact, encourages fans of said team to embrace meme.
- Opposing teams, their broadcasters, columnists, and fans freak the hell out over said meme.
- Meme lives on forever.
The Deer Hunter
Charles Pierce: My first “beat” as a baby journo with an alternative newspaper in Boston was to cover the various issues involving the Vietnam veterans community — PTSD, Agent Orange, and all the rest of the bag of horrors that the country had visited upon its young men while visiting an even bigger bag of horrors on a tiny country in Southeast Asia. I had a very good source who was my guide through those issues and that community and, one day, he was talking about the movies that were then being made about the war in which he had fought.
“The Deer Hunter,” he told me, “is about the war in Vietnam, but Apocalypse Now is about the Vietnam War.” Certainly, the latter has aged better than the former, but this scene to me, especially the terrifying blankness with which Walken stares at De Niro, always seemed more of a piece with the Coppola film than with the Cimino film. It still seems like that to me, and it has ever since that day when my very good source took his old rifle into a closet and shot himself to death. What in God’s name were we thinking?
Pulp Fiction — The Gold Watch
Dan Fierman: One of the great things about living in Los Angeles is the movie culture. By which I mean not the vast spectrum of fascinating assholes on display in actual Hollywood, but the theaters themselves. They’re palaces. Literal palaces, in the old-timey, Grandpa Simpson sense of the world. Deco. Modern. With bars — with actual glasses of beer — and without. There is nowhere else like it. Which is how my wife and I found ourselves sprawled on a blanket last Saturday night, high in the hills above Hollywood, guzzling wine and watching the sunset and waiting for Pulp Fiction to begin on an inflatable porta-screen.
I hadn’t seen the movie in years — at least not in full, and not with the passion with which Chris Herrington and Joanna Curtis and I went back again and again in college in the mid ’90s. Some things hold up. Some things don’t. Pulp Fiction does. (At least, except for the extended and even-more-tedious-with-age motel stretches with Bruce Willis and his pot-belly fetishist GF; let’s agree to blame Roger Avery, huh?) But we’re old now. Veering into our late 30s, one kid around, another a month or so off. We had a sitter waiting. Only one of us could drink. We knew we wouldn’t make it all the way through the full 168 minutes. But there was one scene that we had to wait for.
Because he hid it. In the one place he knew he could hide something. His ass.
Now, I’m not going to say the Walken cameo landed with the punch or hilarity or sheer audacious insanity it did in the suburban St. Paul multiplex where Chris and Jo and I saw this movie again and again. But I will say this: Not only does Walken miraculously step in and save the worst stretch in the greatest movie of Tarantino’s career, but this is might be our ur-Walken moment. Just the right length. Perfectly pitched. Brilliantly profane. And I would like to think that in my wife’s belly our unborn child heard the closing line and smiled, knowing this kind of raw, hilarious lunacy was waiting on the other side. I could only watch and grin and think:
And now, little man, I give the watch to you.