Last week I decided to write a response to a Guardian article by David Thomson, a writer I’m full of respect for having really enjoyed his work on Hollywood cinema – especially The Whole Equation. Initially I was going to stick it as a comment attached to the film blog on their website but as I was writing it and looking for clips the whole piece of writing just grew and grew. I submitted it as a piece of freelance but they haven’t replied. I don’t blame them especially, re-reading it is an exercise in self torture but I suppose it’s all a step in the right direction. Anyway, here’s the article I sent. It’s heavy with Youtube links if you want to check out a prime slice of Chris Walken as any number of bad guys…
The Case for Walken
The Guardian recently asked for our favourite screen villains – the bad guys we love to root for. It’s been frequently said that we, the British, make the best villains. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it is true as Alan Rickman, Ian Mckellen, Ralph Feinnes and Gary Oldman have excellent screen antagonist calibre. But it is America that can lay claim to the greatest of the modern screen villains.
Under a variety of guises Christopher Walken has become the proprietor of a most impressive rogue’s gallery. From Aryan sociopath Max Zorin in A View to a Kill, nonchalantly dismissing his workforce with a machine gun, to Archangel Gabriel in straight to video classic The Prophecy, trying to tear open a little girl to get at the soul within, one thing is constant; Walken is the magnetic and malevolent presence that ties the films together. He supersedes everything else that has occurs in a film, the drawn reptilian features, the thin lips and haunting dark eyes, they all combine to create someone who is, put simply, different. He carries a sense of something alien, as if he is experiencing this world for the first time. And that’s before he starts talking.
The Walken voice is a gift for comedians and actors, many of them from have an impression (Kevin’s Spacey (@4.30) and Pollack are among the best) but none of them are close to the real thing. Henry Rollins describes the time that Walken appeared on his TV show as the meeting of a legend. On his arrival at the studio a group of admirers, including Rollins himself, fell about starstruck – much to the dismay of Walken’s Press Officer. The power of his voice comes over in one of Walken’s most villainous performances, as The Man with the Plan in 1995’s Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead. Despite only moving from the neck upwards he manages to convincingly intimidate everyone he comes into contact with, spitting bitter condescension and insults with impunity.
Things get even better when Walken starts moving though. Every movement appears to be part of an elaborate dance, set to a rhythm that only Walken can hear. He’s made no secret that he has tried to fit a jig into every role he’s taken, as an “homage to Broadway.” But like another famous American hoofer turned screen villain, James Cagney, when these smooth gliding movements come attached to those features and that voice it’s a heady cocktail. In Donald Cammel’s little seen Wild Side, Walken combined all three to delirious effect especially whilst he threatens to sodomise his chauffer in order to prove he loves his prostitute/mistress.
The villains have waned as Walken has aged past his golden streak of the 1990s and taken more cameos and comedic roles. But he remains my choice as greatest screen villain and if you ever want conclusive proof – remember the infamous scene from True Romance. Dennis Hopper is wonderfully solemn and resigned but Walken’s Vincenzo Coccotti makes good on his promise of being ‘the Anti-Christ, in a vendetta kind of mood‘ stealing the film from everyone else in one solitary scene.