Think of this as a guide through each of Christopher Walken's films, starting with his first and moving forward. Each review will provide analysis, factoids and opinion on the ninety-plus films in his career.
Genre: Experimental Art Film
Walken in Short: Despite some early television, this is his first ever appearance in a film. It’s a single scene, he’s over-dubbed, it’s interesting though.
Directed by Robert Frank
Written by Robert Frank and Sam Shepard
Duration: 1 Hour 25 mins
In both color and black&white
Movie Contained in a Sentence: A film director explores themes of alienation, dissonance, identity, and familial responsibility through a sometimes meta-story about a catatonic schizophrenic and his somewhat obnoxious poet-brother who is forced to take care of him.
This film is unrated, so I will say up front that there are nipples present, and gay-sex and f-bombs too, but really, beyond all that silly stuff that is supposed to be off-limits to children, this is some dark, heavy knowledge to be dropping on too fragile a mind, regardless of their age. Just sayin’. Use your own discretion.
Comparable Films: Orson Welles’ F is for Fake, or perhaps Woody Allen’s Zelig. See also Charlie Kaufman’s brilliant directorial debut Synecdoche, NY
Actors of Mention Other Than Chris: Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, both poets playing themselves. And you may remember Nancy Fish and Roscoe Lee Browne from a bunch of TV shows from back in the day. Or not.
This film is finally available to purchase on DVD. For the longest time this film was just not gettable. It was never commercially distributed so you couldn’t even hope for some random VHS find at a yard sale. In fact, if you wanted to even watch it you had to find a museum or art gallery that had a copy of the actual film and was showing it.
Then in 2007, a German book company (Steidl) put together a pretty sweet book of the film, with excerpts from the screenplay, photos, and included a DVD of the film. For the most part, it is a well-crafted, elegant-looking thing with lots of great stuff inside. Although I do have two quibbles.
There are no subtitles in the film. I know, some people would say ‘big deal’ and ‘whoop-de-doo’, but I enjoy subtitles, especially in a movie with such duplicitous and chaotic dialogue-traffic. It’s minor, but that’s why they call it a quibble.
Secondly is their solution to disc transport. It is a paper sleeve attached to the flimsy paper-back of the book where it can be bent, scratched or dropped at any moment. Not a HUGE deal in any case. I just borrowed a spare and put the disc in that.
I also wanted to note that both imdb and wiki have this movie clocked at 91 minutes, but the DVD says 85, so that’s what I’m going with. To my knowledge there is no director’s cut. Also, these online sources have the release date of 1969, whereas both book and DVD say 1968. Curious, hm?
Should You Watch This Film? Yes. But don’t expect to have a “pleasant” time. It is clever, and thought-provoking, but it is also trying to show schizophrenia and that can be more than a little bit depressing, so you know, just know that going into it.
RATING: I’ll give it a 7 out of 10, maaaybe an eight. Not for everybody, nor for every mood, but this film has a unique perspective and a creative voice.
Walken Content: Not a lot of Walken in this, about three minutes of concentrated screen-time. He plays the director of the film from within the film, as he hires an actor to take over the part of the “real” person, the brother, in the “documentary”. Heavy stuff, no? Walken only gets a smattering of lines and then disappears, but the real bummer is you never hear his voice, because it is dubbed (and badly) by the real director of the film.
Walken’s great big Peter-Lorre-eyes stare out from a wrinkle-less face, a baby-face. With his awful plaid jacket, and his “look-how-cool-I-smoke-a-cigarette” manner, oh, you can tell he’s going places. Even with the jarring bizarro-world effect of someone else’s voice coming out of Walken’s mouth, you can tell his personality and charm will not be denied.
Walken Quote: There isn’t much to choose from, so let me give you some context. Walken is playing the director, sitting in a darkened theater interviewing an actor to play a part, right? But the film being shown is of the actor not only already playing the part, but following Walken’s suggestions. Wheels within wheels. We hear a siren go off. Then Walken says:
“I like that siren. Try not to shiver. Just look straight at me and try not to shiver. You can smoke if you want. Good. Now bite the apple.”
General Thoughts: Beyond even Walken’s dubbing, there is a worrisome disconnect between the sound that is presented and the action taking place on the screen. Some of it is brilliant. It is. There are layers of sound being built up, incongruous noises that shouldn’t work, but do, and previous dialogue replayed in bits, on a cycle, like an insistent but spotty memory.
But EVERYONE has rubber lips in this, because the film trains the viewer to look for it, and sometimes even see it, even when it isn’t there. The juxtaposition of unmatched picture and sound is such a recurring theme that nothing seems real, nothing seems authentic, even when everything matches up perfectly.
Sure, it adds to the surreality and alienation of the film, but at what expense?
The director throws a lot of creative tricks at the audience to convey schizophrenia, but in the end it is up to you whether or not you enjoy the affliction.
The Kiss Off: And so begins Christopher Walken’s film career. He is 25 years old in this. He is a spritely 68 as I write this now. By focusing on each film of his, and not just the supposedly “good ones,” I hope to provide a comprehensive guide for anyone interested in finding Walken-gold without having to watch 90 movies.
Although you can. I did. It was wonderful. In fact, do that. Right now.
Todd has a wonderful job in the evenings that not only allows him to write prodigiously during the day, but it also puts that trusty B.A. in Media (@USM) to regular use at night. He is a published writer, so that's good. And, can I tell you something? Something in private? The people. The people, they say he is *whispered* ... a lyrical maaadman! They say his words will set you on fire. Literally. So get friendly with the aloe, my friend. ... Actually, he IS required by the state of Maine & jolly old Uncle Sam to provide that warning written in the third person for your initial protection. He will not mention it again.