Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Maid of Orleans/Cool Cat from Queens

This is my montage of early Christopher Walken/Joan of Arc gifs, the latter taken from the 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc. Of course I do not mean to suggest they look alike, but there is something about the intensity, the luminous stare, the cheekbones. . . especially the cheekbones. 

These are the cheekbones of a saint.

Similarly, his Deer Hunter suicide scene with its implication of self-immolation/self-annihilation is Joan-like as he sacrifices himself to the dark forces all around him. I couldn't use later Walken, because later Walken is a whole different man. He looks like his own grandfather now, and it's kind of disappointing to me to see such a supernatural fox turn so weary-looking. Only the flashbulb smile with that searchlight sweep of the room is the same as before. But you don't see it often, and his face is so saggy and lacking in tone that he looks almost depressed. Most distressingly of all, he has developed a whistle in his speech, one of the most irritating things in existence. I have seriously wondered about him, since someone recently made a comment on one of his YouTube videos about how "the Alzheimer's is affecting him". He played a musician with Parkinson's a few years ago, and the nearly-expressionless, masked look of his once-expressive face made me wonder.

But perhaps we expect too much, expect a Dorian Grey-like supernatural beauty that lasts forever. This is, after all, a 75-year-old man who has given his whole life to performing. Perhaps it has cost him more than we realize. It amazes me how little vanity he has, how little sense of self-importance or entitlement (and he's refreshingly un-crazy for a child star). I remember the old-style stage performers of the past, Jack Benny and Ed Wynn and all those down-to-earth guys who'd come on Ed Sullivan, and he seems to belong to that old-fashioned era, just here to do his job, and always grounded by a sense of his own (human) limitations.

That said, early Walken is supernaturally beautiful, and so charismatic he leaps off the screen at you like a predatory animal. You simply cannot ignore or forget him.

I still feel that we are looking at two men, but that can't be true! I've read somewhere that Walken smokes, and that could account for the haggardness, which is surprising in light of his extreme early fox-hood. Hey, William Shatner is still a good-looking man (if a tad rotund - but who's complaining?) and surprisingly un-wrinkled at nearly age 88. And his energy, speech, and mobility (not to mention his unquenchable enthusiasm) belong to a much younger man. Maybe it's just a trick of genes, though Walken should have this advantage as well. He has gone on record to say his parents lived to be nearly a hundred. Who knows, maybe he's a living Dorian Grey, with his old self taking on all the slings and arrows his face never revealed when he was young.

POST-BLOG OBSERVATIONS. Because of the weird phenomenon of YouTube, with its vast bulletin board/everything-coming-at-you-at-once quality, it's possible to see Walken at every age, moment-by-moment or even second-by-second as you click from one movie excerpt or interview or hosting gig to another. There are some shocking entries, like this 1962 clip from the TV crime drama Naked City, and in some places he's even younger, not quite grown to his full foxhood because of his boyish softness of face. Here he looks as if he's not even shaving yet. This pastiche/jigsaw effect is relatively new, and in the past we had to go and see a whole movie at a time, or watch a whole TV interview, without this capacity to jump around. I LIKE jumping around, myself, because it satisfies my curiosity and lets the detective in me work fast. But it shocks me to think that I've seldom seen a Walken movie all the way through. I think Communion was one of the only ones, and I only stayed with it because I could not quite believe how bizarre it was.

POST-POST. I began to feel a bit guilty about Christopher Walken. Not that I know the man, or ever will, but I think I was a bit hard on the fact he has let his looks go as stringy and baggy as nature intended. I had thought of assembling a before-and-after of wretched plastic surgery among male celebrities, but ended up compiling this horrendous assortment of short gifs. You know who they are anyway, so I won't bother labelling them. A freakier lot you never saw, though they once all looked like human beings. I don't know who butchers these people, celebs who have all the money in the world to get it done right. Facial muscles get pulled so tight that as the person ages, everything starts to pull in the wrong direction. The face begins to fight itself and squirms weirdly as the person talks. Fixed noses shrivel and cave in, or go oddly sideways. Cheek implants threaten to explode, pushing out so aggressively that they show through the skin. Mouths slash horizontally across the face and look Muppet-like, and eyes sink right into the head.

It ain't working, folks. We're not buying it. You're old, and we know you're old. 

Christopher Walken, meanwhile, is jarring in another way, because in the past couple of years he seems to have aged about twenty. I didn't watch him as Captain Hook in Peter Pan Live (and a more miscast Hook never walkened the earth), but apparently he kept forgetting his lines, letting his Walken-ish pauses drag on forever. And that was five years ago.

Why should I worry at all about a celebrity? Who knows. They're like popcorn. We consume them, they amuse us for a little while, until we go on to the next one. That's just how it is. And they must always keep their shiny side out, the only side we can ever see. 

(Unless you're Alec Baldwin. Then you get to punch people.)