Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Weapon of Choice is a short 3 minute video clip of a Fatboy Slim track directed by Spike Jonze.

I wrote this review back in 2002 for my defunct Walken Works site when the internet was still fun and starting to emerge from its wild and woolly experimental frontiers. This video, which of course predates YouTube, was immensely popular at the time. When it was originally released it was played continually on television (I recorded it for repeat viewing with my trusty VHS recorder), provoked imitations, early internet memes and other ‘homages’. On YouTube, the official video currently has a staggering 61.8 million views, indicating its continuing popularity as do the comments attached to the video as well as any number of continuing parodies and memes elsewhere. It enjoyed a further renaissance when it was restored in 4K high definition in 2021 and its longevity can be seen in an informative April 2022 article on the Radio X site.

I have uploaded my review here with a few minor edits and updates. At the time, I had a fairly comprehensive list of links to reviews and other material associated with this video but the majority of them have all long gone – even on the wayback machine – except for a BBC site announcing awards for the video. One or two comprehensive reviews that still remain are interesting in that they display a style of internet review writing that has already disappeared into the mists of time.
Review by Marc Weidenbaum, 1 August 2001.

Wikipedia has some useful additional information on the video. If anyone can update me on any of the sources missing below, let me know.

Plot
A jaded businessman (Christopher Walken) sits in a hotel lobby with his baggage beside him, slumped weary and defeated in his chair. A vacuum cleaner hums drearily in the background. The man becomes aware of music coming from a radio perched on a cleaning trolley. He nods discreetly in time with the music, then stands swaying slightly. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he launches into a dance. He dances energetically up and down the escalator, races down the concourse, does a cartwheel with no hands, leaps onto a table kicking away the brochures and smiling with enjoyment. He dances down a corridor of mirrors into the lift and dives over a mezzanine railing and flies around the hall, hanging for a moment in front of a large painting of a boat at sea with a look of sheer elation on his face. Then he comes back down to earth, quite literally, and after standing briefly considering his wild moment of freedom, he returns wearily to his chair and his bleak cogitations.

Review
This is one of my favourite Walken performances. For many people, it is such an unexpected departure from their clichéd view of Walken as villain, they simply cannot believe they are actually seeing him performing, and have speculated that they are either seeing a stand in or clever CGI effects. There are indeed a couple of moments which feature stand ins, when he jumps off the table – which Walken was unable to do because of his knees, the dive over the balcony and the cartwheel. But he was certainly performing on the wires and it was reported at the time that he got some quite bad bruising from the wires. He said nothing about this but the bruises were noticed in the dressing room. [Unfortunately my source for this anecdote is long gone from the net]. When this video first appeared on screens in shopping centres and stores, people would stop and stare, transfixed by its sheer bizarre uniqueness. Such was the impact of the video that free-to-air TV Channel 9 in Australia paid homage to it in its station advertisement for 2002. This station filler used the Fatboy Slim music, a large Sydney hotel and featured the various newsreaders, other stars and mainstays of Channel 9 whom one would never expect to see dancing. They danced on tables kicking away the brochures, danced near lifts and did cartwheels (or at least the stand-ins did!) and danced down stairs and in lobbies.

Walken, in fact, had had a long history as a dancer, learning tap from an early age and dancing impressively in such films as Puss in Boots and Pennies From Heaven. His first work was almost exclusively in musical theatre before moving on to serious acting in the late sixties. He can also be seen dancing in episodes of Saturday Night Live, notably in 1992 in an extravagent and most entertaining set with multiple partners, including the mock reluctant producer of the show, all to Irving Berlin’s standard ‘Let’s Face the Music and Dance’. Indeed, it was seeing Walken dancing on Saturday Night Live that gave the director Spike Jonze the idea of filming him. Walken has often taken the opportunity to perform a few dance steps in his other films as well.

Weapon of Choice was directed by Spike Jonze who has directed numerous other video clips and films, notably Being John Malkovich (1999) and Adaptation (2002). It won a well deserved six MTV awards in 2001 and also won best video of all time in April 2002, in a list of the top 100 videos of all time, compiled from a survey of musicians, directors and music industry figures conducted by a UK music TV channel VH1. Walken has also commented in interviews that it has been the most popular thing that he has ever done. The music itself is not particularly memorable. The clip features a slightly shorter and slower rendition of the version that appears on the single and the album Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars. The music was also mixed slightly differently for the 2021 restoration. The video was shown on large screens in art galleries and at film festivals in 2003 and 2004 as part of the now defunct Resfest and at other special exhibitions. It toured to the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Brisbane, where I had the chance to see it. It transferred superbly to the large screen.

It is extraordinary what Walken manages to fit into a mere three minutes. First of all, there is a virtuoso and energetic exhibition of tap dancing, particularly impressive for a man of his age (58). He is hyper-flexible, very comfortable and at home in his own body, which gives the whole performance a wonderful freedom and naturalness. It is also a performance which features that unique and arresting blend of anarchy, energy and discipline so characteristic of Walken’s best work. His use of props such as luggage trolleys and fixtures such as escalators and tables is also fun. In addition, as he mentioned on the Conan O’Brien show, one of his moves was inspired by watching racoons near his house in Connecticut. Then there is a whole story about a man who has become trapped by the choices he has made. He fantasises about how things could have been – could still be – if only he had the courage to choose differently, but in the end, resigned to his fate, he settles back into despair.

The Marriott hotel in Los Angeles where this was filmed, provides an imposing example of modern corporate interior design and takes on a vaguely sinister aspect in the dim lighting. This provides an interesting contrast to the camera work which is energetic and discreetly playful. Incidentally, the double mirrored walls were built by the film makers for the video.

Technical note
On the technical front, Audrey Doyle describes the role of computer software in the creation of the video: [again, the source for this has long gone from the net].

Combustion also played a major role at Sea Level on the video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice.” In this video, actor Christopher Walken is seen dancing à la Fred Astaire, while diving, flipping and floating in the air in a hotel lobby. Walken’s dance moves necessitated the use of numerous wires as well as six large support towers and a steel-crossing infrastructure that supported the wires. Because digital removal of all this equipment from the backplates would have been too cumbersome, Sea Level re-created the lobby in 3D in inferno. Walken was then extracted from the original footage in combustion, and composited into the 3D lobby in inferno.

“This work was fairly complex because there was a lot of perspective change, with Walken coming pretty close to the camera, then moving away from the camera, and then spinning around,” says Sea Level’s Bruno.’

DVD
A DVD of the clip was released as part of a compilation of a number of Spike Jonze’s music videos and other short films. There is the added bonus of a commentary by Walken marking his first – and perhaps only – DVD commentary.

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