“Needs more cowbell.”
“I approve this particular religion or meeting.”
“Directing 40-million-dollar movie epics for a measly ten-percent cut of the gross is insane. If you really want to make big money while trashing world culture, you have to start a new religion.”
The Church of Walkentology, also known as the Church of Jesus, Christopher Walken, is a controversial quasi-religious organization founded in 1981 by Hollywood writer-director L. Mike Cimino after the disastrous critical and financial failure of his 1980 film Heaven's Gate. Though it has been granted tax-exempt status as a religion by several world governments (most notably the Cayman Islands - where Cimino moors his fishing trawler, the Sorry Natalie), Walkentologists are often viewed with derision by adherents of more traditional religious denominations. As Pope John Paul II once wrote, "I care little for the fact that his name begins with 'Christ'; this is not Christianity, though I do enjoy the gratuitous gun violence and explosions."
Heaven's Gate, the greatest financial disaster in Hollywood history, left Cimino's Hollywood career in ruins. Critics called the film a "rambling, incoherent mess" that "takes three hours to accomplish the same thing as a below-average episode of Gunsmoke, only less skilfully." Rather than do the right thing and blame moviegoers, Cimino blamed the studio for releasing a "short six-hour" version of his film. He then put nearly all of his considerable energy into the formation of, as he termed it, "a new church, one that won't let anyone cut my masterpieces down to a mere six hours, and will make me exempt from most taxes."
Walkentologists now claim that God gave Cimino the revelation commanding him to create the church as early as 1977, shortly after he began writing the script for Heaven's Gate. Based on a true story, Gate starred Walken as Nate Champion, a cold-blooded, yet somehow sympathetic anti-hero caught in the middle of a conflict between greedy Wyoming cattle barons and poor immigrant farmers. In the 3-hour version of the film released to theatres, Walken dies in a bloody gun battle with the cattlemen, but in the 8-hour "Director's Cut" Walken actually survives, and escapes by boarding an alien spacecraft hidden in the tail of a passing comet. (This seemingly insignificant editing decision was to grow in importance as subsequent events unfolded.)
Cimino formally announced the formation of the church on January 26, 1981. Only weeks later, the organization began building its first of several new headquarters buildings, all designed by controversial corporate architect Mike Brady. Walken himself, having already founded Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, was mostly nonchalant about Cimino's idea, stating, "I did those other three, and they worked out fine, so why not one more? More, you understand? More religions." Asked if he would take a more active role in the church than he had in his other three religions (from which he had disassociated himself almost immediately), Walken stated, "Who has time for that shit? I've got a job to do here. Now get the fuck out of my face."
Walkentologists typically avoid the labor-intensive recruitment efforts of other "cult" religions, preferring to simply place converts in hair salons as professional stylists. Once a Walkentologist has successfully infiltrated a salon, he or she begins to treat customers to the "poofing process," in which a "stimulating hair tonic" is applied that is, in fact, a topical anesthetic which makes the unsuspecting individual highly open to suggestion. At that point, the stylist begins "the shpeel," attempting to convince the customer that Walkentology, as opposed to some other "gutter-rat" religion such as Catholicism or Judaism, is the One True Faith.
While many decry this practice as devious and unethical, it has made Walkentology one of the fastest-growing religions in the world today, behind only Mormonism and Pastafarianism in terms of number of
victims converts per year.
Nearly all decisions affecting the church are made solely by Cimino himself, who acts as an absolute dictator. A 7-member "Council of The Wise-Asses" holds monthly meetings, but is considered merely a rubber-stamp organization. Day-to-day administration is handled by a small army of bureaucrats organized into "legions" of roughly 100 "soldiers," each led by a "capo." The church bureaucracy is currently estimated to employ well over 10,000 officials worldwide. In addition, the church maintains a fleet of private yachts, known as the Twanky Boat Party, with its own navy-style ranking and disciplinary system. Rumors have circulated that church members assigned to the Twanky Boat Party are forced to drink peppermint schnapps, ingest copious amounts of codeine, have sex with midgets even when they aren't necessarily in the mood, and fall overboard "just to see what happens."
Once converted, new Walkentologists are asked to turn over roughly half of their savings to the church, and spend the other half on additional "church-authorized" hair-care products. While this quickly made the church enormously wealthy, growing doubts about misuse of funds caused friction with Walken himself, who even in his role as "prophet" was mostly a figurehead. Initially amused by the religion's early success, Walken became increasingly critical of the organization and of Cimino himself. Finally, on November 29, 1981, Cimino sent actress Natalie Wood to meet Walken on his private yacht, to "talk some sense into the bastard."
After several drinks, and at least two games of shuffleboard, Wood fell overboard, drowned, was keelhauled, and later was placed in an exploding car, where she became the victim of a drive-by shooting after being injected with a lethal dose of sodium pentathol. Despite the official verdict that Wood's death was a "tragic accident," the incident caused Walken to announce his formal break with the church only a week later. At the same time, Walken announced the filing of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Cimino, demanding that his name and all falsely-attributed statements by him be excised from church literature, and that all funds illegally taken from church members be returned. However, this case was summarily dismissed by then-Circuit Court Judge Clarence Thomas, who stated that the lawsuit "needed more cowbell."
The Post-Walken Era
After Walken's break with the church, Cimino regrouped, mailing out a flurry of press releases claiming Walken was "never the real focus" of church doctrine, and that his defection was "predicted by holy scripture." Unflattering photographs of Walken were also distributed along with the releases (photo at right). Meanwhile, secret negotiations began involving actors Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, and Bruce Willis, all of whom were mentioned as potential new "kick-ass" prophets. Norris quickly became the leading candidate because of his ability to deliver a "roundhouse" kick, as opposed to Willis, who could only deliver an "outhouse" kick, and Stallone, who could barely raise his legs high enough to avoid urinating on his toes while standing up.
One by one, these negotiations broke down, and the increasingly-desperate Cimino announced on October 15, 1984, that the new prophet and spiritual leader of the Church of Walkentology would be none other than popular TV character actor Abe Vigoda. (Vigoda's death from being struck by a falling Soviet spy satellite two days later did little to reduce the enthusiasm of church members, and Vigoda remains the official "prophet of Walkentology" to this day.)
Walkentologist origin belief is easily the most controversial aspect of the movement. In 1983, Cimino was scheduled to make a critical speech about how the organization should be treated as a legitimate religion, but Walkentology still lacked a coherent ontological or cosmological foundation document. Critics have suggested that Cimino, with only 48 hours to produce such a document prior to the speech, simply "dug out of the closet" an old screenplay he had written in 1971 for a film that would have been entitled King of Old Chicago. With only a few minor changes, Cimino was able to produce a finished, though largely incoherent, version of the creation story which he later referred to as "Whack Opera." Much of the revised screenplay has since been leaked to the media and the world-wide web by disaffected church insiders.
According to the revised screenplay, entitled King of the Old Galaxy, human beings originally evolved on a planet named Chicagonia, where they were known as "Wizegyzians." Their immortal ruler, Al C'PWN, was violent, vain, corrupt, mean, smelly, covered with ugly warts, and unable to appreciate good cinema. Approximately 45 million years ago, he decided to "clean house," rounding up all of his perceived enemies and transporting them in "space cars" to Earth. Roughly 63 billion people were captured, drugged, and placed in the back seats of the cars (which supposedly looked similar to actual automobiles of the early 1930's). Once on Earth, each victim was dumped into a mass grave after being shot "once clean to the back of the head" by a hired mercenary assassin named "Champ Chrisken," later described as Walken's "earliest known incarnation." After all 63 billion were killed in this fashion, C'Pwn himself shot and killed Chrisken - earning the eternal enmity of Chrisken's immortal soul, and provoking a psycho-emotional change in all later Chrisken/Walken incarnations that would ultimately transform him, and them, into the prophet and saviour of the entire Wizegyzian race, as well as an expert pastry chef.
Meanwhile, with nowhere else to go, the souls of the dead Wizegyzians floated about until they were collected into a gigantic "processing facility," where they remained for millions of years watching low-budget Japanese monster movies and Mexican wrestling films, all obtained from the future via time machines. (The facilities were said to be huge rooms designed exactly like modern multiplex theaters in which a bag of popcorn cost $6.00.) This so-called "brainstorm" effect continued until the rise of a new race of humans on Earth, approximately 50,000 years ago, give or take a few weeks. Inhabiting the bodies of the new proto-humans in a process referred to as "soulwhacking," the Wizegyzian "operators" brought with them all the "bad shit" of their former lives - inevitably resulting in humanity's modern inability to properly appreciate cinematic masterpieces such as Heaven's Gate during their initial week of release.
In effect, the stated purpose of Walkentology is to measure the number and strength of Wizeguyzian soulwhackers in a human body using a "W-Meter," and through a lengthy and expensive process known as "Money Extraction" remove as much Wizegyzian influence from the new
victim convert as possible. Then, and only then, can a human being know the true joys of the eight-hour "Director's Cut" versions of Heaven's Gate, The Sicilian," and Sunchaser.
Criticism of The Story
Heavy criticism of Walkentologist creation doctrine began almost immediately after the speech, and continues to this day, from a wide variety of prominent religious and scientific figures - as well as numerous historians, firemen, bicycle couriers, Wal-Mart cashiers, Madonna impersonators, and movie critics, who called King of the Old Galaxy a "colossal waste of time - no stars." Scientists found the story "laughable," pointing out that the logistics of transporting 63 billion people in interstellar vehicles no larger than a modern mini-van would have been beyond possibility, requiring billions of years and an impossibly huge fleet to accomplish. Experts also derisively dismiss the "utterly ridiculous notion" that one man with a single handgun could murder 63 billion people "execution-style" in a single day, even without a bathroom break. Nevertheless, Walkentologists hold to their belief that Walken's early incarnations were "literally capable of anything," and that "you'd better not fuck with that guy, or else."
Secrets and Lies Surrounding the Story
Due to the firestorm of criticism, officials of the Church of Walkentology have consistently taken a highly secretive, some would say paranoid, approach to public exposure of their core doctrine - this despite the fact that over 12,000 unsuccessful attempts have been made since 1983 to obtain a major studio deal for the King of the Old Galaxy shooting script. In 1990 alone, over 1,500 versions of the script were submitted to various studio executives, all summarily rejected.
Despite Cimino's iron-handed control, many offshoots and schisms have appeared in the church. The most infamous Walkentology splinter group was the "Heaven's Gate" cult, a small group of roughly 40 disaffected Walkentologists based in Rancho Santa Fe, California. Led by a charismatic lunatic named Marshall Applewhite, this group committed mass suicide in March 1997 after learning that they were ineligible for the Annual Snickers Super Bowl Contest Giveaway. (The group's "manifesto" is reproduced here.)
Other splinter groups include the Dead Zone cult, the Prophecy Cult, the Day of Atonement Cult, the King of New York cult (based in New York City), and the Suicide Kings cult - all named after films starring Walken. There is a rough correlation between the formation dates of these groups and the release dates of the movies they are named after. This is indicative of the fact that in each case, the stated purpose of the schism has been to "return to the fuckin' foundations" of Walkentology by "giving more — more respect" to the original prophet.
Another group, calling itself simply "Walkenology," has also appeared on the scene within the last few years. This organization is not related to the Church of Walkentology in any way, and does not consider itself a religion, but rather a "life-philosophy organization." Nevertheless, Walkentology officials have tried on several occasions to sue Walkenology over their use of a similar name. The most recent case is still pending.
The Future of Walkentology
As more splinter groups appear, the future of the church is somewhat uncertain. Nevertheless, membership is still growing at an alarming rate, and increased lobbying pressure on both the US and UK governments to recognize the church as a genuine religion is beginning to show signs of bearing fruit. Prior to his recent arrest for financial improprieties, former House Speaker Tom Delay was quoted as saying, "sure, these Wacko-tology folks are nut jobs, but they're rich nut jobs, and that makes them okay in my book."
More recently, a major rift was healed when Walken, claiming he "just didn't give a fuck anymore," publicly "kissed and made up" with church founder Cimino in December of 2002. While he remains only a figurehead, Walken has lately been seen at church meetings and rallies, and even appeared on a BBC documentary on Walkentology, Making Up Christopher Walken, in 2004.
Walken also announced recently that he will once again be running for President of Earth and Pluto in 2008, this time with the full backing of the church behind him. "The thing is, I didn't get enough votes before, so this time I need more," he stated in a recent interview. "More votes."
^ 1. Though Cimino may have been slightly "loony" with regards to his construction plans for Heaven's Gate, he was fairly good to his employees until a large bell fell on his head, causing him to suddenly "wake up" and realize how much money he was wasting. As one location manager put it: "Go figure."
^ 2. Seeming exceptions, such as the Dead Zone and Heaven's Gate cults, are less anomalous when one considers that Dead Zone was re-released to theatres only two months prior to the formation of the former, and Heaven's Gate was first released on VHS video only one month prior to the formation of the latter.