Friday, 11 July 2008

Book Review - Seagalogy: The Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal

I got into Direct-to-Video Seagal before I'd heard of Vern, but I guess it was only a matter of time before I stumbled across the writings of one of the world's top Seagalogists. He is a regular on Ain't It Cool News (no wonder I hadn't heard of him), and while I generally avoid that site like I would a dog turd, Vern's reviews really are fantastic. He has a very conversational style, liberally sprinkled with profanity, and avoids most of the cliches you expect from a film review. No hyperbolic praise, cute puns or "it's good if you like that sort of thing" bullshit that somehow manages to see print in the newspapers. His scathing review of Transformers (and modern action films in general) had me in stitches. I swear, when I saw all the positive reviews of that film I thought I was taking crazy pills. Of course it helps that our tastes are very similar, but even when we disagree his reviews are extremely enjoyable to read. He maintains a "web-sight" compiling all of his reviews (on Geocities, if you can believe it) so check them out.

When I heard he had released a book called Seagalogy: The Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal, I knew it was time to take a chance on a book that isn't about giant crabs. Vern could have easily just stuck his existing reviews of Seagal films in a book and called it a day, but he really has done his research. He lays out the themes and motifs that underpin most of Seagal's films, the things that tie all his movies together as a complete body of work. He subscribes to a modification of the auteur theory called the badass auteur theory, where it's the star of the action film (as opposed to the director) that puts his indelible stamp on the film. When you look at all the things that usually crop up in a Seagal film (environmental themes, corrupt CIA agents, ponytails, leather jackets) it's a hard theory to refute.

He divides the films up into four eras. The Golden Era (Above the Law through to Out for Justice), the Silver Era (Under Siege through to Fire Down Below), the Transitional period (The Patriot through to Half Past Dead) and finally the DTV Era (2003-Present). Each film's review is littered with interesting and/or hilarious footnotes and concludes with a brief run-down of the film's important statistics: How much glass is broken, a description of Seagal's character's mysterious past, accuracy of cover art etc. He even covers Seagal's non-film related works such as Steven Seagal's Lightning Bolt energy drink and both of his blues albums.

Don't, however, write this book off as some sort of ironic Chuck Norris hipster bullshit. Although it's all done with a wink and a smile, Vern has a serious appreciation and enthusiasm for Seagal's films (and films in general). He doesn't go for the cheap shots (like I do) and make fun of his ponytail, trenchcoats and the fact that he's bloated up like a Microsoft product. Maybe once or twice, but that's it. The book is full of jokes and witty asides, all written in his usual profanity-laden prose, but he also has the ability to actually make you think about a Seagal film, which is quite an accomplishment. It got me wanting to see On Deadly Ground again and that's pretty impressive. Even if you don't care much for Seagal, I'd be surprised if you didn't find something you like about this book. My only criticism is that at nearly 400 pages it's probably a bit too long for most readers, but as a budding Seagalogist I breezed through it in a weekend.

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