Monday, March 13, 2017

Book Review: SEAGALOGY by Vern

According to author Vern, if you are a huge fan of Steven Seagal and his strange and awesome movies, then you are, by default, a Seagalogist, a term the author coined to describe the die-hard fans, the real Seagal freaks, who follow his output religiously and truly enjoy his films for what they are. I am such a person; a huge Seagal fan since my teens, and someone whose appreciation and dedication to the Seagal ouvre only deepened with age. Yes, Seagal can be a polarizing, even bemusing figure. Yes, some of his DTV movies are heavily flawed and suffer from less than stellar production values. But there is no one else on this planet like Steven Seagal, the actor-producer-writer-bluesman-environmentalist-animal-rights activist-police officer, who also happens to be an Aikido sensei trained in Japan!

Seagalogy by Vern is marketed as a love letter to the man and his work, reviewing and analyzing all of Seagal's films and TV shows up to 2011. Vern's style is irreverent but, for the most part, not mean-spirited, and his passion for Seagal shines through. But those expecting a straightforward, serious look at Seagal's work have to look elsewhere. Vern's style is sometimes too humorous for its own good, with the irreverence occasionally becoming annoying and distracting. Strangely, for someone who has spent a lot of time and effort writing a book about a celebrity who suffers from overtly hostile coverage by the mainstream media, Vern falls into the same trap as the ones he criticizes in his book: those who viciously make fun of Seagal's shortcomings, real or imagined, because of his eccentric persona and beliefs, and his decision to leave Hollywood. Vern seems to think, as pointed up repeatedly in his book, that Seagal's "Golden Age" was his WB days (1988-1991), and that almost everything past that era is below par. I disagree.

Although I realize the ridiculousness of some Seagal's work and obsessions, I believe that, as an actor-filmmaker, Seagal has managed to make some truly interesting b-movies in a time where ageing action stars from the 80's and 90s are content to rest on their laurels, or become mascots banking on their household names, with shameless ads and/or inferior sequels to their biggest hits. Not Seagal. He has managed to make almost 40 DTV movies in the past twenty years, almost all of them reflecting his motifs, interests, and obsessions (Asian philosophy, a code of honor, CIA corruption, mafias, Chinese herbology, animals, Japanese swords...), and many of these movies are co-written by the man himself.

Vern acknowledges this to some extent, but his reviews of the later era Seagal are for the most part sarcastic and lacking in depth and proper research. That doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy the book. I enjoyed the hell out of it. But I was expecting something meatier, more fleshed out than light reading. Especially since, as of this moment, this is the only book ever written about Seagal.

So for Seagal fans, this is a must. It has some fascinating info and trivia, and some of Vern's reviews, especially of Seagal's earlier films, make you want to go back and rewatch the movies. But lower your expectations before picking up a copy.

Text © Ahmed Khalifa. 2017

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