I own 21 Steven Seagal movies, far more than I have of anyone else's. Stevie may have an unfair advantage there, given he makes more movies than anyone but Takashi Miike, but it's still a safe bet that I'm a bit obsessed with Steven Seagal. Luckily, I'm not the only one. AICN's Vern likes Stevie so much he's written a whole book on the man's movies called Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. The idea is that by studying Stevie's films Vern hopes "to understand the essence of a man." Not just any man, though, he's talking about Steven Seagal.
Publisher: Titan Books
The book covers Stevie's output from his not so humble beginning with Above the Law through to Dark Vengeance, though a previous edition only went up to Pistol Whipped. Stevie's career is mostly divided up into four main sections: Golden Era, Silver Era, Direct to Video Era and Chief Seagal Era (2009 onwards). This is a pretty good way to divide the films since it's also a usually reliable division in the quality of the movies. Vern has delved deep into Stevie's oeuvre and reviewed anything he could get a copy of, examining recurring elements and themes. Things like bar fights and "family shit" are tallied, while the reviews themselves cross reference to point out ties between the movies. Because Vern is analysing the films he outlays the entire story, so the book contains spoilers.
While reading the book I got the impression Vern is more of a serious Stevie fan than I am. He was sad the first time he watched Out of Reach, but I can't see how anyone could see it as anything other than a comedic triumph of the cinema. Despite seriously liking Stevie and taking his objective somewhat seriously, Vern wisely chose to make the book funny, and it's often hilarious. Vern doesn't mock Stevie's hair enough for my taste, but normally he's spot on about the quality or lack thereof in a given film. There's some real insight given, at times with the help of insider sources, and I learned cool stuff like Stevie's daughter is Gamera's friend. The book is so good that Baltimore Citypaper called it "a definitive text." I assume the paper thought no one else would even bother, but regardless I don't entirely agree with that statement. I was in the midst of reviewing a bunch of Stevie's movies for Digital Retribution when I got the book, and I didn't go, "Well, there's no point in continuing with Stevie reviews since Vern's already said everything that needs saying," but there are times when Vern puts things absolutely perfectly, like his video game analogy when discussing a stand out line from Steven Seagal is Hard to Kill. Vern paid attention to the minutia within the films and picked up on things no one else would've ever noticed, like the fact that Stevie may have secretly made a trilogy without us being the wiser. Vern bizarrely seems to like most of Stevie's movies (a notable exception is Steven Seagal is Submerged), though in some cases it appears his fondness may be a defence mechanism after repeated exposure. This mean Vern actually likes Black Dawn, but there's no accounting for taste. That brings me to a good question about this book – who's Seagalogy for?
The serious Stevie fans (presuming they're literate) should enjoy Seagalogy because it treats Stevie with respect wherever possible. The more mocking Stevie fan should enjoy it because it points out ridiculousness wherever relevant (which is often). The casual Stevie fans will benefit from the book because it will help them steer away from the worst and lead them to the good. People that don't like Stevie should like Seagalogy for the same reasons the mocking fan will. People that are incredulous the book exists should like it because it does. And it's very, very funny. So, this book is really for everyone.
While Seagalogy is a magnificent achievement, it's not perfect. Because of the convoluted plotting of many of Stevie's DTV flicks, Vern occasionally gets some minor plot points wrong. I never would've noticed this if I hadn't been reviewing the same films myself, so most people wouldn't realise this and it's such a minor gripe I wouldn't even mention it except that I did. My only real issue with the book is that Vern seems to like Stevie too much. While that may be a bit of a "well, duh!" statement, what I mean by that is he appears to turn a blind eye to the man himself. Stevie is clearly a bit of a dick, and given Vern is seeking Stevie's essence, you'd think that would come up. My biggest problem with liking Stevie's movies is I have trouble supporting the man himself, but at the same time I have to admit he makes me laugh and laugh and laugh. Vern doesn't share my problem, and despite having several hundred pages to discuss Stevie, he doesn't really address Stevie's jerkiness. Stevie being a jerk does come up, for example Vern repeats a claim that some footage was scrapped because Stevie thought the women in it were too fat, but often Vern seems to brush aside the idea that Stevie is a poop head, if he even mentions it at all. In his chapter for Steven Seagal is Under Siege Vern quotes Andrew Davis (who directed Stevie in both Steven Seagal is Under Siege and Above the Law) discussing Stevie in a less than positive manner, but it feels like this quote is only brought in to undermine Davis' claim that Stevie doesn't deserve all the credit for Steven Seagal is Under Siege. Vern also does a bit of a write up on Stevie's appearance on Saturday Night Live, but neglects to mention how difficult and inappropriate Stevie was during the production of the show. Stevie was so bad it actually became a joke on a later episode! Some accusations levelled at Stevie are brushed off as bizarre, but I was amazed well documented things, like Stevie's assault on co-star John Leguizamo while filming Executive Decision, didn't warrant a mention. If Seagalogy was just a book about Stevie's movies, I would consider it flawless, but since Vern said he wanted to use the films to get a better understanding of Stevie himself, it's a pretty big omission to not specify repeatedly that Stevie is at the very least a pretentious git. Maybe I'm being harsh on a guy who wrote a book studying the films of Steven Seagal, but he's the one that proposed this essence understanding goal, not me.
While I think Seagalogy doesn't fully pursue its mission statement, it is irrefutably a great collection of reviews. Highly interesting, it helped me appreciate things that I overlooked when I was younger, specifically Stevie's rather unique (for an action star) political leanings, and comes to some fair conclusions as to what helps set Stevie apart from his peers. Vern says he doesn't think he could do a book like this about other action stars, and cites Jean-Claude Van Damme as an example. I think he's right it would be hard to explore the connectivity of Van Damme's movies, but I think it might be interesting to see a similar project on the work of Sylvester Stallone, who wrote enough of his films that they must give some insight into Stallone himself. I'd also think that given how big Arnold Schwarzenegger got, he must've had some influence on his films' content, so there may be a book there, too. I say this because I want Vern to write these books so I can read them.
Aside from the films, Seagalogy also reviews Stevie's CDs, his energy drink, doco appearances, his TV show, a sequel he didn't appear in, guest shots, things Stevie produced, his Carlton ad (which I still maintain should've been about DR webmaster Craig Villinger) and a live music performance at the Tractor Tavern. The Tractor must be the place to see famous people doing something they're not as famous for, because that's where I saw KG and Lee of Tenacious D in their side project Trainwreck. Seagalogy also discusses some Stevie projects that sadly never were.
I rambled on about Vern ignoring the true essence of Stevie, but don't really think that hurts the book, it just prevents it from being the thorough study it's presented as. Otherwise, this book is an awesome recollection of all sorts of awesome stuff done by the awesoment action star ever. I've seen my share of Stevie movies, but I'll certainly be using Seagalogy as a guide to avoid the shit I haven't already stepped in, and the reviews have made me keen to seek out a few movies I've missed because, honestly, when it comes down to it, is 21 Steven Seagal movies really enough?