Book Review: Seagalogy
In 2008, readers were introduced to a new branch of science: Seagalogy (se-gal-uh-jee). This field of study, which was created by the movie critic Vern, is a modified version of the French auteur theory of film. Instead of connecting works by a director’s personal stamp, Vern analyzes movies through the scope of his “badass auteur theory.” According to him, “The badass auteur theory is the idea that in some types of action or badass pictures, it is the badass (or star) who carries through themes from one picture to the next.”
It’s not difficult to figure out exactly which badass Vern discusses in his book based on the title, Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal. This month, he released a new edition that can best be described as Seagalogy 2.0, updated and expanded to include Steven Seagal’s work from 2009 through present day. The latest version also features a hilarious introduction penned by "Pineapple Express" director David Gordon Green, explaining the filmmaker’s personal appreciation for Seagal.
Vern comically divides Seagal’s career up into various eras: Golden, Silver, [transitional period], DTV (direct to video), and Chief Seagal. Starting with the Golden Era and working forward, he explores Seagal’s films in unprecedented depth, establishing themes that are present throughout Seagal’s work. Some them Vern identifies are more serious like martial arts, adopted culture, political commentary, and family issues, while others are quite humorous like awkward one-liners, instances of broken glass, distinguished co-stars, and terms of endearment his characters use. So you can easily keep track, he presents a tidy synopsis of all these trends and how the piece may or may not fit them, at the end of each chapter.
Even with significant comedic themes in the book, Vern isn’t joking around with his analysis, presenting unparalleled attention to detail. In the text itself, you’ll find numerous footnotes, some incredibly sarcastic, and others that are practically paragraphs in length on an actor or director. As someone who is extremely familiar with early Seagal films like "Above the Law" and "Hard to Kill," I was surprised at how many elements I had missed when I watched them. Probably the funniest bit for me involved the inappropriate relationship Seagal’s character Nico has with his partner Jacks (Pam Grier) in "Above the Law."
One of the best parts about Seagalogy is that Vern doesn’t merely limit himself to discussing Seagal’s films. He also covers the records Seagal has released as a musician, television appearances, and Seagal’s energy drink. At a certain point, Vern’s detail can be exhausting however; at over 400 pages, the book just feels way too long. During each chapter he does a significant amount of plot summary, which can get repetitive. Additionally, if you’re a more casual Seagal enthusiast like me, you’ll have a harder time in the DTV period, specifically because it’s difficult to appreciate films, if you haven’t seen them yourself.
Perhaps in future editions, Seagalogy 3.0 could be sharpened to only include greatest hits, i.e. the films that best encompass Vern’s theories on Seagal, or ones that Vern deems lesser, could just get a summary treatment. If you worship Seagal like Vern does, you’ll get a kick out of this book, but if you’re like me, you might struggle to get through the later chapters. Regardless of your Seagal appreciation, Vern will at least keep you laughing the whole way through with his sharp, observational sense of humor.
Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal is currently available from Titan Books.
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