Don’t Throw Steven Seagal Out with the Bath Water!
January 5, 2014: An essay on the great Steven Seagal has clearly been way too long in the writing … In fact, the glory and essence of his work, to me, is well worth the devoting of my first lucid thoughts of 2014.
I’m thrilled to be re-watching On Deadly Ground as we speak, wherein once again he manages to play a white guy who’s simultaneously a lot of other races and nationalities—in this case Native American, or as the Indians used to call them, Indians. He’s an explosives and mayhem expert where oil refineries in Alaska -- and Michael Caine -- are concerned, but he’s also—as you’d expect Seagal to be—the benevolent protector of his drunken native people. He directed this one and I say without hyperbole that he does as fine a job directing as he does acting.
But here’s the shocker—I’m not trying to be yocky. I’m summarily impressed with Seagal—his product and, more importantly, his take on things. This movie, in fact, is quite a thoughtful and noble plea for environmental concerns and anti-corruption, anti-twisted greed, aside from being a great action ride. It culminates with the kind of frank, forthright speech at the end of the movie that I might have written in an editorial, and while it's a tad didactic, I admire it, because why the hell shouldn't we be more didactic when the world is so ridiculously corrupt and polluted. To me Seagal really earns some credit and respect for his vision and audacious care, and while you may simply see him as a one-dimensional action figure—or a serial sexual harassment suit magnet—I just can’t let those claims take away from his work, which I find most enjoyable.
We all need heroes, I continue realizing, at least in fiction where things always work out well. For some, we need a vigilante type who makes us feel safe from the dark forces we feel are roaming our neighborhoods and knocking over our mailboxes. For some, it's enough that an amorphous bad guy gets put away, because it represents a diminution of "bad." For others -- I think me included -- we need someone to stand up to the dark forces wearing suits who profit from the destruction of baby seals and the like. Getting to see them spanked by someone like Seagal gives us hope that the environment won't be obliterated before it's too late, or the CIA won't continue monitoring our brain activity while we're home on the toilet.
You might think I’m joking when I say that I not only re-discovered and remembered how much I adored all of his early work this week, but today (or yesterday, depending on when I finally bother to complete my essay) I went to Fie and bought up a catalogue of his DVD’s. It’s great when you get excited about something that’s not particularly popular at a given time, for you’re able to discover bargains, and so I got the blue rays (Blu-Rays) of both Under Siege I (which actually is one I don’t remember liking that much, but will probably prove rewarding) and Under Siege II (which I like) for only $7.00 each. Also, I scored this awesome four-pack that contains not only On Deadly Ground, but Out for Justice, Hard to Kill, and Exit Wounds. I also got a copy of Marked for Death, which I believe—and as you probably remember better than I—is the one with Screw Face. And of course I grabbed a copy of Above the Law, though I was disappointed that it wasn’t available in widescreen, as all the others were. (I actually passed on Fire Down Below, which you’ll remember as his adventure in Appalachia, but I may rethink that, because there is some enjoyable violence, some of his songs are used, and I think he even square dances in one scene. (Plus, I actually adore hearing him say “Appalachia.”))
You can always tell a Steven Seagal movie because the title is generally a prepositional phrase. This tended to change in his later films, but that’s probably why those weren’t as good. I was a committed fan for a long time, but there were too many disappointments in the 21st century with his direct-to-video fare, largely due to his weight gain, which seemed to erase his ability to break people’s limbs. The last new movie of his I watched—I don’t even remember the title—he barely seemed involved at all. And while his hairline never seemed to recede (as we all know mine has) he put on pounds as if he might have had some liver damage or something.
To me Seagal is the intelligent man’s action hero, if you can grasp the paradox. (Hell, you’re a Blah-ugh! reader—you’re clearly capable of anything!) From his first movie, in which he lambasted the corruption of covert government antics, he really has strived to make statements, albeit simple ones, that celebrate the downtrodden little guys in their helpless juxtaposition to big business, big government, various corruptions and the like. He really does put some valid political perspective in all these battles (at least in his early movies) and I appreciate that. It helps us savor each groin kick just that much more.
AND THIS JUST IN: As I readied to post this, I just saw online that Seagal is going to consider a run for governor of Arizona. That's exciting, of course, for the javelina and residents of Tucson. I only hope he lives up to his heroic personas ...