Tag Archives: Steven Seagal

A Seagalian Sidestep: When Justin Met Steve

Say what you will about Channel ‘owned-by-a-porn-baron’ Five, but they’re doing a good job of showing some of Seagal’s worst films on a dizzying rotation of almost two a week. I guess someone must have joined the dots in their weekend schedule and thought that human-labrador Justin Lee Collins would make for interesting ratings if matched with the mighty Steven Seagal. And so we have the aptly search engine optimised ‘Steven Seagal v Justin Lee Collins’.

For all my eye-rolling at seeing the ads for this, the sum-total of the thing is not that bad. All things considered. Honestly. The duo worked together on the pretty tiresome Friday Night Project which Seagal hosted a couple of years ago, so they aren’t complete strangers. Nor do they have the unbounded rapport that Collins insists on pointing out to the camera before every advert break. But considering Seagal’s a lumbering sphinx with not a blind bit of reason to be talking to any kind of press, Collins does an alright job in keeping him talking, and surprisingly laughing, albeit at the expense of some pretty forced wank gags.

Despite being the sort of show which furiously chops up 25 minutes of footage and elliptically repeats itself across twice the runtime, the show does throw out a few odd facts, and a couple of quirks that were news to me:

Steven’s allergic to ‘a lot of things’. Specifically gluten.

Steven’s made a lot of money. Probably double what you’ve imagined.

He’s got a samurai sword worth ‘about a million dollars.’ It’s pretty cool looking.

He’s got an iphone.

The most memorable gig on his last UK tour was in Llandudno.

He can just about pronounce Llandudno.

He likes his guns.

This may stem from his latent fear of home invasion.

His new home is in the middle of nowhere.

He’s surprised that a Brit would know the phrase ‘young, dumb and full of cum’.

He once gave a drunk man a flying punch out of his Tokyo dojo.

He’s good at keeping his belly covered whenever he’s sat down.

Considering my expectations were rock bottom going in, I must say I was pretty pleasantly surprised. The show won’t be of any real interest to anyone that isn’t much of a fan, but Seagal fan’s and their inherently low expectations can find the programme streaming on Channel 5’s Demand 5 site until 02:00 on the 5th of August, 2011.

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Pistol Whipped: Part (3) in the Seagal Odyssey

Having started backwards through Seagal’s nigh neverending  filmography I’ve always managed to find a hook, a blip, or an absurdity to cheer me up. All too often I’ve got hung up on  some oblique choice of direction, some incoherent narrative leap, or just the terrifying ineptitude of production. Sometimes the degree of our man’s involvement is a sight to behold, especially in what might loosely be described as ‘action sequences’. More than a few of his films have gone to print being far short of what you might call ‘complete’, and the often numerous short comings are an insight to the pressures of independent film production beyond the arthouses. Barely a rung above the porn industry in terms of budget and artistic integrity, the blunt commercial interests of the direct-to-video sector is just a microcosm of the larger forces at work in any Hollywood production. An uncanny parallel, a dark mirror, just something to put it all in perspective.

Pistol Whipped manages to go one further by spectacularly failing to elicit anything. Pure and undiluted apathy in cinematic form. To say it’s boring would be to credit the film with a form of emotional impact it still falls short of.

Lance Henriksen’s in it. You know, Bishop from Aliens, he’s in absolutely everything these days. At one point you see the camera crew reflected in the very shiny door of a car, and that made me laugh. At another Seagal starts drumming on a car window with his knuckles, brushing dangerously close to improvisation, at least in musical form. A priest turns up a couple of times in a cod-confessional scene to help flesh out Seagal’s character, and we get a bit of exposition too. He gets killed at the end, and that’s a bit of a shame, even if he did seem to have come straight off the set of a 90s Werther’s Originals advert. And coincidentally, it has been widely observed that at no point does anyone in the film get whipped by a pistol. This might very well be the only notable thing in the whole film.

I’ve dragged myself through the film twice, rewatched bits, and that’s the sum of all I can muster in recalling the film. The DVD cover is filled with poker and gambling bits and bobs, which I guess is one way of tapping into a big obvious market. Just Googling this film leaves me with a deluge of ads trying to sign me up to Cool Lonely Manly Solitaire with Built-in Money Loss. Of course there’s not much actual poker in the game. Seagal plays a bit at the beginning and fails spectacularly, which is perhaps ironic considering the man is afflicted with a permanent poker-face. Perhaps the wind changed sharply one morning.

So, Seagal sucks at poker; he accrues a lot of debt; being an effective hitman is  good way of dissolving such fiscal obstacles, and therein a plot. There are sub-plots too, but have a guess as to what they might be and you’re probably right.

I’m tempted to say that Seagal just seems contemptuous of even having to be present in this film, but again that might suggest some undercurrent of tension in the film. Which there isn’t. It’s a complete and utter non-entity. It isn’t even bad. It isn’t anything. The whole thing is just a gaping void. I’m sorry to even have to mention it, let alone dwell on it, but this voyage wouldn’t be complete without it.

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Machete: Part (- 4) in the Seagal Odyssey

In simple terms, this film’s a triumph before the projector had even flickered on. The only time I’ve seen Seagal on the big screen is in the hallmark Orange adverts he did a few years ago, as I was too young for either his Golden or his Silver age. Only by sheer dint of fortune did my teenage self have the prescience of mind to steel well bloody clear of Exit Wounds, Ticker, or Half Past Dead. Robert Rodriguez’s Machete heralds the first time in (count ’em) eight years that the Big Man is back on the Big Screen, and being one of about 6 people in the world for whom the man is still a draw in his own right, well I’d be an idiot to miss it. The fact that the film’s a pastiche grindhouse film about Danny Trejo wielding various cutting tools of assorted sizes, well, that’s just a bonus.

The good news is that Seagal’s actually in it. This isn’t some half-a-day-on-set, calling-in-a-favour cameo that Schwarzenegger disappointed audiences with in The Expendables, no no. Seagal fills the boots of the ‘Evil Drug Lord’ Cortez with his ample frame, albeit by way of comically wobbly Meh-E-Co styled accent. A good heft of his screen presence is as the mastermind a Skype call away from the dirty work, and that mostly involves his big and surprisingly square mug leering from a laptop while he’s surrounded by nubile young things in bikinis. Recently dismissed sex trafficking charges aside, I’m sure this is a persona our man feels no acrimony in putting about. Even beyond the webcams Seagal looms large, mostly to throw taunts at poor susceptible Danny Trejo, and at the end to actually throw himself around in some vicious machete-on-katana duelling action. In a move contrary to established Seagalian convention, it doesn’t end well for our man, but he leaves with a smile on his face, and some ripe lines too boot. I couldn’t have been happier.

As for the rest of the film, well that doesn’t do quite so much to surprise and delight, despite grand promises to that effect. It certainly has its moments, and the endless conveyor belt of recognisable cameos intertwine with some frankly baffling events: Lindsey Lohan gets naked, before donning a nun’s habit; Robert De Niro dances around his best efforts of a George W. Bush impression; Don ‘Miami Vice’ Johnson hunts illegal immigrants with a rifle;  Jessica Alba sort of gets naked for no good reason at all; Cheech (but not Chong) appears as foul-mouthed priest with a shotgun; Tom Savini rocks up, shooting from the hip, but not with his patented cock-and-ball-gun.

On paper that might sound like a riot, or an appalling demonstration in crassness, but in practice it’s an exercise in SCREAMING AT THE TOP OF YOUR VOICE for the whole time. Come the rather overblown and somewhat convoluted finale, where every sodding cameo has to make an appearance, well needless to say the film’s gotten rather hoarse. Keeping the bombast of the action permanently at eleven does however hit a few sweet notes, particularly in the dialogue spitting Padre Cheech, as well as in the parody campaign videos put out by De Niro as Bush, which are funny only in matching the insane hyperbole of real-world American political ad campaigns out there. [this clip being a terrifying example for illustrative purposes]

But the film is a long way from satire, and as a piece of exploitation the film also rings sadly hollow. In making an arch imitation of the skid-row, fleapit favourite, Rodriguez seems to be missing two rather simple qualities: Machete is neither cheap nor naff. Despite the time and effort that’s been put in to digitally scuffing-up the film, for all the bearing of breasts and the bursting of over-pumped veins, at no point does it feel grotty or genuinely exploitative. For want of a better missive it doesn’t have any distinct feel at all. Momentarily funny and overblown, but not a lot else, thankfully at least one lumbering part didn’t disappoint.

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Desert Island Summer with Dolph Lundgren

Dolph Lundgren playing Drago in Rocky IV (4)That the whole world isn’t fluent in Swedish is a petty frustration I face on a nigh daily basis. Some words just lend themselves better in the Swedish tongue. Less often it might be a particularly brilliant blog post or maybe an article, or perhaps an interview that I just can’t share without the help of a hamfisted google translation. Only once in a blue moon do you get a radio broadcast with Dolph Lundgren, in which hearing the man in his dulcet mother tongue is a revelation in itself. That he then goes on to break every listener’s heart just makes the translation frustration even harder.

The show in question was Dolph’s stint on Sommar which in cultural comparison comes closest to Desert Island Discs. Broadcast daily between June and August, the format selects a new person everyday to present an hour and a half of music and monologue of their own fancy, and like Desert Island the show is predominantly made up of high profile Swedes. Dolph shared his summer with the likes of Björn Ulvaeus (of Abba), Pernilla August and Robyn, to name a few Swedes you might have heard of. Like Desert Island they throw a few non-celebrities into the fray, and at least one civilian gets selected each year, which in Dolph’s summer was a shy 19 year old who spoke out about bullying.

Dolph as the crazed assassin street preacher in cyberpunk car-crash of a movie Johnny MnemonicWhile the announcement of each summer’s roster is a pretty big deal in Sweden, there’s always a bit of speculation as to how interesting a known celebrity might be once left alone in front of a mic for an hour and half. That enigmatic musician you thought might be interesting turns out to be an absolute bore, while that centre-right politician you previous despised turns out to have a sense of irony and a good ear for a tune. The expectations going in for Dolph were without a doubt rock bottom. Sure, the action star with an MA in engineering alluded to hidden depths, but come on, Ivan Drago solo for 1h+ can’t be that good.

“Alright, this is Dolph Lundgren. I went on a touring holiday in December, a few years ago, when I was home visiting Sweden…” the host chimes in, at breakneck speed. The shock of hearing him speak Swedish (a first for most listeners) is one thing, to hear him then roll on with a bizarro Stockholm/Northern Swedish/Swenglish accent is another. The opening anecdote is about returning to his rural teenage home and getting accosted by a hick as ‘that there film bloke’ which immediate segways into a klämmig [gung-ho] folk tune.

Dolph was born and raised Hans Lundgren in the Stockholm suburb Spånga, one of the very same suburbs at the centre of horror fantasy Let the Right One In, and where I used to train rugby no less. Anemic little Hans was the eldest boy of a military engineer, a towering man who had the boy’s wholehearted adoration. The family fell on harder times as the father’s career faltered, and as a teenager Dolph turned into your run of the mill delinquent. Frustrated with life his father lashed out at his mother and his children, and Dolph speaks candidly of getting used to taking an odd beating every now and then, the awkwardness of hiding heavy cuts from his friends and teachers under a shaggy fringe. “My self confidence fell to nothing. My grades soon followed.”

Escape came in films, Easy Rider, kung fu pictures, and the martial arts. Hans got sent to his grandparents in Northern Sweden, to escape distractions and bad influences, but also to get him away from his aggressive father. The older Dolph reflects how in so many ways he ressembles his father, in his appearance, in his interests, in his love of a striking suit. Like his father he’s prone to a violent temper, but he’d never lash out at women or children, not even on film. His voice trembling Dolph recounts how he cried at his father’s funeral, and wishes he could tell his dad that he understands him, that he forgives him, and that he loves him.

Studies led to Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology, then a masters at the University of Sydney, where he moonlighted as a bouncer. Grace Jones pounced on him at her gig in the city, and Dolph quickly got roped into the world of celebrity. Working out daily he was at the peak of his physical abilities, but he couldn’t keep up with his new socialite friends who partied through the night. What was their secret? ‘Who knows?’ asks Dolph, as he cues up Eric Clapton’s Cocaine on the playlist.

On way to starting a Fulbright Scholarship in chemical engineering at MIT Dolph got waylaid, unable to resist the magnetic draw of showbusiness. A bit part in A View to a Kill followed by an impossible audition for Rocky IV, and the rest hardly needs recounting.

press photo from sr.se of Dolph Lundgren's stint on Swedish RadioWritten down the whole screed might sound like a fine candidate for the ‘tragic life stories’ section at WHSmiths, but Dolph doesn’t paint any grand tragedies of a hard-knock-life, and speaks happily of the incredible luck he’s had in life. As absurd as the adjective feels when applied to an on-air celebrity, Dolph just comes across as strikingly genuine. Talking to others a wide reaching consensus is that Dolph was quite possibly the greatest Sommar host there’s been in recent memory. While Jean-Claude Van Damme has bared all in his postmodern pour-your-heart-out action film JCVD, this growing trend of the 80’s action star confessional leaves me hoping that maybe the Seagal will see fit to walk the same path. Grand as it was to see him bumbling along with the Jefferson Parish police force in Steven Seagal Lawman, the real Seagal confessional is still begging to be told.

Dolph however is rolling on to brighter and odder things, the Sommar session leading to a slightly revived profile for the aging action star in his home country. A role as host for the regional heats of the Eurovision selection competition in Sweden is a bigger gig than might first be sniffed at, and his kung-fu kicking, if rather off-key, rendition of Little Less Conversation garnered more than a little attention on YouTube. This summer brings his return to the big screen in Clash of the Washed-Up Action Stars, or a film more commonly known as The Expendables. Lord knows quite how godawful or absurdly brilliant that might be, but contrary to reports in The Onion in 2004, Dolph hasn’t won his courageous battle against fame just yet.


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Steven Seagal and Unchopped Onions

the cockerel logo from Steven Seagal's mock film 'Cockpuncher'In a film that wasn’t really supposed to be Steven Seagal isn’t really in it, but for all of his five minutes he’s the solitary gag that’s actually worth a chuckle.

Those familiar with the satirical newspaper The Onion may well be familiar with the mocked up broadcast channel The Onion News Network, which deftly breathes life into the publication’s dafter stories. Taking these news snippets in their two minute online only format is all fine and dandy, but back in the pre-YouTube era the publication’s editors had the bold vision to bring this very standard to the masses by way of celluloid and touring cinema shows. Noble in notion, The Onion Movie is absolutely godawful in practice.

Taken in short bursts the comedy is quite enjoyable, but the reality of sitting down and watching these few dozen shorts in a single sitting is an exercise of tedium bordering into nausea. Steven Seagal lashing out at a lunging ninja, arms and swords flailingIt doesn’t build up into a grander narrative, there’s no echo chamber of repetition of the whole thing folding into itself. It’s just a waddling portmanteau of alright-but-not-brilliant comedy.

The film was finished in 2003, but after getting a resounding thumbs down from test audiences the money men decided it would be better left on the shelf. And on the shelf it was for five years, until the producers could harass the studio into releasing it direct-to-DVD in 2008. To say they shouldn’t have bothered would be too harsh, as there is a glimmer of self reflective irony from our man Steve, and always money to be made off unquestioning fans such as myself.

Taking the role of the eponymous Cock Puncher, Seagal bizarrely manages to be a parody of his later self a good four years before he actually reaches that dizzying low. Urban Justice from 2007 could aptly be retitled Crotch Assault, as the key method Seagal deploys in disabling hoodlums seems to be short swift blows to their crown jewels.

Is the man beyond parody? No, just prescient enough to be four years ahead of that very same curve.

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Kill Switch and the DTV Star System

Being of a certain age I can unfortunately not claim to have seen one of the Big Man’s films on the Big Screen. Yet by the peculiar quirk of advertising I have still seen the Big Man himself on the Big Screen, so with begrudging gratitude to Orange telecoms I direct you to this:

It is, almost without question, one of, if not THE best thing he has done on screen in the last ten years. Needless vehicle-based chases, inexplicable explosions, a flourish of spoken Japanese, a sense of humour, and most astonishingly some genuine ass-kicking (albeit without any nut-cracking) from Seagal himself! No stunt-double!

Those dear marketing execs really outdid themselves in boiling down the essence of what we, the baying hordes, demand from a Seagal film. The irony is that this is literally what he is trying to escape with the Rom-com script he is touting to the fictional Orange execs. The double irony is that this mirrors Seagal own attempts to break out of the action mould, evident in traces through films like Kill Switch and other recent DTV films. Granted, the advert takes it to an extreme level of absurdity, but there is a bizarre poignancy in seeing Steve play out the bizarre Catch 22 he will forever be stuck in. It’s the self-reflexive postmodern genius of JCVD all over again, only condensed into a single minute. Call ‘over-analysis’ all you like, the dogs-dinner script and editing of Kill Switch is proof if any where needed that what Steven wants and what Steven gets are two very separate things.

For all the collected mistakes and shoddy breaks in almost all of Seagal’s recent DTV output, Kill Switch bears the marks of a film with grand intentions that just came crashing down in the edit. As executive producer, writer and lead actor in the film, you cannot help but wonder how much beyond mere finances Seagal had invested in this film. The Making-of that accompanies the film paints the picture of a team genuinely set on pushing some boundaries in terms of your average Seagal action DTV

Steven, the director, all the main actors, everyone lines up to discuss the nuance and the complexities of the story. Jacob King, the controversial detective at the heart of the film is discussed and Steven goes into some detail about the challenges of getting to grips with a man who is just as obsessed an perverted as the serial killers he pursues. The director also goes to some pains to describe a couple of scenes in the film and how he chose to shoot them, even going so far as to show a storyboard for the flying-out-of-a-window-seventeen-times sequence. He doesn’t corroborate my own rather bold reading of the sequence as a revisionist take on Hollywood editing, but there is proof at least that this wasn’t a wholly unplanned hodge-podge.

kill switch making of directorPerhaps most telling is that the interview with the director is shot in the editing room, in front of the editing suite with a cut of the film running in the background. Said cut of the film features a edit of the window-seventeen scene that differs significantly from the cut in the finished product. Fewer cuts, a shorter sequence, and another argument against my revisionist reading. It is impossible to guess at what stage in post production the interview was conducted, but on some level it does illustrate the different stages of where the Making-of was made, compared to the final edit of the film.

Kill Switch StoryboardIndeed I feel it is safe to say that the film that the cast discuss in the Making-of is separate from the film as it ended up on the DVD. It is possibly the most incoherent mess you could ever conceive of outside of experimental filmmaking. Characters appear and disappear, the story progresses without any sense of purpose, with more plot holes than a rural backlane. Almost worst of all, Steven’s character unexpectedly lashes out in brutal acts of ultra-violence. Think American History X curb stomping, but without the emotional impact.

Seagal’s character is wholly and totally morally irreprehensible. A chauvinist, a sadist, and a down right Arsehole.

He could very well pull off the nuance and complexities of such a character, and his fellow cast and director seemed to believe so too. The producers evidently, much like the Orange execs, did not and saw fit to chop and change the film to make it best fit the picture we all have of Seagal as an action hero. The simple fact is that DTV producers play the market much as the exploitation producers of the 1970’s did. Catch the eye with a bold poster (or DVD cover), and to hell with whether it actually lives up to the promise, as long as the punters just come flocking.

Seagal is a name everyone recognises. It is a hallmark of certain kind of rather conventional action film. Hire the name and you have a certain amount of box office guaranteed. Simple.

Exploitation producers didn’t care much whether a film actually lived up to it’s title, provided the title was good in the first place. Seagal’s name is on the poster, so why are these DTV producers so desperate to recut the film? A crying shame, as it would have been refreshing to see Seagal at least try to flesh out a multidimensional character.

Oh yes, and did I mention that Isaac Hayes is in this film? There’s another name for the poster. As a pathologist no less.

Kill switch montage

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The Greatest Seagal Character Name Ever: You Decide!

Maybe it’s a contractual demand. Maybe it’s a personal penchant for them. Maybe it’s just plain fate, but Steven Seagal seems wholly unable to take the any roles with an even remotely believable name. He started as he intended to go on with the classic handle Nico Toscani in the film with the same name, and the titles have be rushing up and down the scale of absurdity since.

For every straight-laced John Hatcher and Jonathan Cold there’s at least a brace of Orin Boyd’s, Harlan Bank’s or Sasha Petrosevich. Passing through the ranks as Lt. Jack Cole and Lt. Colonel Austin Travis, Seagal has even touched the dizzying heights with the role of Commander Marshall Lawson. He has even dipped into the dark waters of academe as Dr Wesley McClaren and later as Professor Robert Burns.

On occasion he has even ventured into East Asian spiritualism with the minimalist Tao; wholly apt for a role that is minimalist most. Beyond the bold epitaph of his passing cameo in the dire Onion Movie, few names have had the blunt impact of the personal title Cock Puncher. Brash you could say, if not wholly accurate as we all known Steven loves kicking up a storm, less of the punching.

But what is the greatest handle? Divorced from their original films, only you can decide which name has the greatest impact. Those weathered veterans of the field may recognise some names, but leave your prejudices at the door. This is purely about the awesomeness of these insane nomers. There can be only one. Let the voting commence.


Kill Switch and Hollywood Editing

his girl friday requiem for a dream kill switch montageYou could argue endlessly about the most overlooked job in the film industry, but I’d make a strong case for that of the editor. Many would say that their role falls into the realm of striving for seamlessness; unnoticed if done well. But that’s doing these crafty cutters a great disservice, as continuity and the impact of the edit can be tremendously powerful devices. As proof were needed of the fact, seeing my friends stumble out of the living room absolutely shell-shocked after seeing Requiem for a Dream was a timely reminder of the combined power of music + cutting to wholly traumatise the hapless moviegoer.

In my own misadventures I remember getting into an argument with one of my tutors about a scene in His Girl Friday, and the power of straightforward continuity. The scene in question comes seven minutes into the clip below.

It’s a blink and you’ll miss it cut, but just as Cary Grant picks up and then drops Rosalind’s be-ringed hand, the next shot shows him holding the hand again. I spent a good five minutes arguing that it must be a mistake in the edit, but it turns out it was the classic ‘Cary Grant Double Take’ which pops up in countless other films. I’ve only spotted it in North by Northwest, but still, lesson learnt:

– Hollywood Does Not Make Mistakes. Everything is Deliberate –

kill switch windowSo taking this lesson and applying it to later work in the oeuvre of Steven Seagal, the repercussions become quite serious. It’s all fine and well having a chuckle at things stumbling along, but there comes a point when the mistakes are writ so large that they just can’t be mistakes. Unfortunately we cannot discount the whole of Kill Switch as a grand mistake, for in its opening scene there comes a challenge to conventions of Hollywood continuity, a challenge so bold that it posits a complete tabula rasa of editing as we know it. Not quite a jump back to year zero, but rather a jump to the year 1903.

With moving pictures barely a few years old, the visual grammar of continuity we understand today had only just been embarked upon. Narratives were mostly limited to single scenes, much like the theatre, with action entering from the sides. Other early films kept to the school of what Tom Gunning has defined as the Cinema of Attractions* borrowing heavily from the worlds of the fairground and the vaudeville theatre, with one-act spectacles of wonder or contortion. Moving pictures were a spectacle in and of themselves, and the first film subject tended to be equally spectacular.

The change towards film with a more straightforward narrative came in the first decade of the century, and plenty has been said critically on that matter. The path to Hollywood continuity as we know it today was long, but even at this earliest stage can be noted some attempts to create a different visual discourse, less conventionally linear and with greater focus on repetition. A prime surviving example of this is to be found in the Edison company’s Life of an American Fireman. Stories of fire, imperilled women/children and daring rescue were all the rage in the early 1900s, and Life of plays straight to this early genre.

While the film itself might not strangle the attention of the average modern viewer, it is important to note the peculiar repetition of action. The sequence inside the burning house is played out in full before the action cuts to outdoors, and the viewer is then treated to seeing the complete action from a wholly separate perspective. The multiplicity of angles is primary above the linearity of continuity, and while jarring to the modern eye, this approach made a lot of sense to early audiences still open to the as yet undefined grammar of film. To borrow a term from Charles Musser** there is a ‘malleablility of temporality’ wholly lacking in most modern cinema. It flies in the face of anyone who might see these films and consider them primitive or simple.

Full respect then to the director Jeff King and his editor Jamie Alain with their work on Steven Seagal’s Kill Switch, a film which in one scene pays both homage to Life of an American Fireman while simultaneously challenging all modern understandings of continuity in Hollywood cinema.

another kill switch windowIn the sequence of one man getting kicked out of a window there are seventeen separate cuts, seven different perspectives and a complete recasting of temporality. It would take a matter of seconds for a body to hit the ground after being thrown out of a third storey building, yet in this sequence the action takes close to half a minute, stretching the horror of falling into an absurd, almost hovering sensation of crushing inevitability. The guilt of Seagal’s corrupt character is given no space to hide in the brevity of his decisions, his actions, its consequences are played out again and again, challenging the viewers ingrained positive disposition towards Seagal as an actor and transmutable character. The jarring punctuation of the scene with the clichéd one-liners typical of the action genre establishes an unease which fails to let up at any point in the film.

There is something bizarrely uncompromising about this film, and its debt to early cinema is astonishing. Almost more astonishing is role Seagal himself played in the writing, producing and selling of the film, and there’s more to come on that.

* For more by Tom Gunning on the Cinema of Attractions, check out Early Cinema: Space Frame Narrative (edited by Thomas Elsaesser)

** Musser has written extensively on this film plus Edison’s early film history in History of the American Cinema to 1907: The Emergence of Cinema. His extensive history of early Edison director/cameraman Edwin S. Porter can be found online in Before the Nickelodeon.

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Steven Seagal Gallery o’ Shame II

Urban Justice montage(From l to r: details from the covers to Urban Justice, Region 3 and Region 1  respectively.)

Watching a low budget action film is a lot like playing spot the difference. The game of spying the be-wigged stunt doubles when the camera cuts to a reverse angle; the mismatched profiles, the oblique body language of a man waiting to throw himself through a door. It’s brilliant. Seagal of course takes it to another level, with his unique stature he is an instantly recognisable action star who none the less doggedly refuses to do any actual action. Which makes life hard for the casting director, as there aren’t many stunt doubles taller than 6’4″ with pony tail and 7th Dan Aikido skills. That is after all what made Seagal unique in the first place. Maybe the contrast between him and stunt double is his way of underscoring just how bloody unique he is.

With Seagal this statement of identity continues on the covers of his neverending stream of direct-to-dvd output. The above comparison plays on a level of uncanniness, a certain unheimliche in being similar yet obliquely different. This isn’t just thanks to the ungodly sight of Danny (I’veseenhimbefore) Trejo winking between the two profiles. No, the image is mirrored in all but Seagal’s face. I know he almost transcends the fact that a human face cannot be completely symmetrical, but no, body mirrored, head the same. Or correction: body-mirrored, face and shirt-collar the same. Or is it? I have no idea what’s going on there…

Looking at the Mojo Priest’s crotch (steady now), I guess we could divine that the cover on the left is accurate as it has the fly stitched in a conventional fashion. Yet to my eyes then the cover on the right looks more normal. Maybe Seagal just flies in the face of ‘conventional fashion’ and gets his jeans stitched another way. The Mojo way perhaps.

But is he left or right handed? Can we determine which profile is accurate from that fact? The internet draws a blank on that one, maybe some other direct-to-dvd covers might hold an answer –

mercenary for justice montage1(From l to r: Mercenary For Justice, Czech cover and French cover respectively.)

Or maybe not.

Whatever his dexterity he sure knows one thing, and that’s how to punch, kick and elbow other men in the nuts.

EDIT: Comments on this post have revealed that Steve Seagal does in fact wears womens jeans, flying in the face of conventional fashion. Such are the ways of the Mojo Priest. [thanks to commentator ‘xyz’ for that]

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Against the Dark

against-the-dark-montageGreat films are all about High Concept. If you can’t boil it down to one sentence then the throbbing hordes of cinemagoers don’t want to know. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? Way too much going on there, and the audience avoided it in their droves. Snakes on a Plane? You couldn’t keep the bastards from beating the door down on opening day. To hell with ‘art’ and ‘craft’ the devil is in the detail, so strip all detail out and you are left with the purest gold of heavenly concept.

Now working on such a notion we could conclude that –

Budget ÷ Purity of Concept = Box Office Success

(Purity) is defined by the number of words in the simplest possible description of any feature (Concept). By extension, the lower the word count the proportionally greater the film will be in recouping its costs. The equation of course necessitates that there be a definite concept, for a film without a screenplay (Purity of Concept = Zero) in turn reaps no profit. Such films are generally known as art installations, and broadly speaking operate outside the parameters of conventional filmmaking. The only know demonstrable exception to this rule are the collected works of David Lynch, which defy all applicable theorems.

By considering such an equation Segal’s latest direct-to-video release Against the Dark should rate highly in the article of purity, with a concept defined as such:

Seagal, Zombies.

Detractors would argue for alternatives such as ‘Seagal vs Zombies’, ‘Seagal kills Zombies’, or even ‘Seagal against Zombies’, yet the lower value holds true as the cinemagoer need only know that there is the presence of both Seagal and Zombies. How they are related or are involved is irrelevant beyond knowing they are both in the same film. As a result almost total purity of concept is achieved.

The irony that there is next to no Seagal or Zombies in this film has little or no bearing on its potential financial success. Concepts are like film titles, indicative of a features level of exploitation, which is to say the extent by which something is promised but not delivered. That this film should instead be about a gaggle of survivors with a dizzying mix of British and American accents running around an inescapable hospital intercut with sporadic shots of Seagal waddling to and fro, has little to no bearing on the films potential for financial success.

Indeed this film demonstrates in full effect the absolute minimum of Seagal you need in it for it to remain a ‘Seagal film’. It would be charitable even to consider this little more than a running cameo. Again and again he just bursts in, throws a few slices of his sword, makes a comment (not even a one-liner!) and then the scene ends. Rinse, repeat. Again and again and again.

The film then fails in having a budget which cannot afford to hire even its own producer for more than a day of shooting, this despite him being the headline star. With box office success (or in this case rental success) being relative to budget, Against the Dark will categorically fail regardless of the purity of concept. It fails almost completely (but unfortunately not wholly) to the point of non-existence. To all intent purposes this is a Non-film.

Pushing almost into the sphere of quantum physics, this film is much like Schroedinger’s Cat, existing while simultaneously not existing. In this respect the films of Steven Seagal may be a force unto themselves in this equation, and only further research will clarify this matter.

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