The personal life of a film-buff is often greeted by others with the notion that they don’t read…well, that is this buff’s experience anyway. You tell people that your life’s work revolves around film and for some reason they think you are an illiterate, elitist, that has seen Pulp Fiction 5-bajillion times. The comeback is usually one of frustration, I tell them that not only do I read more then I watch movies, but I vehemently condemn anyone who thinks “watching” something is a substitute for literature…it’s not. Film and text are two separate worlds, neither works in each other’s stead, with the possible exception of those really awful script-adaptations for mainstream movies. I can’t help but think that reading the script adaptation of Snakes On A Plane is somewhat more empty then watching the movie, yet with the same thematic experience…only much longer and with less Sam Jackson.
In the realm of books on film it doesn’t get much better then Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie by Eric Lichtenfeld. This is probably the premiere work on the subject of action films, covering their origins from westerns all the way up to the CGI-filled superhero genre that is clogging the cinema down the street from my house. It is cool to see arguably the most “broad” or “mainstream” genre get this kind of treatment from such a talented writer, one who views the subject as a legitimate form of reflection upon society. If you’ve ever wanted to know how the horrors of the Vietnam War reflect in Lethal Weapon, or how Cobra (yes, that Cobra) has deep socio-political undertones about our society at the time…this is the book for you.
The first two thirds are the most dynamite part of the read here. Lichtenfeld, who has a masters in media studies, starts at the very beginning, he examines the western genre, the caricatures and themes it created, and the validity of the claims that most, if not all, American action films are simply westerns in different settings. The most interesting focal point of all this being Clint Eastwood, who is the most prominent major star to cross over from western to action, namely with Dirty Harry. In fact, Lichtenfeld goes to such depths in his exploration of early cop/vigilante films such as Dirty Harry and Death Wish, that it seems hard to argue that they should even be considered “action” films when so much context, substance, and drama is involved.
He treats actors such as Eastwood, Charles Bronson, and John Waynes as the godfathers of action, with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis being the fathers and epitomes of the genre itself. Once he gets going on the 1980s you can tell he had a lot more fun putting those films, such a Commando, Predator, Die hard, Lethal Weapon, First Blood, Robocop, under the microscope. This is the era he most obviously is a fan of, however the book is not about reviews or critiques of quality, unless the film’s financial success or artistic merit is directly associated with his analysis. Also, all pictures in the book are noted as being taken directly from the author’s personal DVD collection.
I will say that the last third of the book did drag, if only because it becomes rather apparent that Lichtenfeld doesn’t feel any passion for the post-1995-CGI era of action movies. I could be wrong, but his critique of this era gets to be redundant and focuses heavily on the marketing of the films, which seems to be a silent insult to the movies and their creators. This is not to say that he doesn’t still give a very above average critique of this time period, it just pales to his excitement over the former chapters. He openly admits the differences, mostly negative, from modern action to “old school” action, and seems to be bored with the dawn of superhero movies almost completely obliterating the existence of pulp action fare, like Die Hard, from cinemas. What I took from it is, somewhere in the late 90s to the early 00s, mainstream “action” movies just became mainstream “movies” with actors starring in them, instead of action heroes. All I can say is, I agree. Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, and Christian Bale are good actors…but Arnie, Sly, and Bruno would pulverize them to an embarrassing degree.
It’s a great read, highly recommended. That’s all for now, I will be back very soon with another Buck Shots, hopefully some new release reviews, and a little something for the kids of today…VHS DISCUSSION!
Thanks for reading.
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