Monday, May 9, 2016
WELCOME TO THE JCVD-A-THON!
Here at Film Thoughts, I usually focus on the covering the careers of directors, reoccurring features, or theme months revolving around a holiday or event. Last year, I did something a little different. In April, I devoted most of the month to the films of Arnold Schwarzenegger. In August, I naturally followed that up with a marathon of Sylvester Stallone pictures. I enjoyed both of these adventures a lot, guaranteeing that long-winded blogs about the careers of eighties action heroes is something I’ll do periodically. Which brings us to today’s subject.
Jean-Claude Van Damme has never been as respected as Arnold or Sly. Even at the peak of his popularity, his films never made as much money as his action movie brothers. His burn-out happened far more quickly as well, with Van Damme relegated to direct-to-video schlock by the end of the nineties. Over the years, he’s been unfairly dismissed, tossed in the cheap bins with rivals and sometimes co-stars like Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren. In my childhood household, Van Damme was never anything but a joke. My mom was found of referring to him as her “favorite comedian.”
Of course, Van Damme’s movies are funny and not always on purpose. That’s part of his charm. Eventually, as his screen persona involved, the humor would become mostly intentional. Jean-Claude Van Damme always had a quality that set him apart from Arnie, Sly, and certainly Seagal. He’s more European then even Schwarzenegger’s iconic accent, with a quirky quality inseparable from his Belgian roots. In addition to his considerable skills in kickboxing and karate, he also trained as a dancer. That balletic ability is apparent more often then not in his films, also distinguishing him from his competitors' brute strength. Even while playing cyborgs or superheroes, Van Damme is also gifted with an eccentric humanity. He can also do splits like nobody’s business.
His unique attributes as a star and the frequent hilarity of his films have undeniably made Van Damme a cult figure. The likes of “Bloodsport” and “Kickboxer” were often rented by teenage and younger boys in the eighties and nineties. Now, those boys are older and run equally snarky and reverent websites. They marvel at the star’s athletic talent while giggling at the movie’s shoddy screenplays and homoerotic content. (I absolutely do this too.) The steep ups and downs of Van Damme’s career has also contributed to that cult following. After years in direct-to-video obscurity, JCVD had a minor career revival last decade, suddenly appearing in still low budget but far more beloved features. He’s been more then willing to play up this image too, with appearances in meme-tastic commercials.
I’d be lying if I denied that the bizarre particulars of Van Damme’s personal life wasn’t one of the reasons I like him so much. He’s kind of a weird dude and I love that. A monstrous cocaine habit in the nineties definitely contributed to his swift tumble from the A-list. Drugs weren’t the star’s only vice, as he’s been married five times (twice to the same woman) and has been romantically linked with many others. He’s also bi-polar, which perhaps explains some of the above. Moreover, Jean-Claude has been extremely open about all of this. He’s frankly discussed his flaws while illustrating his other passions – family, dogs – in verbose interviews. There was even a reality show that explored his personal life so intimately, it bordered on embarrassing. Despite his failures, he’s kept on keeping on. Hollywood may be done with the Muscles from Brussels but, like many of his characters, he’s certainly not done fighting.
Of course, another reason I love doing these action star retrospectives is because I love list. You may recall that the Schwarzenegger Sweeps and the Sylvester Semester ended each review with a checklist, provided by my friends at AllOuttaBubbleGum.com, seeing how many of the star’s trademarks appeared in a given film. Naturally, Van Damme has a corresponding checklist of his own. Reflecting his quirks, the so-named Van Dammage is focused equally on his acrobatic fighting skills as his quirky on-screen personality. The list is as followed:
[THE VAN DAMMAGE]
 An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
 Close-Up Screaming
 Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
 Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick
So get ready for eighteen days full of high kicks, splits, funny accents, and greasy pecs. As I review some of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s best and worst movies, I’ll attempt to figure out why he’s such a fascinating figure and probably have some laughs! The JCVD-A-THON begins now.