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Jean-Claude Van Damme, Critical Darling: The Mythopoiesis of JCVD (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 22, 2008 07:18pm | Post a Comment
The white meat is on the run
and the dark meat is far too done
and the milkman left me a note yesterday
get out of this town by noon
you're coming on way too soon
and besides that we never liked you anyway.
-- "Sweet Revenge" by John Prine (with a nod to Hunter S. Thompson) 
 

Who'dathunk it, but the Muscles from Brussels has finally starred in a film that's been getting some good critical response. JCVD is an attempt to explore the heart and mind of Jean-Claude Varenberg, the man behind the dissipating Van Damme legend. Director and co-writer Mabrouk El Mechri might've called the film I'm Not There had the title not already been taken. It's a pomo-biopic trying for more versimiltude than Being John Malcovich, but any honesty in the film is more of an accidental byproduct of the essential cluelessness of its eponymous star than the result of actual introspection. 'Tis the the age of schadenfreude, and that's why I went to see this film. As Dostoevsky said, we love "the disgrace of the righteous man," only Van Damme ain't righteous, just famous. As he admits in the movie, he's just a commodity, who's benefited greatly from being so. The film asks us to care about the toy that starts feeling suffocated by its packaging. The resulting drama, however, comes closer to a VH1 special about a boy band member deciding he's a real artist. If you were crying along with Dave Mustaine in Some Kind of Monster or get choked up reguarly watching Oprah give shit away to bourgeois housewives, then JCVD might be something other than comedy relief. This is a date movie for WWE fans.

But I came to bury Jean-Claude, not praise him. Unfortunately, JCVD spends too much time on its plot, rather than the philosophy of the man (e.g., "To me, life is... you open the shutters, you see the dogs outside, you look left, you look right, in, what, a second and a half? And that's a life." -- osu!). As JC, he's taking time off from Hollywood in his native hometown, where he mistakenly gets blamed for a post office robbery despite his being one of the victims. His supposed friends in Hollywood and the powers that be almost take it for granted that he's to blame, but his true fans stick behind him. The armed robbers make him continue with the illusion if he wants to keep the hostages alive. No wonder Jean-Claude was willing to take the piss out of himself to resurrect his career. With satire like this, who needs critical praise? The definitive answer has been given to WWJD, anything that helps. And it seems to be working; despite the noxious narcissism, many have found the faith. Surely, Oprah's delivering a virgin birth will arrive before everything comes to a screeching halt in 2012 (to be released in 2009, under the direction of Roland Emmerich). However, for ye of little faith, the only thing really intentionally funny is the teaser trailer:
 

I suppose there's an academic thesis somewhere on the fact that Jean-Claude plays a simulacrum of himself, JC, but the latter turns out to have more depth than the real thing. If you ever wanted to see him cry while performing a soliloquy, now's your chance. Evidently, he -- or the specular JC, as constituted by the writers -- feels really bad about his earning so much for churning out pap in a world where people just as talented don't make squat (JC can't quite bring himself to say, "more talented"). Yep, he's learned a thing or two over the years (namely, to produce tears on demand). I don't think I'm giving away too much to say JC lives in the end. As he's being held at gunpoint by one of the criminals with the gendarmerie all around, he experiences his Last Temptation: a dream of rolling under the gunman and taking him out, then standing up and flexing his muscles to his cheering acolytes. But the older and wiser JC resists the lure of popularity, and instead elbows the criminal, merely to fall to the ground. He's subsequently arrested as a suspect, with few of his fans knowing that he sacrificed his reputation in order to keep the hostages alive. JC gives and he gives and he gives. Pop martyrdom and religious allegory -- where have you gone Marty Scorsese?

MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM WHEN JEAN-CLAUDE WAS JUST A MAN

Van Damme vs. Chuck Zito

chuck zito black and tanned
"My father taught me how to fight when I was 5," says Zito (who would later pick up five martial-arts black belts). But his most memorable knockout was not in the ring. It came in 1998 in the Scores strip club, when tough-guy movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme cursed out Zito publicly. Zito responded with a straight right and a left hook, screaming, "This ain't the movies! This is the street, and I own the street!"

Van Damme curled into a fetal ball.

Stories about the incident ricocheted around the globe.

"If I knew it would have gotten me so much positive publicity, I would have knocked him out 10 years earlier," Zito says, laughing. "But what people don't know is that two months later, I was in a restaurant in Los Angeles called Ago when Van Damme [came in and] started yelling, 'Chucky Zito, why you beat me up in New York? I want to be your friend.' I told him that he should go home."

Van Damme took his advice. "I drove him home," Zito says. "The next day, he called me up to thank me and said he wanted to cast me in his next picture. He never called again."

Some people believe Van Damme's mystique of invincibility was flattened by that KO. "I feel bad that I knocked all his movies directly into video release," Zito says, smiling. -- quoted from The New York Daily News


Van Damme vs. Dolph Lundgren




Van Damme vs. Steven Seagal



Van Damme vs. Biology



Van Damme vs. Token Heterosexual



Van Damme vs. The Beat



Van Damme vs. The Cultural Significance of His Ass

 

Relevant Tags

Dolf Lundgren (1), Jesus Christ (11), Star Power (3), Oprah (2), Mabrouk El Mechri (1), Steven Seagal (6), Spectacle (9), Pop Culture (1), Religion (7), Chuck Zito (1), Jean-claude Van Damme (2), Jcvd (3)