[EDITOR’S NOTE: Since there has been some confusion on the subject, and I feel embarrassed that Patrick’s hard work is being attributed to me, please note that this post was authored by the fantastic Patrick Stephenson and NOT, repeat NOT, Edward Champion, who is a literary interloper of the first order. Thank you.]
I feel I should let you in on The Outlaw Vern, an ex-convict film-reviewing genius whose site is here, whose reviews are here. Vern’s site is called THEN FUCK YOU JACK: THE LIFE & ART OF VERN. Vern has one book out, and another in the works. The first is 5 ON THE OUTSIDE, the second is SEAGALOGY, a collection of academic analyses of Steven Seagal films. I interviewed Vern by e-mail in March, for an article I’ve submitted to THE BELIEVER that I hope finds its way from that journal’s e-slush pile into print.
Vern isn’t only my favorite film critic, he’s one of my favorite writers. Everything expository I have to say about him I included in my introduction to the interview I submitted, so I’m duplicating that introduction here. Get ready!
“Few good writers come out of prison,” wrote Norman Mailer in his 2003 hodgepodge, THE SPOOKY ART. “Only the best survive to write once they get out.” The Outlaw Vern—ex-convict film critic, champion of Badass Cinema—is among those: the best, the strongest, who not only survived prison but channeled the experience into a creative endeavor. Actually, the Outlaw Vern’s aspirations were inspired, not deadened by prison. After his release in 1999, he turned toward writing as an outlet for his criminality, as a salve to his violent urges, alcoholism, drug habits, etc. Now, having dedicated his life to movie-reviewing (primarily genre films [aka Outlaw Cinema] and Steven Seagal DTV releases), The Outlaw Vern is crime-free and sober.
“As an armed robber and criminal, I was an ‘outlaw’ in the classic sense of the Old West,” wrote Vern in 1999. “Motherfuckers like billy the kid, bonnie and clyde, eddie the splayer, etc. That is NOT what I am about anymore although I do like a good cowboy movie now and then.” — “Now that I’m smarter and especially older,” he continued, explaining how, despite reforming, he has retained his outlaw status, “I am a different type of outlaw in my opinion, which is a man against the system and the status quo… a man against the system of rules that is the English language and sentences.”
During the late ‘90s, Vern described his prison time unprompted. “[This reminds] me of… a few Christmases ago when I was inside,” he wrote of one experience in his first column. “This was WAY before I was clean and sober and I would smoke or shoot anything I could get my hands on. At the time believe it or not some of the screws were under investigation so for almost a month there was virtually no blow or anything going around. This was a vicious drought and everybody was hungry big time. Things were REAL fucking tense in the yard, people getting in fights, arguing, two dudes getting shanked in one day a couple times, people getting nervous, paranoid from withdrawal, and just wanting some kind of buzz.”
“The Cage,” a poem Vern wrote in 1999, also describes his prison life: “Metal bars and ce-ment floors / Heavy locks upon the doors / Spoons are sharpened into knives / Buildings filled with ruined lives / Empty eyes give icy looks / Lifting weights, ignoring books / Angry cons, no-thing to lose / Picking fights with bitter screws / Taken, locked inside a pit / By yourself you cry and sit.” Since then, The Outlaw Vern’s been shrouded in a Pynchonian secrecy, refusing to discuss his past or current life. What does he look like? What, outside of his film-reviewing, does he do for a living? Both mysteries, both apart of the Vern mystique, etc. Like Pynchon, all we have of Vern is his writing. Unlike Thomas Pynchon, Vern’ll submit to the occasional interview.
[The rest of the poem quoted: “Shake and shiver like a bitch / Loneliness as thick as pitch / Mumbling nonsense on your bench / Soaking in the urine stench / Three days later you see light / Freedom from the endless night / Still you’re locked inside your cell / Sure don’t seem too far from Hell / Locked away from human sight / Just surviving is a fight / I’m talking about prison here by the way.”]
Primarily, the Outlaw Vern publishes on “Then Fuck You Jack: The Life + Art of Vern,” and on Harry Knowles’ “Ain’t It Cool News.” Maybe you’ve heard of the latter? Knowles is that infamous Internet writer, supposedly an army of geeks’ head commander, manipulating studios, controlling grosses. He’s been parodied on both Saturday Night Live and HBO’s Entourage . Ain’t It Cool contributors, goes the tradition, must invent pseudonyms and personae for their reviewing. They’re spying on the movie industry, after all—reading scripts for unfinished films, viewing rough cuts—and so they must be secretive. The site’s most prominent persona is Moriarty, who at the site’s beginning adopted the name and accoutrements of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis, but who’s since dropped the act in favor of his actual name, Drew McWeeny.
The question, then, is this: is The Outlaw Vern a persona? Is he a real person? Did he actually go to jail? Vern refuses to answer these questions. This is the mystery of The Outlaw Vern. If, in actuality, this is a persona—a Fernando Pessoa-like heteronym—whoever’s behind him is masterful at maintaining this character. This’d be an act that’s lasted almost a decade now—in his website writings, on Ain’t It Cool News, on the Talkback forum of AICN, plus of course, his 1999 newsgroup postings, where he first appeared and where his movie reviewing post-prison first began. This persona’s epic scope implies Vern’s story is true. Why would someone whom only a handful of people on the Internet know of go to such lengths? It would seem too complex an enterprise to justify the end benefits. I have a theory—as yet unconfirmed by the man—about Vern’s veracity that I won’t reveal, though I’ll provide a clue. [The clue: Buckethead.]
Real or not, Vern has released one self-published book, 2004’s 5 ON THE OUTSIDE, and he has another on the way, SEAGALOGY, an epic-length study of Steven Seagal’s oeuvre, wherein it’s revealed Seagal is an auteur of the highest order. Vern pledges that’ll be out by the end of this year.
CODA: I can’t publish the interview here, because like I said I hope it gets into THE BELIEVER, and also it’s 20,000 words long, but—if any of you want to read it let me know and I’ll send you the Microsoft Word file.
I discovered Vern on the usenet newsgroup, rec.arts.movies.current-films, where he is a frequent poster. Following the linked signature back to his web “sight,” I spent the next several hours reading, laughing, and just being amazed. Like you, he’s one of my favorite writers, period.
I had the good fortune to engage in a little banter with Vern on the relative merits of James Bond versus John McClane. As a result, he was kind enough to allow me to write a rebuttal to his statements, for publication in his book. He also graciously agreed to review a couple of Bond pictures for my web site, “Her Majesty’s Secret Servant.” Interested readers can enjoy his hilarious take on “Thunderball” and “GoldenEye” at http://www.hmss.com/films/Vern/
Thanks for shining a spotlight on this brilliant writer!
Vern is one of my favorites, too. I’m really excited to see his name get spread around a little bit on the Net and I hope that it means he is going to come to the eyes of the great unwashed. I’d love to see the interview, if you don’t mind.