Going Deep at the Drive-In
Joe Bob Briggs Gives Good Commentary
Everybody quotes Joe Bob Briggs (www.joebobbriggs.com), the opinionated "Original Drive-In Reviewer." One of the earliest writers on cult movies, journalist John Bloom's alter ego Joe Bob has such a memorable and provocative voice that even non-cult-aficionados can be spied ending their own reviews with "Heads roll. Joe Bob says check it out." Now, Briggs returns to Texas with two Texas Book Festival/Alamo Drafthouse Downtown events: On Friday, Nov. 7, Briggs presents in its entirety the cult classic I Spit on Your Grave, with commentary, in a rare 35 mm print. Then, on Saturday, Nov. 8, he'll be presenting scenes from and discussing all 15 movies featured in his new book, Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies That Changed History! (Rizzoli, $24.95).
On TMC and TNT, Bloom and Briggs merged into an onscreen persona, the less hick, folksier Joe Bob. Now he has found a home providing DVD commentaries for films like the 1978 victim-revenge classic I Spit on Your Grave and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter (1966) for Elite Entertainment. And in his new book, Joe Bob sounds a lot like a professor.
Profoundly Disturbing is made up of 15 in-depth, painstakingly researched chapters chronicling the creation and reception of those movies that the world reacted to most viscerally, from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to The Wild Bunch, Reservoir Dogs, and the movie that made pornography chic, Deep Throat. "This is very much a pop culture book in the sense that the reaction to the movie is as important as the movie," Briggs says. "We tend to think of movies as lasting forever, or being unchanged, but they do exist like a play or any other type of art, as parts of the cultural landscape at a particular time. If you watch Deep Throat, there's no way to understand it unless you understand the time. I mean, it's not erotic, it's not funny, and it's not fun." In the book, he calls Deep Throat "the longest 62 minutes millions of people would ever sit through."
The DVD Movie Central Web site gave Briggs the 2002 Best Commentary Track award for his work on the I Spit on Your Grave Millennium Edition DVD. The movie, one of the 15 in Briggs' book, is about a rape victim who exacts slow and thorough revenge on her attackers. The writer says the key to a good commentary is respect -- and avoiding certain pitfalls that mar DVD commentaries over and over again. "There are two kinds of bad DVD commentaries," observes Briggs. "There are bad director commentaries where the guy just sits and talks about, 'Oh, we shot this scene in Encino, and we had to retrofit this house and make it a castle.' The other kind is where someone talks off the top of their head and chuckles at the movie, but doesn't actually give any information."
Briggs suggests that studying cult film requires respect. "When I do these DVD tracks, I want them to be entertainment pieces in themselves -- presumably, you could listen to it with no movie at all, and it would entertain you as a piece. But my cardinal rule is that we're always celebrating the movie, even if it's 'bad.' What I don't do is just put down the movie -- I mean, if every comment about the movie is a slam, to me, that's cheating; it's an excuse to do jokes. What I do instead is to celebrate the experience of watching the movie -- we're gonna make it less painful by knowing as much as possible about the movie, and learn more as we go along."
As part of the Texas Book Festival, I Spit on Your Grave with commentary by Joe Bob Briggs plays midnight, Friday, Nov. 7, and "Joe Bob's Profoundly Disturbing Clip Show" plays midnight, Saturday, Nov. 8, both at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, 409 Colorado. Tickets are $7.50 each night; go to www.drafthouse.com for more information.Nonfiction