An Evening With Joe Bob Briggs: How Rednecks Saved Hollywood
Starring Joe Bob Briggs
Maitland, Florida • August 14, 2020
by Carl F. Gauze
This year’s Florida Film Festival celebrity guest Hollywood star is the notorious Joe Bob Briggs, a.k.a., John Bloom. He’s hosted TNT’s Monster Vision and numerous other commentary-style TV programming focused on low budget horror, comedy, and sci-fi. If a show ever went straight to VHS, he’s seen it. The evening began with a socially distanced line of people waiting for a meet and greet. I thought $35 was a bit much for a gimme cap, and I didn’t need another poster, so I stood patiently in line while the guys behind me chatted about horror films and various streaming services. Even though we all wore scary Covid masks, the line was upbeat and friendly, and it chugged along fast enough. I got a picture of myself and Mr. Briggs, and I pointed out how he got me started as a critic. He was politely uninterested. Close up, Mr. Briggs looks tired, but a gig’s a gig and this is a price of fame. After the meet and greet, I picked up a drink at the bar, which was ceremoniously handed to me by a bus boy. We need to keep our bartenders safe. I wandered over to the line and soon begin chatting with a doctor from South Florida about Zombies and health insurance. The excitement builds.
The Enzian Theater was packed with 60 people, by far the biggest pandemic crowd I’ve observed to date. The space normally holds 220 or so film buffs in normal times. Mr. Briggs stood at the podium below and to the left of the screen and orated. He began with the history of Presbyterians in the U.K., and led into the American discovery of “hillbillies” as comic inspiration for cartoons and movies in the ’30s and ’40s. The stereotype persists today. Sexually charged girls in skimpy cut offs, hard drinking men in overalls, and the general disdain with which the educated city dwellers define the popular view of our country cousins. In Hollywood, incest, bootlegging, fast cars, and mud complete the model. Let the exploitation begin!
We learn many of these immigrants came from Northern Ireland or the Cumberland district in Northern England. They were poor and uneducated and worked as dirt farmers on poor soil. They emigrated into central Pennsylvania and then down the Appalachians to north Alabama and west into Texas. They worked small farms, had no interest in slavery, and they named everything they could touch “Cumberland.” These folks are the reason we have a West Virginia; they had no interest in fighting with people who exploited them. Cartoonists soon picked up on the stereotype with “L’il Abner” and “Snuffy Smith.” Mr. Briggs offers an encyclopedic knowledge on the topic, and he’s a funny and well prepared presenter. A common theme was moonshine. Prohibition was hated and the country folks were revered for keeping America lubricated, even if you wouldn’t want them living next door.
Eventually we get to the horror part of the evening, and Brigs carefully deconstructs Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Deliverance, and a dozen other movies, some of which I’ve heard of. These lead into what Mr. Briggs considers the pinnacle of the genre: “The Trucker Movie.” Their popularity peaked in the 1970s, as the hated 55 mph national speed limit slowed commerce but gave cops much juicier tickets to write. All of this potentially dry information comes across boldly with Briggs’ self-deprecation, encyclopedic knowledge, and a large collection of clips from the best films. Fair Use, baby! I love it! My only complaint about the evening: it lasted longer than a Presbyterian sermon, and that beer I drank at the beginning of the evening was a bad move on my part. What do we learn? We still have a film festival in the face of a pandemic, and there’s a lot more behind cheap movies than even the filmmakers realized. Mr. Briggs shows us education can be entertainment, and you don’t even need to take a test.