By Will Thompson
We can’t all be right in the ongoing culture war, where red and blue stare each other down, pretending the color purple isn’t an option. At this point, we’re all too in love with the sound of our own voices to listen to a valid point from the other side. We’re so entrenched in confirming our biases that we’ll take YouTube videos produced by known hucksters at face value or retweet the latest social injustice without reading more than the headline because, of course those people did that.
(Please note that the phrase “those people,” which is interchangeable with “you people,” is a warning that someone is ignoring the intricacies of a problem because they’re frustrated. Additionally, “you people” is usually used in conjunction with “if you’d just.” The appropriate response to someone using these phrases is probably silence.)
It goes without saying that, culturally, we need some help. I won’t call my subject a savior, because saviors tend to get strung up by the powers that be and I want him to be around for a good long while. With this guy, we can just sit down and watch a movie.
I’m referring to film critic and comic Joe Bob Briggs, former host of the Movie Channel’s “Drive-In Theater” in the early ’90s and TNT’s late-’90s series “MonsterVision.” In 2018, he returned to movie hosting with “The Last Drive-In,” now in its second season on the horror-specific streaming service Shudder. Briggs has introduced millions to exploitation greats and hidden gems alike with humor, Texan flair and a PhD thesis-level of expertise on B-movie and grindhouse fodder. Joe Bob is highbrow on lowbrow. Nowhere else will films of this kind get this level of love and respect, even if he only gives two out of four stars.
However, Joe Bob isn’t one to mince words when stating his opinion, which is sharp and delivered with a veteran humorist’s deep wit. The man has a stinging punchline. He’s not unaware of the failings of movies, filmmakers or those in society at which he sometimes takes aim. He’s not a member of the Politically Correct Task Force, either. He speaks his mind, defends the First Amendment, and has drawn occasional criticism for pointing out what he perceives as absurdity on the left. For all his criticism, though, there is an underpinning philosophy that unites him to his audience. It’s in these ideas that we see how we might start patching the gaping cracks between us.
- “We are all about embracing.” At the beginning of his first revival marathon on Shudder, Joe Bob kicks things off with “Tourist Trap,” a surreal slasher starring Chuck Connors, an aging star known at the time for his work in Westerns. It’s a weird, creepy, sometimes confusing, and ultimately unique film that Joe Bob says, “we are all about embracing.” How else are we going to sit through a movie about a guy who runs a run-down, roadside house of wax that may or may not have real people in it and whose owner often dons a mask and may or may not be his own brother and probably has telekinesis? It’s gonna take some embracing and, having seen “Tourist Trap” illuminated by Joe Bob, I can tell you, it’s worth it. It’s an experience you won’t have anywhere else.
- “Fail until you don’t.” “One Cut of the Dead” is a 2017 zombie movie that’s more a metatake on filmmaking and creativity than zombies. It’s a warm, amiable movie about the amazing things that can occur when a group of people unite around a common cause. At the film’s end, Joe Bob delivers a monologue directed at would-be filmmakers in the audience, the kind of folks who often approach him at conventions with dreams of making the kind of film he shows. With his intimate knowledge of the perils of filmmaking on every level, Joe Bob’s words of wisdom are: “Stop being an aspiring filmmaker.” Drop the word “aspiring” and just do it. “Field of Dreams is not about baseball, it’s about film. Build the stadium.” Joe Bob’s a realist, though, so it’s not all aspirational: “And be prepared to fail, many times. And be prepared to be unprepared.” He finishes with, “You’re a filmmaker, that’s what filmmakers do. They fail, until they don’t.” Clearly, a line applicable elsewhere: Fail, until you don’t.
- “We give ’em another chance.” Joe Bob isn’t one to get overly sentimental and sappy, but he admits that Christmas is when things might get a little heartfelt. During his “Red Christmas” marathon, he doesn’t hold back. “There’s people in every family who keep screwing up. No matter what you do, what they decide to do, they keep screwing up.” He then references a number of “personal responsibility” laws being tossed around the country, laws that threaten to revoke monies and services to people receiving government assistance if they don’t meet certain standards. They’re laws that, in Joe Bob’s purview, kick people when they’re already down. After listing the common arguments against second chances for these perennial screwups, Joe Bob simply disagrees. “We give ’em another chance. That is the American way, that is the Christian way, that is the Jewish way and that is the Islamic way. It’s called having faith in people, even when they disappoint you.”
I’m pretty sure Joe Bob didn’t come up with any of these ideas himself. These are ideas, though, that unite folks around TV screens to watch stuff that your spinster aunt probably thinks will send you to hell, or at least cause the devil to give you nightmares. Maybe you will have nightmares, but, with Joe Bob, you’ve got someone in your corner, no matter what. We could all stand to extend this attitude to someone we don’t understand and maybe find a little repellant, too. All are welcome at the drive-in, even your cranky aunt.
“The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs” is streaming on Shudder at 6 p.m. Fridays (check local listings for changes). Previous “Last Drive-In” marathons are also available on-demand through Shudder, an app available on most streaming platforms.
Thompson enjoys putting somewhat carefully chosen words in relatively meaningful order. He has been to college. He lives in Lewiston and can be reached at email@example.com.