There is a lot to be said for a writer with home-field advantage. Such is the case with Joe Bob Briggs’ insightful and lively wallow in exploitation cinema. This is turf he knows better than the sticky floors of his local bijou.
Briggs, ne John Bloom, has long been reviewing and commenting on cinema’s marginalia. His byline and the word “drive-in” often appear in close proximity.
Many of the titles covered in “Profoundly Disturbing” are considered fairly mainstream these days — “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “The Wild Bunch,” “Reservoir Dogs” — but the book succeeds at conjuring a time when the films were pure scandal. And there are several more obscure films that burst with “truth is stranger than fiction” appeal, among them “Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S.” and “Mom and Dad.”
The former was a grisly underground cult hit based on the repellent exploits of Gestapo officer Ilsa Koch, aka “The Bitch of Buchenwald.” (Not much more detail than that is printable.) The latter was a Sex Ed film from the 1950s that utilized a carnival hustle to sell “instructional” books on top of movie tickets in what was arguably the dawn of stunt marketing.
Briggs doesn’t just serve up insular film history like a lot of Hollywood chroniclers; he astutely puts many of the films in a useful sociological framework. In prepping his documentary on “Deep Throat,” producer Brian Grazer should peruse Briggs’ comprehensive chapter on it.
Filmmakers’ unswerving (read: manic) dedication to their work is the quality that unites these motley but indelible films, not to mention ridiculously high profit margins often pocketed by an undeserving party.
One anecdote that typifies this amusingly off-kilter trip through time concerns “Shaft.” Director Gordon Parks didn’t bother to secure permits despite shooting extensively in Manhattan. He also specifically instructed star Richard Roundtree to cross the street without looking at traffic.
So when Richard Roundtree struts across Times Square and nearly gets hit by a cab, “that’s Richard Roundtree almost getting hit by a cab!” Briggs writes. “Fortunately he stays in character and glares at the driver. He really does own this town.”