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Unsung Hero

Joe Bob Briggs lauds the redneck’s role in cinema history

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In his encyclopedic 2014 study, Redneck Movies, French film critic Maxime Lachaud argued that the redneck has been a goldmine of representation throughout the history of American cinema, particularly in the horror genre, where the inbred, degenerate hillbilly stock character is the ultimate “Other.” Joe Bob Briggs goes a step further in his new touring show. The pseudonymous Texan film critic and newspaper columnist turned performance artist is passing through Northeast Florida on tour to prove that rednecks have given American cinema not just villains but heroes—and, indeed, everything in between. The show is fittingly titled How Rednecks Saved Hollywood, and it’s coming to Sun-Ray Cinema in Five Points this week.

“Yes, Hollywood chooses to use them as villains more often than not,” Joe Bob told Folio Weekly in a phone interview. “But the interesting thing about the redneck is that he can be the ‘Other’—he can be the scary predator like in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre—or he can be a salt-of-the-earth savior of the world, as in Forrest Gump. He can be used in a variety of ways.”

In order to understand the redneck’s versatility on screen, Briggs said, you have to understand the redneck experience in its totality, from before moving pictures were even a thing. So How Rednecks Saved Hollywood was conceived as part history lesson, part film presentation and part gonzo performance art. The two-hour show spans centuries (Joe Bob identifies the very first redneck in history) and features more than 200 film clips and stills.

While he’s inhabited the character and celebrated “drive-in movies” since the 1980s, Briggs has been honing this particular presentation for a decade.

“I realized the more interesting movies were movies about hillbillies and swamp people,” he laughed. His public appearances began focusing exclusively on redneck-oriented cinema. Eventually, How Rednecks Saved Hollywood was ready to hit the road.

“It's like a deranged TED talk. It’s got all these movie clips and stills. Everyone tells me, you know, ‘Half of these movies I’ve never heard of!’ So I have the ones you'd expect but also a lot of forgotten gems.”

Florida holds a special place in the redneck diaspora. Our great state certainly has ‘em, but it is not generally defined by them (Florida Man notwithstanding). Still, our impact on redneck movies is undeniable.

“People don't think of Florida as a redneck state, but that's because it's only half redneck,” Briggs opined. “Jacksonville is on edge of redneck part. In Jacksonville proper and on the seaboard, there are influences from hundreds of years ago. You have a mix of people. But once you get west of Jacksonville, you’ve got pure solid hardcore Southern rednecks. And that stretches down into Central Florida.”

But, according to Joe Bob, the ne plus ultra of Florida redneckdom and the Sunshine State’s grand Cracker contribution to celluloid hails from even further south. “Burt Reynolds,” Briggs said, “he’s the ultimate hardcore redneck in movies, and he's from Jupiter!”

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