Books: Wednesday, November 09, 2005
‘Profoundly Erotic: Sexy Movies that Changed History,’ by Joe Bob Briggs
256 pps.
No ‘Picnic’: Grapevine native and former host of TNT’s ‘Monstervision,’ Joe Bob Briggs puffs the proverbial pipe in his new book.
Profoundly Academic

Though Joe Bob Briggs’ latest tome is supposed to be about sex, the countrified film critic plays the prude.

By Brian Abrams

In the acknowledgments page of his latest book, Profoundly Erotic: Sexy Movies that Changed History, author Joe Bob Briggs saves the last sentence for editor Eva Prinz, saying that she “helped conceptualize the book in its early stages” and encouraged the Grapevine native to write it. But the guy who’s helmed such odd tv specials as the Movie Channel’s Joe Bob’s Drive-In Theater and TNT’s Monstervision — and is the same film historian who provided commentary to the DVD of Meir Zarchi’s infamous rape-revenge flick, I Spit on Your Grave — didn’t need any encouragement.

He also didn’t need to let his inner literature prof take over his body, but that’s what he did.

The 52-year-old (né John Bloom) who got his start scribbling movie reviews for The Dallas Times-Herald and Texas Monthly seems to have traded in his green lizard-skin boots, black cowboy hat, and overall roguish charm for a pipe and a nice tweed smoking jacket.

“Most of the movies in this book are not obvious choices for eroticism,” Briggs writes in the introduction, “although I hope that in my description of their social contexts, it will be obvious why they were included.”

Right from the start, the reader is warned: The implicit message is that all of those sexy beasts you’ve come to love over the years — Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris — are too obvious to hang a dissertation on. Which is fine, but the movies he does select end up seeming arbitrary at best, high-minded at worst. William Inge’s play Picnic? Jean-Luc Goddard’s arty-farty Contempt?

This isn’t to say that some of the other choices — including 1967’s controversial I Am Curious (Yellow); Russ Meyer’s boob-obsessed breakthrough, The Immoral Mr. Teas; and 9 1/2 Weeks, among others — don’t have sexual relevance. It’s that their “social contexts” are barely expanded upon. All we get is a lot of behind-the-scenes babble, like how Meyer had to defend his curvaceous starlets from hands-y crew members between shoots or how Ann-Margret’s rite of passage on the Las Vegas strip led to her titillating role in Kitten with a Whip. The reportage is ambitious and thorough, but it’s enough to make even the geekiest film student drowsy. A book about sex should, y’know, be about sex.

Briggs should have taken the approach he used on 2003’s Profoundly Disturbing: Shocking Movies that Changed History. The book was full not only of Briggs’ crack reporting but also his snarky, confident attitude. (How many other mainstream film critics could — or would want to — spend 22 seemingly endless pages on Deep Throat?) His best resource was himself; no one had ever really cared to intensively examine shlock films as works of “art.” On the other hand, Briggs’ best resource for Sexy Movies is the local university library. To wit: Instead of taking on the Catholic Church’s attacks on the Mae West vehicle She Done Him Wrong, Briggs relies heavily upon (or hides behind?) page after page of West’s personal background, essentially leaving her free spirit to provide the only defense.

And what good is a sex book that fails to acknowledge the entire history of queer cinema?

For years, Joe Bob Briggs has been celebrated as “the Leonard Maltin of cult movies.” His stodgy, uptight Sexy Movies, then, deserves worse than to be labeled a mere disappointment.

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