SXSW Film Review: ‘J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius’

Variety | 3/6/2019 | Dennis Harvey
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Like 8mm films of 1960s “happenings” or videos of 1970s performance art, “J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius” chronicles a cultural footnote that perhaps should be filed under the heading You Had to Be There. The satirical-absurdist “religion” founded by some Texans actually caught fire among hipsters in the 1980s, influencing some of that era’s more interesting work in various media while providing a pre-Burning Man, pre-internet “secret club” to cerebral misfits of all stripes.

Sandy K. Boone’s documentary is likely to be lost on the not-previously converted, as what seemed the height of snark in the Reagan Era hasn’t dated all that well — nor is its appeal apparent as excerpted and recalled here. But those who remember the gospel of “slack” will make this diverting-enough documentary an in-demand work at genre festivals, as a streaming item and in other forums.

Reaction - Head - Day - Lone - Star

In reaction to the disruptive 1960s being “flipped on its head” in the “too-square-again” present day, two Lone Star State fans of nerd-brainiac rock god Captain Beefheart started creating anonymous quasi-cult screeds for their own entertainment in 1979. Dubbing themselves Reverend Ian Stang and Dr. Philo Drummond, they rebelled against their staid Heartland backgrounds, embraced the tenor of extremist religious literature, and ridiculed the American Dream with a mock religion whose deity was J.R. “Bob” Dobbs — a clip art image of 1950s sitcom dad-like hyper-normality whose lore was deliberately contradictory and absurdist.

Film Review: 'Roll Red Roll'

Fanbase - Audience - Weirdos - Bidding - War

Somehow a snail-mail fanbase was born, growing until the audience of like-minded “weirdos” was enough to trigger a 1983 bidding war among major publishing houses for the Church’s first book of collected nonsense. The deliberately obscure, sarcastic mix of pop culture, science and religion inspired Davids Byrne and Lynch, as well as other artists interviewed here, like members of Devo, Penn...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Variety
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