Joe Bob in Bloom

John Bloom has taken his alter ego, Joe Bob Briggs, and gone Hollywood. But watching America's favorite drive-in movie critic on television these days, a new character is emerging: John Bloom himself

So, 13 years after being angrily denounced in Dallas and feeling betrayed by colleagues he thinks didn't sufficiently defend him, John Bloom is starting to peek out from behind the cardboard cutout juggernaut that is Joe Bob Briggs. Many people have wondered whether Bloom is trapped behind the drive-in movie critic from Grapevine, unwilling to give up a lifestyle that is considerably more comfortable than that of a prestigious writer of nonfiction and uncertain whether the name John Bloom at this juncture in his life will arouse the interest of magazine and publishing editors. Or, to phrase it as Skip Hollandsworth does, "He has spent so many years fulfilling the character of Joe Bob, which is fine. But people have wondered why at the same time he didn't fulfill the John Bloom part of him. He could easily be Frank Rich right now."

"Over the years," says Ole Anthony, "John has talked to me about dropping Joe Bob Briggs, and I tell him in my opinion, he's crazy. Joe Bob has given John a lifestyle most people only dream about. He's climbed on this horse, and now it's taking him on a journey to some destination, except that I think John started off on a donkey and now he's up to a quarter horse."

At this point, would John Bloom be able to chuck fame and big money for the more austere world of nonfiction and commentary?

"I don't think it would be incredibly difficult," Bloom says. "And I want to write another book as John Bloom, because the proudest thing I've ever done is Evidence of Love. Most of the stuff I've done I don't look at again, but that's the only thing I can look back on and say, 'I couldn't have done a better job.' I have two books left on my contract and a very good relationship with my publisher, Grove Atlantic. I think any reasonable book I came to him with he would approve. Of course, he would rather have Joe Bob."

John Bloom understands that the sensitively explored investigation of love, lust, and axe-wielding hate that is Evidence of Love belongs in the nonfiction novel genre pioneered by Capote and Mailer. Can he be satisfied churning out 7,000 pages a year of MonsterVision vignettes?

It's easy to think that this career transformation is a freakishly disappointing case of a "butterfly turning into a worm." Yet there truly is more to the new Joe Bob than breast jokes and body counts. His champions are right to point out that the most recent Joe Bob Briggs repertoire can combine blue-collar machismo and art-film appreciation in cleverly anarchic ways. For instance, when Joe Bob discusses Dolores Claiborne for an upcoming segment, he recounts a curious phenomenon in the career of that film's co-star Jennifer Jason Leigh: the fact that her characters have performed oral sex on male characters in movie after movie after movie. Yet those oft-ribbed TNT censors will allow him to describe this sexual act only as "something guys like," a pretty vague implication. The punch line to the laundry list of filmic fellatio, Joe Bob recounts, was his critical revelation: This on-screen habit explains the "lockjaw" way she spoke as Dorothy Parker in Alan Rudolph's Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, a mannered delivery that mystified some critics.

John Bloom, the film critic who used to haunt the Inwood regularly when he worked at the Times Herald and write essays on the emergence of novelle vague in European films, would of course know this stuff. The crew members on the set of MonsterVision that Saturday afternoon, many of whom have been with Joe Bob Briggs for a while and are avowed fans, would've dug the fellatio references if TNT allowed him to come out and make them. But they were, to a man, pretty oblivious of the critical dissent over Mrs. Parker and Jennifer Jason Leigh's career. They just didn't get the joke.

"There's a merging going on," Ole Anthony acknowledges. "Many of his old colleagues don't understand why he's stuck with Joe Bob for so long. They think he's wasting his talent. But he sees it as a spiritual tool. And to keep it from dying, he has no choice but to evolve and begin including those kinds of allusions."

"I channel-surf," John Bloom's old writing partner Jim Atkinson says, "and every once in a while I'll slip by Joe Bob and see what he's up to. I remember a segment--this would've been back toward the end of his Movie Channel days--where he was interviewing a filmmaker, some journeyman who makes B movies. John was sort of doing his Joe Bob voice, although it was slipping in and out. He started out with a smart-ass, dumb-ass Joe Bob, and then the questions grew more and more intelligent and insightful. The guy began to talk about this odd craft, the art of B-movies. You could see the journalist warm to that. What emerged after a while was this really interesting interview by John Bloom with a filmmaker. It was less a hybrid of John and Joe Bob. As it progressed, it began increasingly to be John Bloom.

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