‘J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius’

❉ This oddball documentary is hilarious and eye-opening in equal measure, writes Nick Clement.

“This fun and cleverly constructed documentary focuses on the Church of the SubGenius, a parody religion created by merry-pranksters Ivan Stang and Steve Wilcox blending end of the world doom, UFO’s, government secrets, Gods, aliens, mutants, and so much more… the result is a funky-fresh offering, clearly revelling in the same level of humour and personal satisfaction that Stang and Wilcox derived from the entire experience.”

J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius is one of those too-strange-to-be-true-type-deals that ultimately becomes even more weird because all of it is real and completely planned out, making the entire endeavour truly multi-layered in scope and intent. Directed with satirical glee by Sandy K. Boone from a script she co-wrote with Jason Wehling, and featuring on-camera appearances from filmmaker Richard Linklater, multihyphenate talent Penn Jillette, and actor Nick Offerman, this oddball documentary is hilarious and eye-opening in equal measure, painting a portrait of some seriously talented people who know that there’s basically no bottom-level to the stupidity ranks of American citizens. It also oddly shows how the Church of the SubGenius, which was birthed in late-70s Texas, kind of predicted the rise of Trump and his fascistic followers, as they all subscribe to bizarre conspiracy theories where the most disturbing angle is just how stupid they are for believing them.

This fun and cleverly constructed documentary focuses on the driving forces behind the Church of the SubGenius, which is a parody religion created by merry-pranksters Ivan Stang and Steve Wilcox (aka Philo Drummond), blending end of the world doom, UFO’s, government secrets, Gods, aliens, mutants, and so much more. Seemingly, they had not much else better to do than come up with a fake religion that combined elements of pop-culture and science, whip up some info-pamphlets, and start asking people to send them cash in the mail, which would then get the sender into the club; I bet they were fans of Soupy Sales. Boone uses a nice mix of new and old interviews, stock footage and film clips, animation, and degraded VHS footage, and the result is a funky-fresh offering, which shines a light on the derangement levels of certain sub-sections of the American public, while also clearly revelling in the same level of humour and personal satisfaction that Stang and Wilcox derived from the entire experience.

When a documentary feels this alive with possibilities in terms of where the real-life story is going, the viewer is always left wondering where the narrative will go; Boone and her collaborators are smart never to fully show their full deck of storytelling cards, so that theme and tone are born out of one another, and the end result is something truly unexpected. It’s also extremely funny, and who doesn’t need a good laugh these days, especially at the expense of complete and utter dolts? Dark Star Pictures and Uncork’d Entertainment have released this quirky effort in virtual theatres and On Demand and it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of smarty-pants trickster humour which then segues into something more deceptively interesting as a result of all of its bizarre pieces.


 ❉ Directed by Sandy K. Boone, and written by Sandy K. Boone and Jason Wehling, ‘J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius’ in virtual theatres and on demand October 2020 from Dark Star Pictures and Uncork’d Entertainment.

 Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.

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