Southern Discomfort: From the land of NASCAR, BBQ and God comes a cautionary tale, “Junkers”

By on August 23, 2017

We here at Night Flight HQ continue to shine a klieg light on some of the independently-made short films you’ll find streaming over on Night Flight Plus, as you’re not likely to see these films anywhere else these days, online or otherwise.

For example, our October 7, 1988 episode of “Night Flight” featured a short film in our then-new “New Filmmakers Series” called Junkers, a cautionary tale written and directed by Susan Flaherty and George Grubb.

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This 27-minute short comedy was filmed almost entirely at a weatherbeaten little gas station in Poplar Springs, North Carolina, a small, unincorporated little hamlet nestled in green, rolling farmland in an otherwise mostly-flat central part of the state.

From what we’ve read, that part of North Carolina — the Piedmont, lying between the Appalachian mountains and the Mid-Atlantic coastline — is a transitional zone where visitors are often passing through to get to other parts of the state (or other states entirely).

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Should they need a rest stop or a bite of food, those visitors are likely to meet locals who are squarely “in-the-middle,” both culturally and politically.

These mostly-conservative country folks love their NASCAR, their world-class BBQ and their God. They speak slowly and carefully, with a Southern drawl, and they’re reportedly also some of the friendliest people you’re likely to ever meet.

Need more? The sleepy, slow-paced fictional town of Mayberry seen in the 1960s CBS sitcom “The Andy Griffith Show” — mostly shot on RKO’s Forty Acres lot in Culver City, California — was based on Andy Griffith’s real-life hometown of Mount Airy, North Carolina, which about twenty miles up the road from Poplar Springs.

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Now that we’ve set the tone and scenic setting you’re going to experience in Junkers, we’ll tell that the story chiefly concerns what happens to a young, Jaguar-driving yuppie who is traveling on backroads through the area, heading to his own wedding.

The young man, “Richard” (Earl Haire, Jr.) — who looks a bit like a Blockbuster employee, wearing khakis and a blue shirt with a loosened tie — ends up having a flat tire just outside of Poplar Springs.

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He’s in luck, though, because a grizzled old mechanic (wearing a trucker’s cap with “Never Mind the Dog, Beware of Owner” across the front) and his grandson just happen to be coming down the same stretch of backroad, riding on a tractor. They’re played by Tom Ward (as “Grandpop”) and Brannon Gilliam (“Clay”).

Read more about Junkers below.

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As the story unfolds, the apparently affluent Richard clearly doesn’t know what to make of these friendly country folk, but you’ll just have to watch the film to see what happens next (we can tell you we half-expected to see a mentally-deficient weirdo kid playing a banjo at one point, though).

We couldn’t find any info on Susan Flaherty — she apparently didn’t make any other films, not that we know about, and neither does IMDB — but we did find out quite a bit about George Grubb, who grew up in Lexington, North Carolina, a bedroom community not too far from Winston-Salem, Greensboro and other larger Piedmont-area cities (it’s about an hour’s drive from Poplar Springs).

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George Grubb

Grubb knew he wanted to be a visual artist from at least the age of ten, after he was given a Super 8 movie camera and a 35mm Minolta as gifts.

He ended up studying at North Carolina State in Raleigh, NC, where he partnered with Flaherty to write, direct, shoot, and edit their debut thesis film, Junkers.

As with most first films, their cast (as well as most of the crew) were made up from actual members of their family and circle of friends, which lends a lot of authenticity to what we’re seeing.

We suspect that the gas station in Poplar Springs was filmed just as they’d found it, with its awesome “No Profanity” sign already hanging in the window.

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Junkers — which ended up being made available for rent at North Carolina video stores — was a hit on the short film festival circuit, particularly at the Canadian International Amateur Film Festival, and it won a Bronze Certificate at the Houston International Film Festival.

Grubb ended up working on a film projects — he was a production assistant on Escape, starring actress Kim Richards and her sister Kyle, which was shot in Wallburg, about a half hour’s drive north of Grubb’s hometown of Lexington — before moving to Los Angeles, where he earned his Master of Fine Arts at the American Film Institute.

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As so many budding filmmakers do, he’d hoped to write and direct feature films, but it was difficult finding gainful employment, so he took computer classes at USC while co-producing a documentary.

Those computer classes led to Grubb and a few friends creating Playstream, one of the very first online websites where you could host content and watch it playing in real time (rather than downloading). Grubb ended up selling Playstream in 2006, making enough profit on the sale of the company that it allowed him to go back to his first love, still photography.

Since 2007, George Grubb has traveled to remote regions of the world, photographing threatened wildlife, to help educate the public and support conservation causes.

His ongoing series “New York City Wildlife” are absurdist photo montages of his wildlife photography set in NYC landscapes.

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Riding The New York Subway (New York City Wildlife), 2014; courtesy of George Grubb

You can see more of his incredible photography at his website.

Many thanks to Night Flight contributor Marc Edward Heuck for his help on this post!

Check out Junkers — and other short films which originally aired on “Night Flight” — exclusively on our streaming channel, Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.