British Cinema's Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems
by Julian Upton
so often a book comes my way that I wish I had written. 'Offbeat' is one such
title, the byline of which succinctly describes a large proportion of my film
viewing since childhood. The book is a collection of film reviews, with titles
ranging from 1954 (the animated adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm) to 1985 (sci-fi dud Lifeforce). With a cover illustration
taken from Kenneth Rowles' infamous hitchhiking shocker Take an Easy Ride (1977), the book is clearly aiming for cult
credentials, which may explain why the hundreds of forgotten gems before 1954
have been totally ignored. To be fair to the editor, a book which attempted to
cover the entirety of Britain's lost and maligned movies would be the length of
several encyclopaedias. Indeed, this book does not claim to be definitive. In
many ways it perhaps tells us more about the predilections of the various contributors
than it does about the decades it covers.
does raise one fairly depressing point, which is that although there are
literally thousands of films at our fingertips these days, there are still
titles which are tantalisingly out of reach. Whole swathes of homegrown movies
have been shoved to the back of dusty shelves in forgotten archives never to be
seen again except in grainy, third generation VHS copies dating from the one
terrestrial broadcast thirty years ago. It's a pity that so many of the films
in here suffer from a lack of availability, as I guarantee that you will be
reading this book in one hand whilst browsing online for DVDs with the other.
the book contains dozens of fascinating, occasionally outlandish titles, if you
have any experience in the obscurities of British cinema you will still be able
to argue about the final selection. Donovan Winter is notable by his absence,
and having given the world incestuous lesbian twins in Some Like It Sexy (1969), he surely deserves a nod. There is
perhaps the inevitable focus on Hammer, who get several mentions and one begins
to wonder whether anyone else was actually making films in the 1960s. There are
however plenty of titles in here which even I, a seasoned British cinema fan,
was not familiar with. The director whose name seems to arise the most often is
Val Guest, one of the unsung heroes of British cinema. Perhaps the time is now
right for a full reevaluation of his work. In a career covering sci-fi, horror,
social realism and sex comedies, his filmography IS the British film industry
from the mid-1950s through to the 1970s in microcosm.
the reviews are scattered several essays covering various aspects of British
cinema, including the swashbuckler, the pop musical, underage sex and the
demise of the industry in the 1970s; as scattershot an approach to film history
as one could hope for, with the emphasis firmly placed on the psychotronic.
Amongst the film titles jostling for attention are classics such as Horrors From the Black Museum (1959), The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), The Birthday Party (1968), a rare
excursion into British filmmaking from The
Exorcist's William Friedkin, and Eskimo
Nell (1975), the finest sex comedy this country has ever produced. The
BFI's current Flipside range of DVDs and blu rays gets good coverage also, with
Herostratus, Privilege (both 1967), Permissive,
Bronco Bullfrog, Deep End, (all 1970) and The
Black Panther (1977) all coming highly recommended. At least some of the
films discussed in 'Offbeat' are not as obscure as they once were.
with all recent Headpress books the imagery is reproduced in black and white,
which is a pity as so many of these films feature wildly colourful, bordering
on psychedelic, imagery. The poster art for long-forgotten musical mega-flop Toomorrow (1970) is far more exciting
than the film itself! This complaint is quickly forgiven once you discover that
'Offbeat' has a thorough index, something often ignored in similar books. This
means you can use this as a great reference book, and each film title includes
production details and credits alongside a thorough analysis and review. One
may not agree with every opinion shared (Sarah Morgan's dismissal of Hammer's Captain Clegg as "a decent
potboiler" is woefully off the mark), but the book does serve its purpose
which is to encourage the reader to discover the hidden gems of British cinema.
If you can find them that is.