THE BODIES BENEATH / AUTHOR: WILLIAM FOWLER, VIC PRATT / PUBLISHER: STRANGE ATTRACTOR & MIT PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Strange Attractor have made their name by publishing the esoteric, the ontological and the downright weird, and The Bodies Beneath certainly meets these requirements. Put together by William Fowler and Vic Pratt, creators and curators of the BFI’s Flipside brand, it is an exploration of those areas of British film and television that broke new and weird ground, but that have been largely lost to the popular imagination, if not the annals of history.
Digging into the BFI’s extensive archive, Fowler and Pratt began Flipside as a series of events at the Institute’s Southbank headquarters, before overseeing a programme of releases on DVD and Blu-ray that bring the forgotten and the half-remembered back into our homes. Some of the titles featured in the book have been given DVD releases, but others are obscure, unseen except by deep divers into the BFI’s online subscription service.
The book is divided into sections covering sex, war, documentary, sci-fi and more, and runs a zig-zagging gamut from vintage Sooty hilarity to the terrifying The War Game, with stops along the way for mondo, horror, folk traditions and Barry Evans. Beginning with the beguilingly-titled (and sadly lost) 1899 short Cricket Match on a Fishing Smack During a Heavy Sea, the authors set a cut-off point for their explorations in the early 1990s, when DVD began to supplant VHS and the emergence of the internet left few things truly forgotten. In this, it’s a book that fits neatly into the recent hauntology genre, and there is plenty that will delight and unsettle fans of such victuals.
Fowler and Pratt take turns in writing, although they have a common voice, and it is an accessible tome despite its academic referencing. If the book has a drawback it’s that, even at 398 pages, it’s too short, and you’ll find it’s best devoured in bite-sized chunks with breaks taken to watch what is available of what they’ve essayed so attentively.
This is an essential buy for fans of uniquely British film and television from a world before culture - and by that, you can infer American culture - went worldwide. Spend a few hours with The Bodies Beneath and you’ll hunger for those days to return. Nostalgia is what it used to be.