Friday 30 May 2014


With Headpress's Offbeat editor Julian Upton presents 400+ pages on what the book's subtitle identifies as "British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems." Other than mentioning the films encompassed within this remit only cover a thirty year period from c. 1955-85 (so no Tod Slaughter or 30s Edgar Wallace adaptations, for instance; though there are certainly other places you can read up on these) it is a fair enough description of the films surveyed and reviewed within.

So, for example, if we’re talking Hammer then it is emphatically not the Gothics for which they are best known, rather their swashbucklers and adventure romps like Captain Clegg and Pirates of Blood River, or the brilliant Cash on Demand where Peter Cushing is for once outperformed by another, Andre Morell; admittedly Morell had played his role on TV and so had the advantage. Or, if it’s Hammer’s most famous house director, Terence Fisher, then it is one of the three sci-fi films he made for another studio, Planet, namely The Earth Dies Screaming.

I’d like to think that I’m somewhat close to the ideal reader for the book, arrogant though you may judge me: I’ve seen about half of the films reviewed within and would say that I concur with the authors most of the time on these. Two things help here. One, the reviewers resist the urge to proclaim each and every film as a forgotten mini-masterpiece or suchlike. Rather they accept the films on their own merits, or lack thereof. Two, they provide their working rather than just their correct answer. That is they explain why they feel the way they do about a film. As such even if I do not agree with the reviewer of No Blade of Grass’s opinion I can understand that he is paying attention to the source novel, whereas I was not considering the film in terms of adaptation.

Even more important, however, is that Offbeat provided further encouragement to seek out those titles I had heard of but not seen, and introduced me to others which I had not, or which I might have grokked at some point but since forgotten.

In addition to the reviews Offbeat also presents several overviews of a time period, sub-genre, cycle or trend. These are informative as an orientation and also point out topics of further consideration. For example, the essay on the pop/rock musical posits a significant difference between the Elvis films from the US and the Cliff Richard and British Invasion films from the UK that followed them. The Elvis films were entrusted to older, established directors who worked to make Elvis a safer property, whereas the British films often took chances on younger filmmakers closer in age to their subjects, this resulting in a less predictable fare. The reviews generally run two or three pages, begin with production, cast and crew details, followed by a one-paragraph summary of the plot, followed by a more substantial discussion of the individual film’s merits (or lack thereof) and place in British cinema history.

So, to sum up, if you read this you would probably like Offbeat.