Still from Chappaqua

Showing as part of Flipside’s psychedelia double bill with The Trip

Date: 21 June 2008

Venue: BFI Southbank, London

Flipside on MySpace

The now well-established Flipside, the cult slot programmed by BFI archivists Vic Pratt and William Fowler at the Southbank, was introduced last year as part of the institute’s efforts to revitalise its programming and revamp its image. With an increasing number of nights catering for the current appetite for B-movies and exploitation cinema, Pratt and Fowler’s approach remains one of the most open and interesting, mixing films that have traditionally been considered either ‘art’ or ‘trash’. ‘There is a tendency to say a film is either good or bad’, says Pratt. ‘The good films we can show again and again, the rubbish we discard in the dustbin. But when you think what the odds are of making a perfect film, or even just a tolerable one, that’s quite a small percentage. And if you’re going to write off everything that was made that wasn’t a great masterpiece, that’s a lot of cinema. You’ve got to be free to fail. And you’ve got to show the work of people who’ve failed in some way but may have done something else really well.’

Their first night last February was meant to be a Joe Meek special, but that didn’t quite go according to plan: ‘It was a big night, we had a lot of press, hundreds of people had come to this, it was amazing’, says Pratt. ‘Pop bands were ringing wanting to DJ at the night, we were like, wow, we might have done something quite cool!’ (laughs) ‘But then there was a massive power cut, all the lights went out, and everyone was just milling around outside, looking glum and cold, and we all had to go home. Apparently this may have been the Joe Meek curse. There’s a legend that everything associated with Joe Meek is cursed and if you try and do anything relating to him, it’ll go wrong, and sure enough…’

Since then, though, things have gone more smoothly for Pratt and Fowler and in the last eighteen months they’ve presented programmes ranging from Rupert the Bear and Tintin to Tod Browning and weird Westerns. The June night will be a full-on psychedelic extravaganza, including Roger Corman’s legendary The Trip as well as some mind-bending experimental shorts by Bruce Conner and Larry Jordan. The centrepiece of the night, however, is the rarely screened Chappaqua, which, although it stars such 1960s luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Moondog, The Fugs and Ravi Shankar, has remained little known. ‘Chappaqua is pretty much an autobiographical film’, says Fowler. ‘It’s about Conrad Rooks, who wrote and directed it, being addicted to alcohol and drugs and going to this strange treatment centre where William Burroughs works, to get off the drugs’. (laughs) ‘And you think at that time, with all the people involved, it would just be, “drugs are great”, but it’s a kind of cross between drugs as a revelatory experience with visions of Native Americans in the desert and Rooks being a bit of a mess. For 1966, it’s quite refreshing. And it looks really gorgeous’.

The next few months’ programmes are still under wraps at the time of writing, so here’s to looking forward to whatever wonderful B-side gems Pratt and Fowler will unearth in their gleeful rummaging through the BFI’s basement.

Virginie Sélavy