As the long-awaited heat and sun of summer has finally reached the UK again after all these years, it is time to pack away all those scholarly and theoretical tomes on cinema and lie back and let some purely pleasurable texts flow over you. And it is in this spirit that the first recommendation for top leisurely reading is the unputdownable Julian Upton book, Offbeat. Now if – like me – you thanked the patron saint of forgotten British films for answering your prayers and delivering the BFI’s Flipside label, then you will feel doubly blessed with Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems. This book could well serve as the reference source for future Flipside releases, or indeed be the reference book of choice for anyone who is keen to venture beyond the 23 (so far) releases and track down some of the gems and oddities covered in Upton’s book. In the reviews of over 100 lost (to release, at least) British films, from the rise of the industry in the fifties to the backing of Hollywood in the sixties, to the laissez-faire of the seventies and finally to ‘the dying embers of popular domestic cinema in the early eighties’, a host of well-known contributors enthuse, castigate, advocate and denigrate a cornucopia of little known British cinematic trash and treasures. Expanded thematic essays are indicative of what the reader may expect, for example: ‘Swordplay: British Swashbuckler Films’, ‘Over the Cliff: British Rock and Roll Films’, ‘A Dangerous Madness: Opening the Door to Asylum Horror’, ‘Sullivan’s Travails: The Roldvale Sex Films’, ‘Seen But Not Heard Of: Children’s Film Foundation’, ‘Wings of Death: Demise of the Short as Supporting Feature’ and inevitably, ‘Baby Love: Underage Sex and Murder in British Cinema’. A total treat: who cares if the book’s graphic design and layout is distracting and looks like an over-worked web page, with those annoying spools of film pagination everywhere? This is the kind of must-have book that readers of ES will love.
Scott Jordan Harris’s book, Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects is different in kind and format from the normally recognisable Intellect publishing format, which can be explained by its having first been published in the US under the auspices of the University of Chicago Press. With stylistically linked illustrations for each object discussed, Harris focusses three or four paragraphs of succinct and observant text on various key examples of material culture, which are intrinsic to the narrative and plot of the selected film. Semiotic-lite analyses of such ‘things’ as the discarded Coke bottle in The God’s Must Be Crazy, the chess set in The Seventh Seal, the letters of transit in Casablanca, Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II, ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ in Trainspotting and Dirk Diggler’s (prosthetic) penis in Boogie Nights make for eclectic and fascinating reading about a little-explored aspect of cinematic mise-en-scene. It’s one of those books that demand initial reading at one sitting, and then further reference and reflection subsequently. Delightfully engaging, entertaining and informative – and perfect for outdoor reading.
Finally, and in brief, an excellent exemplar of the dedicated cinephile: the completist fan-geek. And I mean that not as a pejorative statement but as a wide-mouthed admirer. Jim Pauley has tracked down, explored and documented the filming locations – then and now – of the most significant Three Stooges Columbia Picture shorts made in the Los Angeles area between 1934 and 1958. A labour of true Stoogology love, which must have taken years to assemble: there are some 500 archival photographs, 12 maps, and interviews with supporting actors, directors and family and friends of the beloved Moe, Curly, Larry, Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe. The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations is enjoyable to dip into, but is probably a tome for an American audience and hard-core fans only, although it is beautifully produced and ‘showing the love’.
James B. Evans
GONE… BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
This section of my column pays homage to out-of-print and rare film books that link to one of the themes or books reviewed above, and in this installment I recommend seeking out a copy of Last of the Moe Haircuts by Bill Flanagan, ‘self-appointed Director of the American Stooge Synposium’. It’s a clever and hilarious book that mixes scholarship and expertise of the Three Stooges with a cheeky and very witty approach to ‘proper’ analysis of the films, with evidence provided by contextualising the film’s content. One great proof offered of the Stooges prescience is in their dealing with feminist issues, with the suggestion that various Stooges films established their avant-garde thinking in this sociological matter, while another section discusses their spreading of the gospel of Freud through living example. Great fun! JE