BFI Flipside celebrates forgotten British film

By Peter Watts
Friday 25 February 2011 01:00

Fancy watching a film about groovy London beatniks eating a tin of cat food? Or one that has Peter Cook playing a policeman who travels around an absurd post-apocalyptic landscape by hot air balloon?

BFI Flipside was launched in May 2009 as a home for the 'waifs and strays' of British film. It is now on its 16th release, having offered everything from exploitation documentaries about the seedy sixties (London In The Raw) to B-movies featuring Oliver Reed (The Party's Over), Shirley Anne Field (Lunch Hour), Klaus Kinski (The Pleasure Girls) and Withnail & I director Bruce Robinson (Private Road). If it's weird, British and forgotten, then it's Flipside.

"This is the untold history of British film," says Sam Dunn, the BFI's Head of Video Publishing, who curates the label alongside colleagues Vic Pratt and William Fowler. The films are largely drawn from the productive 1960s and 1970s. After rediscovery in the BFI archive, they are lovingly restored and then repackaged with related shorts and carefully designed booklets.

Dunn believes Flipside is "a place for those films that never fitted in and were in danger of being lost forever. Most were only meant to fill a cinema for a couple of weeks and there's a tension between the director's desire to make a good film and the producer's need to get bums on seats by showing some violence or nudity. It makes for a very interesting type of film that gets overlooked because it's seen as commodity rather than art."

Key releases have included Privilege, the first feature by Peter Watkins, and Swinging Sixties cult classic Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush, which had previously never been available on any home video format anywhere in the world. Dunn hopes Flipside will help people better appreciate the complexities of British cinema. "People's perception of the British film industry is quite negative. We often ignore what is on our doorstep because we think to be cultured is to know what is going on around the world. This is an attempt to counter that."

The latest releases on BFI Flipside, 'Private Road' and 'Duffer' are out now (

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