The Bodies Beneath
by William Fowler and Vic Pratt
Strange Attractor Press
The Bodies Beneath, a curious tome by William Fowler and Vic Pratt, was something of a blind buy for me. One of those books you come across as an interesting looking Amazon recommendation when you’re searching for something else and, to be fair, it certainly turned out to be a better, more informative purchase than the book I set out to order (I’m keeping the review of the other tome I bought to myself because it was so dire). That being said, however, I think it’s fair to say that I found the book fairly interesting rather than out and out saying I enjoyed it. Not that this reaction to the book should in any way negate the value of the tome in question, by any stretch.
The book is subtitled... or at least marketed with the tagline... The Flipside of British Film and Television and this is because the two writers, William Fowler and Vic Pratt, are the two minds behind the BFI’s Flipside screenings of recent, not too long gone days and also the spin off DVD/Blu Ray Flipside label where a wealth of truly interesting treasure has found a modern audience. So, whatever I personally think of the writing in this one, they certainly have proven themselves to be valuable members of the film community in this country (and globally, as it happens) and have done some valuable work for the cause of the moving image.
Their modus operandi here... or at least their justification for both a title parodying an old Andy Milligan movie and a binding rationale for the contents of the book... is that they are unearthing long lost gems of British cinema, TV and short works which have mostly long been hidden (debatable) or inaccessible to the degree that they have vanished almost without trace from contemporary memory.
What this really means is that the writers do dredge up some interesting works along the way as they each write separate reviews of vanished (and not so vanished) gems from the past and combine a few reviews apiece into each, thematically binding chapter. Those chapters being The Tunnel Of Love, Out Of Towners, Kid’s Stuff, True Stories, The War Room, Music And Movement, Fantastic Fictions and Tales Of Terror. Although, it has to be said, I found some of the linking themes unconvincing in some cases and there are many works described here that, of course, would easily cross over into other chapters.
What surprised me is that, amongst the truly obscure stuff such as the Cornish dance documentary Oss Oss Wee Oss, the sadly lost Cricket Match On A Fishing Smack During A Heavy Sea or the depiction of Anthony Newley’s big budget self destructive, not so cleverly disguised fictional autobiographical feature Can Heironynous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find true happiness?... there’s also quite a few things that are both not forgotten by anyone and quite often easily available with your Amazon click finger. For example, there’s a whole section on Danger Man in the Tunnel Of Love chapter, which is a chapter dealing with sexuality. To be fair, it brings in Patrick McGoohan’s reasons for turning down playing James Bond (he was sought out for the role and offered it before Connery) and how he didn’t allow the frivolous sexuality of those kinds of characters on his shows but... yeah, obscure it isn’t. And, I’m sorry, the writers may think that nobody these days know about Arthur Lucan when one of them is detailing the interesting events which lead to the movie Old Mother Riley Meets The Vampire, where Lucan (Old Mother Riley) co-starred with Bela Lugosi... but I think he’s dead wrong about that. In fact, as I type this, I know that there’s a DVD box set downstairs of Old Mother Riley films ripe for borrowing and exploration if I ever get the time (I was privileged to see Arthur Lucan’s surviving stand in doing the Old Mother Riley act at a seaside theatre once, as a teenager).
There’s some interesting stuff too, of course, which would no doubt still be fairly obscure such as Secret Rites and Legends Of The Witches, if it had not been for the phenomenal efforts of the two writers to get such films resurrected on Blu Ray in recent years (you can read my review of these two gems right here) and also ‘banned by Government from transmission TV’ films like The War Game are certainly things I may keep on my radar for viewing at some point. But there are also a lot of errors in even some of the 'not so obscure' stuff. For instance, on a section about the first of the two live action TinTin films, TinTin and the Golden Fleece... the writers appear to be too young to remember, or even know of, the hugely popular, much loved cartoon show which was later replaced by something quite different and modern... a TV phenomenon which really has vanished and has since become a holy grail object for people of a certain age (not to mention the unreleased 1947 stop motion movie of The Crab With The Golden Claws... which also gets no mention here and is arguably a lot rarer).
I think the thing which rubbed me up the wrong way a little is that one of the writers... and I won’t say which one... seems to be more interested in delivering clever puns and somewhat condescending commentaries about the subject he’s purportedly attempting to lionise (somewhat) rather than giving clear and concise facts and opinions, which is more the territory of the other writer, it seemed to me. Certainly, while I love spending time with people talking about films over a nice whisky and coke, one of these guys would just have had me clamming up whereas, the other person comes across as way more friendly and willing to learn, I think. Of course, the personae coming across in the text is not always a significant overlap into the real life version of a human being so, yeah, I’ll reserve judgement for now.
So, yes, it’s a rag tag gallery of non-sequiter review choices where easily available stuff, such as Colin Baker’s portrayal of The Doctor in the Doctor Who season where the stories were bound together by the overall Trial Of A Time Lord arc, rubs shoulders with Vincent Price’s six episode Cooking Price-Wise series or the much loved movie Electric Dreams but, like I said, I can’t actually say I enjoyed The Bodies Beneath and I am glad to be finished with it, to tell the truth. Having said that, if you are interested in finding out about some relatively obscure gems midst the various dishes on offer here... and if you’re reading this blog with any regularity then you possibly are of that ilk... then I would certainly recommend this one as being something worth picking up for your book shelf because, yeah, a few of the things in here are such that you probably won’t find them referenced anywhere else, I suspect. Not much more to say about this one though... a fascinating and possibly ‘useful in the future’ tome which is worth retaining for when certain titles ‘come up’, so to speak.