I visited London a little while back. One of the spots at the top of my list of places to visit was the British Film Institute's cinema. The BFI is a remarkable organization with a vast archive, workshops, and a state-of-the-art theatre complex. We don't really have anything comparable to it here in the States. Sure, we have organizations that fulfill individual pieces of BFI's mandate, like the American Film Institute, the United States National Film Preservation Board, and the American Cinematheque. But the BFI champions education, preservation, and advocacy, all under one high-tech roof on the south bank of the Thames.
The BFI's work also extends into publishing. Their monthly magazine, Sight & Sound, is one of the most highly respected film publications in the world. They've published dozens of books, including their insightful Film Classics series, lengthy essays providing in-depth analysis of everything from Citizen Kane to Back To The Future. They've also branched out into DVD and Blu-ray with a fascinatingly eclectic line-up of titles.
BFI's Blu-ray work has included experimental collections like Kenneth Anger's Magick Lantern Cycle, as well as a DVD/BD combo release of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's L'Age d'Or that includes the high-def debut of Un Chien Andalou. Other releases include Jan Svankmajer's mind-bending Alice, a bizarre stop-motion animation rendition of Lewis Carroll's book, as well as classics from Yasujiro Ozu and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
Not surprisingly, it's BFI's British releases that really shine, offering a tantalizing selection of UK films unavailable on disc in the US. In 2009, they introduced BFI Flipside, a collection of overlooked cult British classics as Blu-ray/DVD combo releases. The inaugural disc was Richard Lester's 1969 comedy The Bed Sitting Room starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Since then, the collection has grown to include mondo movies like London In The Raw, actioners like Man Of Violence, and the teen comedy Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush featuring the music of The Spencer Davis Group and Traffic.
On July 18, BFI will be releasing their most highly anticipated Flipside release to date: Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End. Since its release back in 1970, Deep End has been extremely difficult to see due to legal entanglements. Now that those have been cleared up, it's received scattered screenings around the US with a somewhat larger revival in the UK. It's a film long overdue for rediscovery.
Most, but not all, BFI Blu-ray releases are region-free, making them playable anywhere in the world. There are some titles licensed from major studios that are locked for Region B, however, so make sure to do some research before ordering. Check their website for more information and to marvel at the astonishing work of the BFI.