Quality film news, reviews and features
5th February 2013 11:20:00
Posted by Anthony Nield

The Films of BS Johnson - on DVD and Blu-ray for the First Time Ever

News
Today would have been the 80th birthday of B S Johnson (1933-1973). To celebrate this anniversary year, the BFI, Picador and the British Library are undertaking a variety of activity.

Although best known as the ground-breaking author of Albert Angelo, The Unfortunates and Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, B S Johnson was also the director of a number of extraordinary and daring films. On 15 April, BFI Flipside will release You’re Human Like the Rest of Them: The films of B S Johnson. This extensive collection, presented in a Dual Format Edition (a DVD and a Blu-ray disc) will bring his experimental shorts, humorous animation, provocative agitprop and uniquely personal documentary films together for the very first time.

From his award-winning 1967 experimental film You’re Human Like the Rest of Them, which was based on his own poem, written in decasyllabics, to his ground-breaking TV films, including The Unfortunates (BBC) and the extraordinary Fat Man on a Beach (HTV), Johnson’s work is fuelled by his passionate belief in the power of words and images to convey the truth of our existence, and is filled with his infectious sense of humour.

Amongst the ten premiere presentations in this unique collection is Not Counting the Savages, Johnson’s uncompromising 1972 TV play, directed by Mike Newell. Considered lost for decades, it is presented from the only surviving material – a black and white video recording discovered only a few months ago in the Johnson family home – affording us the incredible opportunity to see this extraordinary and powerful work 41 years after it was first broadcast.

CONTENTS

You're Human Like the Rest of Them (1967, 17 mins): multi-award-winning tale of a teacher confronting his own mortality
Paradigm (1968, 9 mins): William Hoyland gives a performance of supreme virtuosity in this arresting experimental film
The Unfortunates (1969, 15 mins, DVD only): Johnson brings aspects of his book to life in this short BBC TV film
Up Yours Too Guillaume Apollinaire! (1969, 2 mins): humorous animated take on the calligrams of the famous poet and eroticist
Unfair! (1970, 8 mins): provocative agitprop piece with Bill Owen
March! (1970, 13 mins): documentary made for the ACTT union
Poem (1971, 1 min): poignant short set to the words of Samuel Beckett
B S Johnson on Dr. Samuel Johnson (1972, 26 mins): a learned and full-bodied appreciation of the great writer
Not Counting the Savages (1972, 29 mins, DVD only): Mike Newell s adaptation of Johnson's intense play, made for BBC TV's Thirty Minutes Theatre
Fat Man on a Beach (1974, 39 mins): part documentary, part creative exploration, this was a highlight of 1970s TV programming

Extra features include a documentary on the British Library’s B S Johnson Archive and an extensive booklet with new writings by contributors including directors Bruce Beresford and Michael Bakewell, Johnson biographer Jonathan Coe, and acclaimed comedy writer David Quantick (The Day Today, Brass Eye).

On 14 February, to mark the 80th anniversary of B S Johnson’s birth, Picador will publish a new collection, Well Done God!: Selected Prose and Drama of B.S. Johnson, co-edited by Professor Philip Tew, Dr. Julia Jordan and Jonathan Coe, and re-issue his novels Albert Angelo, Trawl, House Mother Normal and Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry with new introductions by writers including Andrew Motion and Toby Litt. There will also a panel discussion, at the British Library on Friday the 15th of February at 6.30pm, on the life and legacy of one of post-war Britain's most experimental writers. Speakers include Jonathan Coe, author of Like a Fiery Elephant – The Story of BS Johnson, Philip Tew and Julia Jordan, joint editors of the forthcoming Well Done God!.

About Anthony Nield
Anthony hails from Cheltenham and has been writing about film for the best part of a decade. His particular obsessions include British and experimental cinema, non-fiction, and films that have fallen by the wayside. You'll find him reviewing such works in the DVD and Blu-ray sections, plus the occasional feature.