The experimental writer, novelist, poet and film-maker, Bryan Stanley Johnson was born in February 1933. He was the author of several highly original and important works of modern literature, of which the autobiographical Alberto Angelo (a novel that had holes cut in the text to give a premonition of what was to come); the sinister and darkly comic House Mother Normal ( a novel split into equal internal monologues, except the last, which turns the story on its head); the brilliant and hilarious Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry (a novel Auberon Waugh declared should win Johnson the Nobel Prize); and The Unfortunates are amongst his most acclaimed and best known.
In 1968, Johnson was approached by the BBC to make a short documentary about his latest book The Unfortunates - a novel split into twenty-seven separate sections contained in a box, of which only the first and last were to be read in order, with those in-between were to be read in any order of the reader’s choosing.
The story dealt with Johnson’s visit to Nottingham to cover a soccer match, and his memories and thoughts on the death by cancer of his closest and most trusted friend, Terry Tillinghast. The structure of The Unfortunates, or the book in a box, was a “a physical metaphor for randomness….I wanted the novel to be a transcript or version of how my mind worked in this random way.”
As both novel and documentary film, The Unfortunates is a powerfully moving and intelligent meditation on death, drawing reader and viewer into a contemplation of their own existence.
Bonus clip of B. S. Johnson’s ‘The Unfortunates’ after the jump…