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B.S. Johnson’s Final Film: “Fat Man on a Beach”

In addition to being a superb writer (one of the finest of the past fifty years, by my reckoning), B.S. Johnson was also a gifted filmmaker, writing, directing, and acting in both films and programs for television.

Johnson’s final film was Fat Man on a Beach (1973); he wrote it and starred in it. (It was directed by Johnson’s agent/producer and close friend Michael Bakewell, who among other things produced Eh Joe, Samuel Beckett’s first work for television). Fat Man is, just like Johnson’s novels, a wonder of aggressively biting metatextuality, cheeky absurdism, and relentless formal experimentation (which is really, as that man always reminds us, play). It’s also a reminiscence on his time in Wales, and, sadly, some of the last footage we have of the man (he took his life that same year, at the age of 40).

You can watch the film in its entirety at YouTube; to encourage you further, I’ve cut holes in this blog through which you can view it. “Cut to the bananas!”

And then there is the notorious sequence at the very end of the film, where he says goodbye to Wales, goodbye to his audience, and walks, fully clothed, out to sea, as the camera spirals into the sky until he is just a tiny dot in the ocean, lost to view.

—Jonathan Coe, Like a Fiery Elephant (p. 374)

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

8 thoughts on “B.S. Johnson’s Final Film: “Fat Man on a Beach”

  1. The thing is, telling stories is… tidying life up in a way that it may not be… I’ll tell you a poem.


    And was that some sort of devil/death figure on our left at the start of part 2 (of the film, not the youtube clips)? A subtle foreshadowing. Literally.

    Thanks for this, B S Johnson has moved up on my depressingly long ‘to read’ list (is there any other kind?).

    1. I neglected him for too long myself. I’m glad I finally read him (and am still reading him)!

      Coe’s biography makes an invaluable companion to the novels and everything else.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I won’t have a chance to view the film until I get back in about 10 days–am leaving today for CA for Ana’s graduation (!)–but will do so when I return. Can’t wait! I agree with your assessment of Johnson–as did Beckett, which you probably already knew. Hope you’re well.

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