Friday, 21 February 2014

A Cell Of One

B.S Johnson was a fiercely innovative writer and film maker who produced a series of experimental works throughout the sixties and early seventies. Despite his brilliance, he was unable to find his rightful place in the arts world and, overcome by despondency, he killed himself in 1973.

His last published work (in his lifetime) was perhaps his most accessible, the short novel ‘Christie Malry’s Own Double Entry’. In it, a callow but ambitious young man after money and sex applies the principles of double entry book-keeping to his everyday life: for every debit, there must be a corresponding credit. At first, this results in some minor vandalism and some lightly comical mischief. Ultimately, however, Christie’s rapier becomes a bludgeon and he becomes a terrorist, ‘a cell of one’, who poisons 20,000 people and tries to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

A film adaptation was made in 2000 and, although it’s no masterpiece, it has been unjustly overlooked, perhaps because of its very limited release (in 2002), its obvious budgetary limitations and the fact that it seems unable to work out whether it wants to be arty and oblique, surreal and subversive or ‘Trainspotting’.
Star Nick Moran is as bland as tapioca (Christie is basically a blank on the page, but there is a strong authorial voice behind him that is missing on screen), but overall it’s a decent, energetic approximation of the source material, and the tricky part of showing how Christie’s petty grievances (getting told off at work, his girlfriend’s rubbish job, tax) are ‘credited’ by increasingly disproportionate actions of revenge is done well and, just like the book, keeps just on the right side of ludicrous.

I’m going to stop there because I keep thinking about how incisive B.S Johnson would be if he was doing the review. He was a writer; I am a typist. We shall come back to his work at a later date. We'll come back to mine tomorrow.

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