Review: High-Rise (2016)

High-Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, brings J.G. Ballard's classic novel to the screen after a long wait.

It's set almost entirely in a residential tower, a massive brutalist edifice inhabited by thousands of early-1970s Britons eager for a new life. The ultimate product of mid-century urban planning, the concrete building is designed to take care of all its occupants' needs: there's a supermarket, a swimming pool, even a primary school, all tucked away deep within its forty stories.

Robert Laing, an introverted young doctor, moves in hoping to become an anonymous nobody amid this monument to the bland excellence of modern life. But he commits the critical error of making friends, and is slowly consumed by the building's odd psychic character, its microcosmic reflection of the divisions in society at large.

He notices that the lower levels are first to suffer when the power fails; then that the higher echelons enjoy special amenities of their own. And then, when the lights go out, everything goes to hell.

A little awareness of British life in the 1970s helps contextualise details that might otherwise baffle—in particular, skyscraper-happy Americans should know that residential towers there were always a controversial novelty, that garbage collecters were perpetually on strike, and that in British engineering, corners are always cut. But Ballard's sinister geometry of modernity, hiding an emotional suppression ready to explode into violence, is a language universal to all employed westerners.

It's an intriguing, sophisticated and handsome movie made excellent by Wheatley's skill and its cast: Tom Hiddleston as the skeptical middle-class everyman driven to madness by his environment's awful sanity, Jeremy Irons as the tower's vicious yet uncannily humanist architect, Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Handmaid's Tale) as society's hope, and Luke Evans (Bard from The Hobbit) as the agent of chaos. Read the rest

Seinfeld meets JG Ballard

Claire L. Evans examines the classic Seinfeld episode "The Parking Garage" as a "specifically Ballardian nightmare: the pornography of infinity, somehow contained within a New Jersey mall."

Like the Unidentified Space Station (in this JG Ballard short story), which conceals, from the outside, its magnificent vastness, The Parking Garage becomes its own world, a replacement—literally, since they broke the apartment set down to build the mirror-garage—for the comfortable parameters of Jerry Seinfeld’s ordinary world. It seems to have its own mores; Elaine, desperately seeking a stranger to drive them around the lot and help find the car, only comes into contact with indifference and aggression. No one will help, because on some level no one here is real.
"The Parking Garage" (Thanks, Chris Arkenberg!) Read the rest

New collection of interviews with JG Ballard

Extreme Metaphors is a brand new anthology of interviews with one of my all-time favorite writers, JG Ballard, master of surrealist science fiction, dystopian visionary, and brilliant cultural critic. Co-edited by Simon Sellars of the Ballardian blog and Dan O'Hara, the book collects 44 interviews with Ballard by a fantastic array of contributors including BB pals Mark Dery, V. Vale, and Richard Kadrey, along with Iain Sinclair, Jon Savage, David Cronenberg, and others. Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with J.G. Ballard 1967-2008 (Ballardian, thanks Mark Dery!)

 JG Ballard and David Cronenberg interviewed by Mark Dery - Boing ... JG Ballard: Interviews book, bash with RE/Search and Survival ... JG Ballard (1930-2009) - Boing Boing Read the rest

Bristol street art exhibition transforms Ballardian brutalist street

Tim sez,
This weekend saw the final unveiling of the the See No Evil project in Bristol; Europe's largest street art exhibition. It is, to say the very least, an extraordinary, breathtaking achievement. Graffiti artists not just from Bristol but around the globe descended on Nelson Street, transforming the whole area from drab, urban decay into what feels like a new -- almost virtual -- space...

The science fictional aspect of See No Evil becomes even more heightened when you consider the history of Nelson Street. It is yet another example, amongst the hundreds that dot the urban landscape of Britain, of 1950/60s post war planning and architecture that aimed to herald a new, futuristic, technology-driven utopia. But of course the future's greatest strength is that it can never be predicted and tamed, let alone designed or planned. The town planners and architects failed, and as the decades passed they watched their dreams descend into decay, shunned by popular taste and left to become associated with poverty, depravation and failure. And to add the ultimate insult to their injuries, they saw their utopian designs become the defining science fiction image of a dystopian future.

From utopia to dystopia and back again – See No Evil, Bristol (Thanks, Tim!) Read the rest