Jason Bourne (Paul Greengrass 2016)

56d01fb8b6_345x518_b1093cb7dfand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Jason Bourne (2016) is not its relentlessly undistinguished blandness or its sheer breathtaking lack of any fucking reason to exist or to take up so much of my life, or that it gave me one last chance to pretend that Julia Stiles is really the daughter of Furious Styles, which is how she got the in to teach those ghetto kids ballet before becoming head of street dance at the CIA, no, the best thing about Jason Bourne is its completely unexpected, subtly crafted and cunningly layered self-reflexivity, which saw me drawn back into a franchise of which I have only the most fragmented and disconnected memories, starring Matt Damon, who has been drawn back into a franchise of which he has only the most fragmented and disconnected memories, playing a character who is drawn back into a life of which he has only the most fragmented and disconnected memories, and now you too are trying to remember what exactly happened in this franchise of which you have only most fragmented and disconnected memories…

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The Legend of Tarzan (David Yates 2016)

tumblr_oaiqrwWVru1rkkyz2o1_1280and so anyway it turns out that the best thing about The Legend of Tarzan (2016) – apart, obviously, from the scantily-clad Alexander Skarsgård – is not that it represents big-budget Hollywood finally drawing attention to, and giving a nuanced, accurate and genuinely harrowing account of, King Leopold’s genocidal regime in the Congo Free State, which killed roughly ten percent of the population of all of Africa, because it doesn’t do that, nor is it Christopher Waltz’s feature-length audition tape for the role of Hercule Poirot’s evil twin brother in some awful modernising ‘reboot’ that no-one wants of a well-loved character that will undoubtedly be directed by Guy fucking Ritchie, no, the best thing about The Legend of Tarzan is that, terrible as it is, even with its genuinely well-intended but miserably inadequate revisionism, it still somehow manages not to be the worst Margot Robie film directed by someone called David I have seen this week…

Suicide Squad (David Ayer 2016)

suicidesquadheaderand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about Suicide Squad (Ayer 2016) is not that it reminds you of just quite how good – and subtle – a film The Dirty Dozen (Aldrich 1967) is but of just quite how good – and subtle – literally any and every other film you have ever seen is…

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Frustrated at repeatedly missing out on the chance to film one of Ballard’s novels, Stanley Baker optioned a number of his short stories through his production company Oakhurst Productions, including ‘Track 12’ (1958). Of the intended anthology picture, only one, the 22-minite ‘Track 12’, was completed, shot by Joseph Losey from a script by Harold Pinter, during a break in production on Accident (Losey 1967). 

bf65b22ea58a62662420952923502ec196986099Dirk Bogarde is chilling as the diffident biochemist, Sheringham, avenging his cuckolding by Baker’s robust Maxted. An unbilled Julie Christie was persuaded by Bogarde, who had worked with her on John Schlesinger’s Darling (1965), to provide the glimpsed fragments of Susan Sheringham’s face and body – and the overwhelming, screen-filling kissing lips of the film’s startling conclusion, an image that had a profound influence on David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983).

Christie would, of course, go on to co-star in Losey’s Palme d’Or-winning The Go-Between (1971), his fourth and final collaboration with Pinter; and Ballard later scripted the contemporary sequences that saved Pinter’s adaptation of John Fowles’s 1969 The French Lieutenant’s Woman, directed by Karel Reisz in 1981, from mere historical pictorialism.

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Broadcaster David Frost and his partner Hazel Adair, perhaps best known as the creator of the long-running soap opera Crossroads (1964–88), bought the rights to adapt The Drought aka The Burning World (1964) in the late 1960s.

Frost knew little if anything about science fiction, but Adair was no stranger to the genre. She was the author of one of the first sf television shows, Stranger from Space (1951–53), and of an ultimately unproduced Doctor Who serial, Hexagora. However, despite her many television successes, the state of the British film industry at the end of the sixties meant her career as a film producer had rather ignominious results: some sex comedies, a horror movie and a lethargic international adventure movie.

It remains unclear whether it was Adair or Frost who commissioned Ballard to script the adaptation himself, and it is possible it was actually intended for television rather than film. There is no copy of the script or the contract in the Ballard archive at the British Library, and Ballard’s scattered interview comments do not give a very clear picture. (In 1979, Adair commissioned Ballard to adapt his 1974 Concrete Island, although this too went unproduced.)

George Harrison was one of several producers to approach Frost over the rights to The Drought only to be put off by his extremely high price. In a famous prank, Peter Cook ‘let slip’ during a television interview with Frost that he was partway through filming the novel with himself in the lead role. For half a minute, the usually unflappable Frost became extremely flappable. Bizarrely, this incident brought the novel to the attention of Dino De Laurentiis, who hired Alejandro Jodorowsky to direct it – a doomed project, the story of which is told in Frank Pavich’s celebrated documentary Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Pavich 2013).

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Conceptual art for Jodorowsky’s doomed adaptation of The Drought

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006The Wind from Nowhere (1961), Ballard’s debut novel, was hastily optioned prior to publication by Michael Carreras, who had recently parted company with his father’s Hammer Films in order to establish himself as a director and independent producer. Carreras initially intended it as a vehicle for Rod Taylor, but he ultimately turned down the role to star in Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963).

A chance meeting with Stanley Baker led to interest from Joseph Levine and Cy Endfield, who bought the option when Carreras let it lapse. They were, however, so deeply involved in the production of  Zulu (1964) that they somehow forgot about it. Indeed, Baker was unaware their option had lapsed until it was announced that Gregory Peck would produce and star in a version directed by J. Lee Thompson. But it was scuppered by the prohibitive cost of the special effects sequences demanded by the Carl Foreman and James R. Webb’s script.

Producer Michael Klinger returned the project to the UK – one of two sf films he was to make in the late 1960s – and entrusted it to Val Guest, who would later also write and direct Hammer’s When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) from a treatment by Ballard. He also directed the Klinger-produced Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974), which would in turn lead to the unexpected sight gag at the end of Nicolas Roeg’s High Rise (1978).

Although Guest did not get on with Edward Judd, he nonetheless cast the star of his earlier weather-based sf movie, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), as Maitland. Jane Merrow, who plays Susan Maitland, also appeared in the other British sf film in which you can tell the apocalypse is here because the weather has improved, Night of the Big Heat (Terence Fisher 1967).

Edward_Judd-_phoneIntriguingly, Judd, who was a couple of years younger than Ballard was also born in Shanghai, but there is no evidence they met each other there – or, indeed, Burt Kwouk, who was also resident there, and plays an unnamed soldier in the private army of millionaire Hardoon (Eric Portman).

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)
Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)

 

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – El Dorado (BBC 1992-93; 156 episodes)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006In the late 1980s, the BBC began to spin off and divest parts of the organisation, laying the groundwork for establishing autonomous but wholly owned cash-cow subsidiaries. Central to this plan was the transformation of BBC Enterprises into BBC Worldwide. In order to monetise the BBC brand, production reoriented to programming that could be sold overseas. One outcome was the three-times-a-week upmarket soap El Dorado, set in a not-too-precisely futuristic gated community and exclusive resort town on the Mediterranean.

Based on Ballard’s Vermilion Sands (1971), it began by interweaving plots and characters from his collection of linked stories into an unfolding, soap-opera structure featuring more typical character types and narrative arcs that expanded beyond Ballard’s focus on cutting edge and/or imaginary artforms.

After some teething problems and initially poor ratings, the series attracted a dedicated and growing audience, especially when changes to the production team led to a significant change of direction. Influenced probably as much by Dark Shadows (1966-71) as by the more recent Twin Peaks (1990-91), El Dorado took a decidedly weird turn.

Key to this was the altered ending of the arc derived from Ballard’s ‘Venus Smiles’ (1957), which concluded with the destruction of the statue the town commissioned from Lorraine Drexel (Kate O’Mara). Three months later, this thread was picked up, as the scrap metal, now being used in construction, starts to vibrate at a peculiar resonance, driving Hamilton (Christopher Cazenove) to visionary madness.

When Jonathan Powell, a staunch supporter of the show, was dismissed as Controller of the BBC1, it was clear the writing was on the wall. Producer Corinne Hollingworth took the unusual step – suggested by Robert Holmes, whom she knew from her Doctor Who days – of mashing up the series with elements of Ballard’s High Rise (1975) so as to kill everyone off before Powell’s replacement, Alan Yentob, could.

El Dorado was not a massively successful contribution to BBC Worldwide’s export drive, but it did achieve a measure of notoriety when Toronto’s CIVIC-TV cable channel broadcast the series with newly filmed hardcore inserts.

This screening will feature: episode one, in which El Dorado’s louche patriarch/architect, played by Peter Wyngarde, dies under mysterious circumstances; episode seventy-eight, for which Cazenove received his BAFTA nomination; and the terrifying series finale, in which a crash-landed astronaut washes ashore in the deserted resort and uncovers the archaic horror lying beneath.

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Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974)
The Drowned World: The Director’s Cut (J. Lee Thompson 2015)
Gale Force (Val Guest 1967)
Jodorowsky’s Burning World (Frank Pavich 2013)
Track 12 (Joseph Losey 1967)