The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos 2017)

KSD_1Sheet_Alt_Curzon_HRand so anyway it turns out that the best thing about The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017), Yorgos Lanthimos’s tepidly comic but ultimately toothless mash-up of Ballard, Kubrick and Lynch, is not the relentlessly crawling pace that actually gives you time to watch not paint dry but Colin Farrell’s beard grow (and turn increasingly grey), nor is it Alicia Silverstone’s wise decision to quit the movie after a single scene because it required her to suck Colin Farrell’s fingers, nor is it the fact that I have finally managed to stay awake all the way through a film by Yorgos “no idea how to wrap up this story” Lanthimos, though this time ironically it could well have been the praying for sleep to come that kept me from napping, nor is it the fact that no deer, sacred or otherwise, were killed during the making of this film, no, the best thing about The Killing of a Sacred Deer is the immensely tall cameraman employed to do the long tracking-in and tracking-out shots, whose head you constantly fear is going to come a cropper on light fittings and door ways, thus adding a much-needed sense of danger and suspense as this never-seen lanky technician is the nearest thing to a character you could give a flying fuck about…

Advertisements

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).

1*3OHBjoKNUmNX31Zz8itLAw
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.

Screen-Shot-2017-01-18-at-4.08.32-PM-1280x640

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)

Ballard’s Cinema: Notes for a Retrospective – The Drowned World (J. Lee Thompson 1974; director’s cut 2017)

 

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Thwarted in his attempt to produce and star in an adaptation of The Wind from Nowhere (1961), Stanley Baker optioned Ballard’s follow-up novel, The Drowned World (1962), before the ‘Seer of Shepperton’ had even completed a draft.

However, dogged by financial difficulties arising from his South African film projects, Baker was forced to abandon his plans to adapt it.

Some years later, a chance meeting led to Patrick McGoohan – who had co-starred with Baker in Cy Endfield’s gravel-pit noir Hell Drivers (1958) – persuading Lew Grade to finance the film, with Endfield directing. But when The Prisoner (1967-68) flopped, the TV mogul, who had yet to break into film production, dropped McGoohan from the project.

Grade offered Robert Shaw the lead, and replaced Endfield with J. Lee Thompson, who had until recently been attached to direct Gale Force (Guest 1967), as producer Michael Carreras had retitled The Wind from Nowhere.

While Grade got cold feet about branching out into film, Thompson’s enthusiasm for the project never waned. He tried to persuade Gregory Peck to become involved, but when he turned down the lead, Peck suggested it would be more suited to Charlton Heston – who only agreed to briefly reprise the role of Taylor in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Post 1970) if producer Arthur P. Jacobs took on the now-lapsed option.

18s3rujcms82tjpgAPJAC Productions hired Thompson to direct, then replaced him with John Guillermin, who insisted on relocating the story to New York. A week into shooting, Guillermin and Heston got into a now notorious on-set argument. Filming crashed to a halt. Jacobs backed his star over his director. Guillermin was fired, and Heston personally entreated Thompson to return to save the film.

Which, some suggest, was Heston’s intention in provoking Guillermin all along.

Not that things then proceeded smoothly.

The shoot became increasingly tempestuous as Thompson and Heston fought over their different visions for the film. Thompson accepted the change of setting – really he had no choice, since the expensive New York sets had already been constructed –  but insisted on revising the end of the script so as to retain Ballard’s conclusion.

Heston, conscious of his titanic persona, and feeling that Thompson owed him, argued for a more heroic ending, The scenes he scripted acknowledge that, while he cannot save the world, his willingness to sacrifice his own life might bring respite and hope to the remaining survivors of the global climate upheaval.

To everyone’s surprise, Jacobs, irked by Heston, this time backed his director – until mediocre preview screenings changed his mind. Thompson begrudgingly shot Heston’s ending, but the film still performed poorly.

After Thompson’s death in 2002, reels containing footage from his original ending were discovered, enabling its reconstruction in accordance with his notes and those of his editor, Marjorie Fowler.

We are thrilled to present not just the original release version but also the UK premier of the newly-restored director’s cut.

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)
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 – Carry On Getting It Up (Gerald Thomas 1977)

JG-Ballard-photographed-i-006Following the disastrous performance of Carry on England (Thomas 1976), pulled from cinemas after just three days, producer Peter Rogers decided the long-running series of tepid sex comedies needed a change of direction if it was to survive.

For the 29th instalment, he turned to Jack Trevor Story, then enjoying all the notoriety a weekly Guardian column about his disastrous domestic and romantic entanglements could bring.

An occasional and peripheral figure in the British science fiction New Wave, Story rapidly produced a screenplay parodying Ballard’s High Rise (1975). Despite the scepticism of director Gerald Thomas, Rogers took the plunge, in the hope that they could cash in on the publicity for Nicolas Roeg’s official adaptation, then in production.

Kenneth Williams, in his 25th Carry On, is the only series regular to appear, albeit in little more than an extended cameo. He plays Queen, an effeminate architect presiding over a newly erected but already crumbling apartment building, while struggling to finance further ‘erections’. Elke Sommer, in her second Carry On, plays his perpetually aroused but sexually frustrated wife.

Rogers and Thomas turned to a pair of up-and-coming sex comedy stars for their leading men. Martin Shaw, so effective in LWT’s late-sixties Doctor in the House series, was ideal as the dishy doctor Prang, while Lewis Collins, briefly glimpsed in Norman Cohen’s Confessions of a Driving Instructor (1976), proved his perfect foil as the thuggish, proletarian Nobby. The two actors, however, soon fell out.

c0a7577582e2690b5b2454cd5cc72704

Suzanne Danielle, in a role reputedly intended for Mary Millington, plays the unnamed air hostess displaced from Prang’s bed when his sister – Judy Geeson in her second Carry On – appears. Other familiar faces in minor roles and an extended, if utterly innocuous, orgy scene, include Yute Stensgaard, Valerie Leon, Vicki Michelle, Carol Drinkwater and Koo Stark.

Carry On Getting It Up broke even in just one week, which was as long as it lasted in British cinemas before being withdrawn in the face of legal action – but not from the uncredited, and unpaid, Ballard.

Rather, Ernő Goldfinger, apparently unaware that Ballard’s Royal was partly based on him, took umbrage at being depicted as a poor architect and worse heterosexual.

Deciding not to risk a court case, Rogers suppressed the film, and immediately began work on Carry on Emmannuelle, with Kenneth Williams, a handful of series regulars and, in her first named role, Suzanne Danielle.

What – if anything – Ballard made of Carry On Getting It Up remains a mystery. We have been unable to trace any mention of it by him. We are, however, delighted to bring it back to the big screen for the first time since Morph debuted on the telly and Star Wars was a hit.

Other films in the retrospective
Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola 1979)
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)