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)

 

Advertisements

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)

 

 

The City in Fiction and Film, week 9: The Secret Agent, part one

41Pi137AB+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_week 8

We started this week with the material on the Situationists and the dérive that we did not have time to cover last week, before turning to the first half of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent (1907) – which to be honest I was a little anxious about, given the events in Beirut and Paris last weekend – and a very quick discussion of The Third Man (Carol Reed UK 1949), which we watched in the morning.

The Situationist International (SI) was a group of primarily Paris-based anti-Stalinist Marxists influenced by Dada and Surrealism, which existed from 1957-1972. Their key theoretical activity was to develop Marx’s ideas on alienation and commodity fetishism, broadly arguing that capitalism had become so extensive and intensive that life was no longer experienced directly but through commodities; and that it was necessary to find ways to shatter the commodified spectacle of everyday life. They brilliantly and correctly called for automation to be developed not so as to maximise profit but so as to liberate everyone into lives of freedom and leisure and creativity. And of greater relevance here, they developed a number of theorised practices or ways of critically intervening in the city, including détournement – turning the spectacle against itself through pranks, culture jamming, reality hacks – and such psychogeographical experiments as the dérive.

Differing from the journey (which has a clear destination) and the stroll (which is typically aimless), the dérive is concerned with movement through urban space with a kind of double-consciousness. On the one hand, it is about allowing the ‘attractions of the terrain and the encounters’ found there to organise your movement and experience of the varying ambiances of the city space. On the other hand, it requires a conscious attention to the effects this drifting and these shifting environments have on you. The dérive is both planned – you know your starting point, who your companions (if any) might be, you do not have a specific destination but you do have a broad aim – and unplanned, since you cannot know in advance precisely where your feet will be drawn and who/what you might meet. It can seem random, but the structures of the city also play a determining role, deliberately and accidentally guiding you through its ‘constant currents, fixed points and vortexes’ – physical routes and barriers, but also psychological ones. (It is instructive that Abdelhafid Khattib, the Algerian Arab who was part of the SI and one of the early psychogeographical experimenters was arrested by the police for activities his white French colleagues could undertake unchallenged.)

Returning briefly to Cleo from 5 to 7, we could see ways in which Cleo – who last week we considered as a potential flâneuse – might be thought of as underaking a dérive, more obviously in the second half of the film when an overheard conversation in a café reminds her of her friend, the model Dorothée, which leads her through different aspects of and locations in Paris and various unanticipated encounters. (We will return to some of these issues in a couple of weeks when we focus on Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (De Sica Italy 1948).)

But this was obviously the point to clumsily segue into a brief introduction to Joseph Conrad, sketching in some biography, his early association with Impressionism (see the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897)), his omnivorous  consumption and reworking of raw materials (autobiography, people he met, fiction he read – which lead to charges of plagiarism in Poland –  and real news events – including the French anarchist Martial Bourdin’s presumed attempt to blow up the Greenwich observatory on 15 February 1894, which inspired The Secret Agent).

Conrad is typically considered one of the first British modernist novelists, particularly in regard to his ironic style and the sense of scepticism, melancholy, pessimism, constraint and doom that looms over his fiction (putting him somewhere between Dostoevsky and Kafka).

To help establish this mood or tone, we took a look at this fabulous passage in a letter he wrote to Cunninghame Graham in December 1897 (if I was the kind of person who sent out a family newsletter with Xmas cards, I would be tempted to adopt this). Conrad says that the universe

evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! – it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider – but it goes on knitting. You come and say: “this is all right; it’s only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this – for instance – celestial oil and the machine shall embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold.” Will it? Alas no. You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tragic accident –and it has happened. You can’t interfere with it. The last drop of bitterness is in the suspicion that you can’t even smash it. … it is what it is  – and it is indestructible!

It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions  – and nothing matters.

(Which always makes me think of The Clangers – and of that moment of sheer existential terror when the fabric of the universe rips apart in that episode of Button Moon. (I am so street! I am so down with the kids!))

In Conrad’s own description of the origins of the novel he describes how

the vision of an enormous town presented itself, of a monstrous town more populous than some continents and in its man-made might as indifferent to heaven’s frowns and smiles; a cruel devourer of the world’s light. There was enough room there to place any story, depth enough there for any passion, variety enough there for any setting, darkness enough to bury five millions of lives.

And our treatment of the city in the novel will largely focus on this depiction of London as a monstrous, indifferent and cruel place; as a dark grave in which its inhabitants are buried; as an exemplar of modern anonymity; as claustral and carceral; as somewhere that blurs the distinction between home and work; as an amoral structure inhabited by spectral, untethered characters trapped in death-in-life existences; as a place of darkness, secrecy, mechanisation, hierarchy and control.

[Page references are to the current Penguin Classics edition.]

The first passage we looked at, though, was the one in which Mr Vladimir outlines his rationale for targeting the Greenwich Observatory in the faked anarchist bomb outrage. He begins by dismissing the assassination of a head of state, because such actions are now so commonplace that they are no longer spectacular enough. Attacking churches would just muddy the waters with claims that such attacks are religiously motivated; attacking a theatre or restaurant would be passed off as a ‘non-political passion: the exasperation of a hungry man, an act of social revenge’ (26). Of the latter two options, Vladimir notes – with a timeliness the students also noted – that ‘every newspaper has ready-made phrases to explain such manifestations away’ (26).

Instead, Vladimir favours an attack that defies such easy narrativisation – it must be something so irrational-seeming as to defy our capacity to explain it away. You could attack art – plant a bomb in the National Gallery – but the only people who would cause a fuss would be ‘artists – art critics and such like – people of no account’ (26). But if you could find a way to attack science – ‘any imbecile with an income believes in that. … They believe that in some mysterious way science is at the source of their material prosperity’ (26-7). And if you could find away to attack the purest, most abstract-seeming of science – ‘if one could throw a bomb into pure mathematics’ (27) – it would be so ‘incomprehensible, inexplicable, almost unthinkable’ as to be ‘truly terrifying’ (27).

Attacking the Greenwich Observatory is not just an attack on astronomy, the next best option after maths, but also on the global order. It is an attack on the Greenwich meridian, on the military and commercial imperial web imposed upon the world. It is an attack on the seat of power.

And it is a plan conceived from the lofty view, the god’s-eye perspective, we discussed last week in relation to the de Certeau observing New York from the top of the World Trade Centre. The remainder of Conrad’s novel is set down on street level, in the grubby poetry written by his characters transiting through, and pausing to rest in, the city.

Next we took a look at the way in which Conrad depicts the anarchists: the fat, pasty, wheezing, resigned martyr, Michaelis; the grim, giggling, toothless, balding, goateed, dry-throated, deformed-handed, malevolent-eyed Karl Yundt, whose ‘worn-out passion’ resembles ‘in its impotent fierceness the excitement of a senile sensualist’ (34); and the ethnically ambiguous Comrade Ossipon, who has a ‘flattened nose and prominent mouth cast in the rough mould of the negro type’ and ‘almond-shaped eyes’ that leer ‘languidly’ (35).

Conrad’s descriptions draw upon cultural codes, familiar from popular fiction, yellow journalism and elsewhere, to construct images of unsavouriness and thus to link physical appearance to morality. This is not restricted to the anarchists; later, he describes Sir Ethelred, the government minister, in similarly grotesque terms. Indeed, most – if not all – of the characters in the novel are grotesques. They are the undead adrift in the city, trapped and deformed (physically and morally) by it.

At the end of the section in chapter 3 when the anarchists are described, Ossipon finds the idiot-boy Stevie obsessively drawing, as is his wont, circles. Alluding to Lombroso’s pseudo-science of ‘criminal anthropology’, Ossipon describes young Stevie as a perfect example of degeneracy. Verloc seems sceptical.

It is a curious moment. Conrad seems to be declaring that it is erroneous to make categorical judgments based on appearances even as he relies on his readers doing precisely that. Characters are trapped by their appearances into playing certain roles, just as the city entraps them, constraining and channelling them, serving them up to their fates.

We will return to the novel next week.

In closing, we had a very few minutes to talk about The Third Man. It is set in post-war Vienna, a city which was divided until 1955 into four zones, each governed by a different Allied nation (UK, US, France, USSR), with the international zone in the centre governed by all four powers. As with The Secret Agent, it makes apparent the complex governance structures of a particular which, as in M, is doubled by an underground that seeks to evade those overlapping, panoptical administrative structures. These representations can also help us begin to see the structuration of all cities.

Looking backward, the famous scene on top of the Ferris wheel, in which Harry Lime (Orson Welles) tries to persuade Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) of the statistical insignificance of individuals so as to justify his own monstrous crimes, recalls the view from atop the World Trade Centre that de Certeau talks about. Looking forward, it is a film set amid the rubble – a Trümmerfilm. It signals the ongoing presence of trauma and the urgent need for reconstruction that we will consider in relation to Bicycle Thieves and Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius UK 1949) before the end of this semester, and which will inform our study of Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard France/Italy 1965), Le couple témoin/The Model Couple (William Klein 1977) and JG Ballard’s High Rise (1975) next semester.

week 10

Recommended critical reading
Anderegg, Michael A. “Conrad and Hitchcock: The Secret Agent Inspires Sabotage.” Literature/Film Quarterly 3.3 (1975): 215–25.
Bernstein, Stephen. “Politics, Modernity and Domesticity: The Gothicism of Conrad’s The Secret Agent.” CLIO 32.3 (2003): 285–301.
Harrington, Ellen Burton. “The Anarchist’s Wife: Joseph Conrad’s Debt to Sensation Fiction in The Secret Agent.” Conradiana 36.1–2 (2004): 51–63.
Kim, Sung Ryol. “Violence, Irony and Laughter: The Narrator in The Secret Agent.” Conradiana 35.1–2 (2003): 75–97.
Leitch, Thomas. “Murderous Victims in The Secret Agent and Sabotage.” Literature/Film Quarterly 14.1 (1986): 64–8.
Mathews, Cristina. “‘The Manner of Exploding’: Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent and Men at Home.” Conradiana 42.3 (2010): 17–44.
Mennel, Barbara. Cities and Cinema. London: Routledge, 2008. See chapter 5, “The City in Ruins and the Divided City: Berlin, Belfast, and Beirut.”
Shaffer, Brian W. “‘The Commerce of Shady Wares’: Politics and Pornography in Conrad’s The Secret Agent.” ELH 62.2 (1995): 443–66.
Sinowitz, Michael. “Graham Greene’s and Carol Reed’s The Third Man.” Modern Fiction Studies 53.3 (2007): 405–33.
Stape, J.H., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Joseph Conrad. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Recommended reading
Conrad’s Under Western Eyes (1991) is often seen as a companion novel to Secret Agent.
Novels of urban underworlds include Liam O’Flaherty’s The Informer (1925), Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock (1938) and The Third Man (1950), Gerald Kersh’s Night and the City (1938), Nelson Algren’s The Man with the Golden Arm (1949), Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke (1952), Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Erasers (1953) and Hubert Selby, Jr’s Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964).
The criminalisation of sexual dissidence led to an often autobiographical fiction of queer underworlds and marginal urban existence, including James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956), John Rechy’s City of Night (1963), Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance (1978), Larry Kramer’s Faggots (1978), Alan Hollinghhurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library (1988), Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993) and Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin (1995).

Recommended viewing
Conrad’s novel was filmed as Sabotage (Hitchcock 1936), which we will watch next week, and The Secret Agent (Hampton 1996).
Ambiguous underworlds appear in a vast array of films, including The Informer (Ford 1935), Pépé le moko (Duvivier 1937), Brighton Rock (Boulting 1947), The Blue Lamp (Dearden 1950), Night and the City (Dassin 1950), A Generation (Wajda 1955), Canal (Wajda 1957), Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda 1958), À bout de soufflé (Godard 1960), Hell is a City (Guest 1960), The Yards (Gray 2000), We Own the Night (Gray 2007) and Killing Them Softly (Dominik 2012).
Films about marginalised urban sexualities include Midnight Cowboy (Schlesinger 1969), Working Girls (Borden 1986), Paris is Burning (Livingstone 1990), Young Soul Rebels (Julien 1991), The Wedding Banquet (Lee 1993), Exotica (Egoyan 1994), Beautiful Thing (MacDonald 1996), Nowhere (Araki 1997), Fucking Åmål/Show Me Love (Moodysson 1998) and Mysterious Skin (Araki 2004).

120 years of sf cinema, part four: 1955-64

2015 marks the 120th anniversary of sf cinema. This is the fourth part of a year-by-year list of films I’d recommend (not always for the same reasons).

Part one (1895-1914), part two (1915-1934), part three (1935-54)

1955
journey-to-the-beginning-of-time
Cesta do Praveku/Journey to the Beginning of Time (Karel Zeman)
Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich)
The Quatermass Xperiment (Val Guest)
Revenge of the Creature (Jack Arnold)
This Island Earth (Joseph Newman)

1956
Forbidden Planet (Fred M. Wilcox)
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel)
Not of this Earth (Roger Corman)
Plan 9 from Outer Space (Edward D. Wood, Jr)
X the Unknown (Leslie Norman)

1957cushing-in-close-up
The Abominable Snowman (Val Guest)
Chikyu Boeignu/The Mysterians (Ishirô Honda)
The Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
The Incredible Shrinking Man (Jack Arnold)
Quatermass II (Val Guest)

1958
I Married a Monster from Outer Space (Gene Fowler, Jr)
The Revenge of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher)
Vynalez Zkazy/The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (Karel Zeman)

1959
The World, the Flesh and the Devil (Ranald MacDougall)
Les yeux sans visage/Eyes without a Face (Georges Franju)worldfleshdevil7

1960
Der Schweigende Stern/The Silent Star (Kurt Maetzig)
Die Tausend Augen des Dr Mabuse/The Thousand Eyes of Mr Mabuse (Fritz Lang)
Village of the Damned (Wolf Rilla)

1961220px-Amphibian_Man
L’Anée dernière à Marienbad/Last Year in Marienbad (Alain Resnais)
Chelovek Amfibia/The Amphibian Man (Guennadi Kazansky and Vladimir Chebotarev)
The Damned (Joseph Losey)
The Day the Earth Caught Fire (Val Guest)
Mosura/Mothra (Ishirô Honda)

1962
Gritos en la Noche/The Awful Dr Orloff (Jess Franco)
Planeta Bur/Cosmonauts on Venus (Pavel Klushantsev)
The Manchurian Candidate (John Frankenheimer)

1963
Children of the Damned (Anton M. Leader)
Ikarie XB-1 (Jindrich Polak)
La Jetée (Chris Marker)
King Kong Tai Gojira/King Kong versus Godzilla (Ishirô Honda)
Lord of the Flies (Peter Brook)
Matango/Attack of the Mushroom People (Ishirô Honda)
The Mind Benders (Basil Dearden)
X-The Man with X-Ray Eyes (Roger Corman)

matango_1963_01

1964
Dr Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (Stanley Kubrick)
Fail Safe (Sidney Lumet)
Seven Days in May (John Frankenheimer)

part five (1965-74)