Wednesday, 11 January 2012

J. G. Ballard

“Civilised life, you know, is based on a huge number of illusions in which we all collaborate willingly. The trouble is we forget after a while that they are illusions and we are deeply shocked when reality is torn down around us”

Novelist, essayist and short-story writer James Graham Ballard was born in Shanghai, China on 15 November 1930. His family was interned by the Japanese during the Second World War, returning to Britain in 1946. Ballard read Medicine at King's College, Cambridge, and later studied English at London University.

He worked as a copywriter and was stationed in Canada with the Royal Air Force. His first short story was published in 1956. This and many other short stories were published in science fiction magazines and were heavily influenced by the surrealist movement. The short story is seen by many critics as central to Ballard's work, originating and developing themes and obsessions that progress through into his novels. The dislocated sense of time and space in these stories is located in his childhood experience of war and provides many of the images that have become associated with Ballard's fiction: wrecked machinery, deserted beaches, crashed cars, abandoned buildings and empty, desolate landscapes - 'still-life arranged by a demolition squad' as Ballard himself described his settings in an interview with BBC Radio 3 ('Nightwaves' 30 October 2001). Complete Short Stories was published in 2001, and a second volume of stories in 2006.

His early novels include The Drowned World (1962), The Wind from Nowhere (1962), The Drought (1965) and The Crystal World (1966). These were followed by more experimental novels, such as The Atrocity Exhibition (1970), Concrete Island (1974) and High-Rise (1975), establishing Ballard's reputation with both readers and critics as a cult avant-garde writer. His 1973 novel Crash, in which a car-crash provokes a disturbing series of obsessions in the narrator, was made into a film by David Cronenberg.

Ballard's acclaimed and best-selling novel Empire of the Sun (1984) brought him to wider public attention. The novel drew directly on his childhood wartime experiences and won the Guardian Fiction Prize, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (for fiction) and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction. It was made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1988.

Cocaine Nights (1996), a thriller set in a community of expatriates living on the Spanish Costa del Sol, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award. His novel, Super-Cannes (2000), a vision of corporate dystopia set in the south of France, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book). His novel Millennium People (2003), is a tale of violent political protest and social change. J. G. Ballard's last novel was Kingdom Come (2006). In 2008, his autobiography, Miracles of Life, was published.

James Graham Ballard, novelist, born November 15 1930, died, after a long battle with cancer, on 19 April 2009.

Selected bibliography, in reverse order... 2008 Miracles of Life, Fourth Estate. 2006 Kingdom Come, Fourth Estate. 2006 Complete Short Stories: Volume 2, Harper Perennial. 2005 Conversations, with V. Vale, RE/Search Publications. 2003 Millennium People, Flamingo. 2001 Complete Short Stories, Flamingo. 2000 Super-Cannes, Flamingo. 1996 Cocaine Nights, Flamingo. 1995 A User's Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews, Harper Collins. 1994 Rushing to Paradise, Flamingo. 1992 The Voices of Time, Orion. 1991 The Kindness of Women, Harper Collins. 1990 War Fever, Collins. 1988 Running Wild, Hutchinson. 1987 The Day of Creation, Gollancz. 1984 Empire of the Sun, Gollancz. 1982 Myths of the Near Future, Cape. 1981 Hello America, Cape. 1980 The Venus Hunters, Granada. 1979 The Unlimited Dream Company, Cape. 1976 Low-flying Aircraft: and Other Stories, Cape. 1975 High-Rise, Cape. 1974 Concrete Island, Cape. 1973 Vermilion Sands, Cape. 1973 Crash, Cape. 1970 The Atrocity Exhibition, Cape. 1967 The Overloaded Man, Cape. 1967 The Disaster Area, Cape. 1967 The Day of Forever, Panther. 1966 The Crystal World, Cape. 1965 The Drought, Cape. 1964 The Terminal Beach, Gollancz. 1963 The Four-Dimensional Nightmare, Gollancz. 1962 The Drowned World, Gollancz. 1961 The Wind from Nowhere, Gollancz.

“I would sum up my fear about the future in one word: boring. And that's my one fear: that everything has happened; nothing exciting or new or interesting is ever going to happen again ... the future is just going to be a vast, conforming suburb of the soul”

Further information here, here & here.

Video content here, here & here.

The Changes (BBC 1975)

"They're awful, they frighten me, they're evil and wicked and dangerous!"

Director: John Prowse. Written by Peter Dickinson (novel) & Anna Home (adapter). Original run: 6 January 1975 – 10 March 1975.

Regular cast: Vicky Williams as Nicky Gore, Keith Ashton as Jonathon, David Garfield as Davy Gordon, Rafiq Anwar as Chacha, Zuleika Robson as Margaret & Raghbir Brar as Gopal.

10 episodes: The Noise, The Bad Wires, The Devil's Children, Hostages, Witchcraft, A Pile of Stones, Heartsease, Lightning!, The Quarry & The Cavern.

The Changes is a British children's science fiction television serial filmed in 1973 and first broadcast in 1975 by the BBC. It was directed by John Prowse. It is based on the trilogy written by Peter Dickinson: The Weathermonger (1968), Heartsease (1969) and The Devil's Children (1970) (the books were written in reverse order: the events of The Devil's Children happen first, Heartsease second and The Weathermonger third).

The Changes posits a Britain where a sudden enveloping noise emanating from all machinery and technology causes the population to destroy them. The resulting upheaval displaces many people and reverts society to a pre-industrial age where there is a deep suspicion of anyone who may be harbouring machinery. Even the words for technology are taboo. The remnants of modern technology that escape destruction (such as electricity pylons) produce a physical and sometimes violent repulsion among those left in Britain.

The Changes are seen through the eyes of teenage schoolgirl Nicky Gore (Victoria Williams), and the 10-part series, originally broadcast every Monday from 6 January to 10 March 1975, traces Nicky's quest to reunite with her parents and solve the mystery. The serial's theme echoes contemporaneous adult drama series Survivors in which a small group of British people attempt to survive the annihilation of the world's population by disease.

Despite its modest budget, The Changes was noted for its extensive location filming in Bristol, the Forest of Dean and Sharpness. Its original premise, downbeat tone and Sikh characters make it an acclaimed example of 1970s British television.

The theme and incidental music, composed by Paddy Kingsland, combines the sound of an EMS Synthi 100 synthesiser with a small live band (horn, sitar and percussion). Kingsland went on to score both the radio and TV adaptations of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and incidental music for a number of Doctor Who stories in the early 1980s.

The first episode, seeing ordinary people smash ordinary objects in fits of seeming madness made a great impact on its young audience, although the pace slowed through the serial and the denouement was rather diluted from the book's original premise.

Described by BBC continuity as "a serial for older children", the TV series was freely adapted by Anna Home from a trilogy of novels by Peter Dickinson. The series took most of its material from The Weathermonger which, together with Heartsease and The Devil's Children has recently been reissued in a single volume in the UK. In the original books, however, the lead character of Nicky Gore appears only in The Devil's Children — the books have entirely separate characters, and Nicky is introduced into scenarios in which she does not appear in the books, mixing with characters from the other two books. Also, the time span of The Changes is considerably reduced from that in the original trilogy.

Futher information here, here & here.

Video content here, here & here.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů) — A film by Jaromil Jireš

Written in 1935 at the height of Czech Surrealism but not published until 1945, Vitezslav Nezval's Valerie a týden divů, better known as Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, is a bizarre erotic fantasy of a young girl's maturation into womanhood on the night of her first menstruation.

Referencing Matthew Lewis's The Monk, Marquis de Sade's Justine, K. H. Macha's May, F. W. Murnau's film Nosferatu, Nezval employs the language of the pulp serial novel to construct a lyrical, menacing dream of sexual awakening involving a vampire with an insatiable appetite for chicken blood, changelings, lecherous priests, a malicious grandmother, and an androgynous merging of brother with sister.

Jaromil Jireš' Valerie a týden divů, better know as Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, (Czechoslovakia, 1970) is one of those haunting, dream-like films that once seen is difficult to forget. The sexual awakening of adolescent Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) provides the major theme, ornately rendered as a symbol-soaked gothic fairytale. Elements drawn from the horror genre operate in conjunction with the type of gentle soft-core art imagery that can be found in other European sexual initiation films of the 1970s, such as Emmanuelle (1974), Bilitis (1977) and The Story of O (Histoire d'O, 1975).

One of the seductive attractions of Valerie a týden divů is its magical trance-inducing quality. The carefully-crafted sets, the hypnotic harpsichord, flute and choir-based music, and the predominance of thematically significant white in the colour co-ordinated palette all add to the film's particular audio-visual ambience of artifice.

In addition to the use of elliptical editing, the crystalline quality of the photography is simply stunning, capturing in some scenes the beauty of early summer light sparkling on water and illuminating the pastoral landscape, which is set against dark, decaying, cobweb-strewn crypts. The film bears some resemblance in stylistic terms to the East German fairytale films made by DEFA (such as The Singing Ringing Tree [Der Singende, klingende Bäumchen, 1957]), sharing the use of fantastic, almost surrealist imagery.

That the film makes the sexual subtext of many fairytales overt in transgressive terms is perhaps what attracted UK-based Redemption, a company that specialises in sexploitation and horror films, to release the film on video in 1994. With its non-linear story structure and characters that transform in the blink of an eye, Valerie a týden divů twists and turns much in the irrational manner of a dream. Events unfold from Valerie's subjective point of view, beginning when her brother (if he really is her brother) steals the pearl earrings she inherited from her apparently dead mother. The theft coincides significantly with the onset of her first period. From then on, Valerie is plunged into the strange world of adult desire, with its terrible and intriguing secrets.

Valerie's burgeoning sensuality is established in the opening credits: the camera lingers with fetishistic fascination on her mouth, face and hair. Variously, she tastes the bright water bubbling from a fountain, eats ripe cherries, nestles a dove against her chest and drinks in the scent of a bunch of small, white, wild flowers.

Everything in Valerie's world becomes full of wonder, which she experiences in an invigorated and heightened manner. Like the heroines of pre-sanitised fairytales, she faces all the mysteries that come her way boldly and with wide-eyed curiosity. Tailing the opening sequence is Valerie's contemplation of her bell-like earrings, which carry magical powers. While there are many enigmas in the film, the earrings seem somehow key to the events which follow.

Their symbolic significance is underlined early on, as the aural motif that represents them (a series of sing-songy notes played on the glockenspiel) also accompanies the fall of a few drops of Valerie's first menstrual blood onto a daisy. The earrings have a central place in the film's "family romance." Valerie's white-haired, smooth-faced grandmother tells her to get rid of them, as they are a danger to her; she claims to have bought them from the vampire-priest-constable who acts—albeit slightly ambiguously—as the villain of the film (and who may or may not be Valerie's father)... Tanya Krzywinska.

Produced by Jirí Becka. Directed by Jaromil Jireš. Written by Vitezslav Nezval (novel). Jaromil Jireš (screenplay) & Ester Krumbachová (screenplay). Jirí Musil (dialogue). Starring: Jaroslava Schallerová, Helena Anýžová, Karel Engel, Jan Klusák & Petr Kopriva. Original Music by Lubos Fiser & Jan Klusák. Cinematography by Jan Curík. Film Editing by Josef Valusiak. Production Design by Ester Krumbachová. Art Direction by Jan Oliva. Costume Design by Eva Lackingerová. Makeup Department. Ladislav Bacilek - makeup artist (as Ladislav Bacílek). Production Management: Olga Mimrova - deputy head of production. Second Unit Director or Assistant Director: Ota Koval - first assistant director. Art Department: Josef Calta - set designer, Vera Flasarová - props, Stepánka Kolusková - props. Sound Department: Emil Poledník - sound. Camera and Electrical Department: Oldrich Hubácek - camera operator, Jan Kudela - still photographer. Music Department: Frantisek Belfín - conductor. Other crew: Bedrich Kubala - production team. Ladislav Novotný - production team. Distributed by Janus Films (US release). Release date(s): 1970 (UK) & 1974 (US release). Running time: 73 min. Language: Czech.

Further information here, here & here – Video content here, here & here – Listen to the soundtrack here. Imaginary Penguin paperback: Gregory Boerum.