Saturday, 26 September 2009

Book Review: The User's Guide to the Millennium: Essays and Reviews by J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard also wrote reviews and articles for newspapers and magazines and the User's Guide to the Millennium is a varied collection of these non-fiction works from the 60's up the mid 90's. They display J.G's wide interests, covering everything from Hollywood to Science Fiction, making manifest his completely original take on the world. Many of the reviews run at a tangent from the subject discussed, drawing from his own reflections and ideas and in no way pretending to be objective, but this does not matter in the slightest as J.G. Ballard is my definition of a genius-totally unique. The best writing for me is mostly from New Worlds magazine in the 1960's, when he was at his most 'cutting edge' and literary respectability (Empire of the Sun) a long way off. Here he defines his own unigue type of science fiction stories against the classic space fiction of conventional SF, looks at the surrealist painters and their influence on him, discusses the importance of William Burroughs for literature and how Hitler and the Nazi's would not be out of place in the garish media landscape of the swinging sixties.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Ballardian Ground Zero: J.G. Ballard's House in Shepperton

Above is J.G. Ballard's semi (on the right) in Shepperton, where he lived since 1960 nearly up to his death in April, 2009. Here he brought up his three children as a single parent (his wife died in 1964) and of course wrote most of his short stories and all of his novels. Here in the everyday suburbs, his middle class neighbours probably oblivious to his literary importance, lived an author who has been compared to such masters of visionary writing as Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka and H.G. Wells. Ballard is like the 18th Century poet and artist William Blake, who lived an obscure domestic life in London but saw angels in the trees of Poplar.
I took these photographs in late July nearly four months after J.G's death, (I live nearby across the Thames in Walton-see my blog postings here and here) and except for the lawn being cut and the net curtains on the top floor drawn back, the house has not changed; his car is still in the drive, nor has the house been put up for sale. As far as I know it's still the same as I write this in September-my brother went past on one of his runs a couple of weeks ago. It was sad (even rather ghostly) standing here for a moment, gazing at this abode of the accumulated imagination, now a mere shell, albeit with its surface details still intact, with its guiding light flown forever.
At the end of J.G's road is the M3 motorway, constructed in the early 70's. At the same time in the house above he was writing Crash. J.G. Ballard mapped out (almost as if sprung from his own imagination) the disturbing and ambiguous terrain we were creating all around us, to the point where we now live in a Ballardian world.

Friday, 11 September 2009

DVD's from my Collection: Five Films Recently Watched

Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy Box Set: Directed by Peter Jackson (2001, 2002, 2003)

The early 21st century and northern European equivalent of the 'sand and sandal' widescreen epics of the 1950's-Ben Hur, Spartacus and the Ray Harryhausen monster pic-just what cinema was invented for.

Sunset Boulevard: Directed by Billy Wilder (1950)

1950's Hollywood artifice seen through a gothic lens. A huge influence on David Lynch and the Coen Brothers-a film noir about faded glory, entrapment and insanity.

Exterminating Angel: Directed by Luis Bunuel (1962)

Guests at a bourgeois dinner party inexplicably find themselves unable to leave and 'civilized' values and upper class mores begin to crumble. Luis Bunuel's surrealist film is a sort of science fiction disaster movie confined within one room with no explanation of causes.

Eraserhead: Directed by David Lynch (1977)

A darkly humorous nightmare about parenthood and other things. Calling this film weird is an understatement.

The Shining: Directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980)

My favourite horror film starring my favourite male actor, Jack Nicholson. From the opening helicopter shot of the Torrance family car moving along the mountain roads, overlaid with brilliantly eerie music, to Nicholson's unhinged performance as axe wielding writer Jack Torrance, this is atmospheric horror at its best.