Writing for the New Statesman in March 2016, Will Self mulled over what his friend Jim (the novelist J G Ballard to the rest of us mortals) would have thought about Ben Wheatley’s 2015 screen adaptation. Read an extract from Self’s article below.
In Ballard’s novel, the eponymous high-rise is presciently sited where One Canada Square, the iconically dull centrepiece of Canary Wharf, raised its ugly, pyramidal head a decade or so later; and although the notion of a war between social classes occupying higher and lower floors of a giant tower block might, in the mid-1970s, have seemed to be taking flight from the perceived problems of brutalist public housing, Ballard’s tale anticipates the London skyline of today, with its row upon row of “luxury” apartment blocks, inflated into salience by global gusts of flight capital.
It is difficult to locate the site of Wheatley’s and Jump’s high-rise precisely – the film was shot on location in the old Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast but there is a teasing ambiguity in the medium and long shots, with London seemingly ever hovering on the smoggy horizons. Perhaps the boldest decision that the film-makers have made, however, is to set their adaptation not in the near-future of 2016 but in that of 1974. Ballard once said that he was only interested in what will happen in “the next five minutes”; and it is undoubtedly this enthusiasm for the inchoate that gives his tales their air of the unexpected. By reverse-engineering an imagined future in which men with handlebar moustaches ply cine cameras while saturnalian suburbanites trash their futuristic pads, Wheatley and Jump have introduced a perverse note of humour to what is otherwise a very grim series of events.
This article was first published in the 17th March 2016 issue of the New Statesman and appeared the following day on the digital site. The full article is available to read here.
Our next event takes place on the 1st April 2019 and will mark the 10th anniversary of British author J. G. Ballard’s death, with an event on his 1975 novel High-Rise. Our panel will feature three expert speakers on contemporary literature, science fiction and urban design: Prof. Roger Luckhurst, Dr. Aiden Tynan, and Dr. Günter Gassner.
We look forward to seeing you there!
Tickets are available on Eventbrite.