A Benign Psychopathology – The Films of J. G. Ballard

Back in July of 2009, I put up an article about some of the attempts to adapt J. G. Ballard’s work for the screen and, in particular, Harley Cokliss’ take on “Crash!”, one of the sections from Ballard’s experimental novel/short-story collection The Atrocity Exhibition (1969).  That article was written in order to help me work out a few ideas for a much longer piece I was writing for Vector – The Critical journal of the British Science Fiction Association.  That longer piece turned out quite nicely and, as it has been a bit slow around here recently, I have obtained permission to republish it online – at least until the BSFA sorts out their mooted online archive.

So, many thanks to Niall Harrison for giving me permission to republish this online and I suggest that all those not already members join the BSFA immediately, if only to get the chance to read Vector.

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Ballard before Cokliss, Cokliss before Ballard, Ballard before Cronenberg

I am currently researching a piece on the films of J. G. Ballard and I came across what appears to be a rather interesting cinematic feedback loop.  In 1996, David Cronenberg adapted Ballard’s 1973 novel CrashCrash was an expansion of the ideas contained in “Crash!”, one of the sections of Ballard’s splendidly disjointed modernist collection of condensed novels The Atrocity Exhibition (1969).

However, the line between “Crash!” (1969) and Crash (1996) is not that typical of most literary adaptations.  Traditionally, the progress of forms is from short story to novel and from novel to film.  However, in this case, the line is broken by a cinematic interloper.  In between the publication of The Atrocity Exhibition and the publication of Crash (1973), Ballard’s ideas found their way into a short film by Harley Cokliss.  Not only starring but also written and narrated by Ballard himself, Crash! (1971) is somewhere between a televised essay, a work of audiovisual art and a traditional short film.  It is also quite a distinctive work when compared to its literary precursor and successor.  Indeed, by looking at the changes between the different Crash pieces, it is possible to gain an insight into Ballard’s methodologies.

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