It’s early on Monday morning, and I’ve just seen producer Jeremy Thomas and director Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise. Maybe that’s why I’m in a slightly shitty mood.
Not because it’s not a good movie. It is. I think.
High-Rise‘s pedigree would certainly suggest I should enjoy it. Thomas had originally tried to film the novel with blog favourite Nic Roeg in the director’s chair. Which suggests good taste and a feel for the material. And even if Ballard hasn’t yet elbowed his way onto my reading list, the things I read and hear about his sensibility suggest that moment it getting closer.
Peter Bradshaw’s review of High-Rise is pretty bang-on, I think. It captures my discomfort with proclaiming it a good movie, precisely because it is. Even if I hesitate to link to The Grauniad these days. I had hoped to tie the movie in with my recent visit to the new Switch House at the Tate Modern, when I saw a new piece on the privacy issues it occasions for the neighbouring apartment buildings in the paper. But Deborah Orr’s piece was so self-indulgent, I had to turn away. (J’accuse, Stroke Bloke – Ed.)
Still, as I read more about High-Rise, it lead me in some more interesting directions. For fans of urban-brutalism – Hi, Mom! – the BFI has a list of 10 Great Tower Block Movies.
And I wonder if my funk is also occasioned by a sense of dislocation vis-a-vis my former adopted homeland on the western side of the Atlantic as I read the news from America. Even though I’m very aware of the pitfalls inherent in assuming any sort of (positive) British exceptionalism as much as the American brand. And I’d like to think that I make some kind of attempt to apply that kind of scepticism to Scotland, too.
The Herald reports here on US drone strikes that have “provoked huge controversy due to the secrecy surrounding the operations and because they have taken place in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – nations with which the US is not at war.”
But the reason The Herald is reporting on this, this week is that “[p]rogrammes to pinpoint the locations of terrorist suspects for ‘targeted killing’ drone strikes by tracking where they access the internet, were developed at RAF Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire, which largely staffed by staff from the US National Security Agency (NSA).”
In the story, The Herald cites US attorney Jennifer Gibson, a project lead for drones with human rights organisation Reprieve, who notes that although the British government has banned the death penalty, it cooperates with drone strikes, in which case intelligence agencies decide “who lives or dies” without any accountability.
That’s not a policy pivot, it’s a Kellyanne Conway-inspired messaging pivot. The idea was to make it sound like he was ‘softening’ in hopes of bringing home suburban voters, mostly women, who are uncomfortable voting for a racist.
And the triumph of tone over substance brings us back to J.G. Ballard’s dystopian world. In 1968, Ballard wrote the pamphlet, Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan. As Ian Wiki explains, “[i]t was written in the style of a scientific paper and catalogues an apocryphal series of bizarre experiments intended to measure the psychosexual appeal of Ronald Reagan, who was then the Governor of California and candidate for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.”
Ballard’s explanation of the inspiration for the piece in the 1990 edition of The Atrocity Exhibition, in which he notes Reagan’s use of “the smooth, teleprompter-perfect tones of the TV auto-salesman to project a political message that was absolutely the reverse of bland and reassuring,” feels timely. Trump uses a kind of parody of plain-spoken authenticity to effect a similar sleight-of-hand.
Above all, it struck me that Reagan was the first politician to exploit the fact that his TV audience would not be listening too closely, if at all, to what he was saying, and indeed might well assume from his manner and presentation that he was saying the exact opposite of the words actually emerging from his mouth.
But cheer up, there’s always disco. Here’s some Abba. Kind of.