Six Documentaries on the Life and Work of J.G. Ballard, made between 1970 and 2006:
- The Atrocity Exhibition (JG Ballard and the Motorcar) (1970)
- Writers in Conversation: J.G. Ballard (1985)
- The Unmade films of JG Ballard (1990)
- Shanghai Jim (documentary, 1991)
- Profile: J.G. Ballard (BBC, 2003)
- The South Bank Show: J.G. Ballard (ITV, 2006)
James Graham Ballard (15 November 1930–19 April 2009) was an English novelist, short story writer, and prominent member of the New Wave movement in science fiction. His best-known books are Crash (1973), adapted into a film by David Cronenberg, and the semiautobiographical Empire of the Sun (1984), made into a film by Steven Spielberg, based on Ballard’s boyhood in the International Settlement and internment by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War.
The literary distinctiveness of his work has given rise to the adjective “Ballardian”, defined by the Collins English Dictionary as “resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in J. G. Ballard’s novels and stories, especially dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes and the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.”
Ballard was diagnosed with prostate cancer in June 2006, from which he died in London in April 2009.
In 2008, The Times included Ballard on its list of “The 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.
With thanks to UbuWeb
Previously on Cinephilia & Beyond:
J.G. Ballard waited 40 years before writing about his experiences in a Japanese internment camp. Here he remembers how Hollywood hijacked his childhood memories to create a deeply moving film.
Empire of the Sun clapperboard.
Empire of the Sun screenplay by Tom Stoppard. Based on the Novel by J.G. Ballard [pdf]. (NOTE: For educational purposes only)
JG Ballard waited 40 years before writing about his experiences in a Japanese internment camp. Here he remembers how Hollywood hijacked his childhood memories to create a deeply moving film.
Then, in 1987, like a jumbo jet crash-landing in a suburban park, a Hollywood film company came down from the sky. It disgorged an army of actors, makeup artists, set designers, costume specialists, cinematographers and a director, Steven Spielberg, all of whom had strong ideas of their own about wartime Shanghai. After 40 years my memories had shaped themselves into a novel, but only three years later they were mutating again.
Hazy figures now had names and personalities, smiles and glances that I had seen in a dozen other films: John Malkovich, Nigel Havers, Miranda Richardson. With them was a brilliant child actor, Christian Bale, who uncannily resembled my younger self. He came up to me on the set and said: “Hello, Mr Ballard. I’m you.” He was followed by an attractive young couple, Emily Richard and Rupert Frazer, who added: “And we’re your mum and dad.”
Coincidences were building strange bridges. Thanks to the film studios in Shepperton, many of my neighbours worked as extras, and now called out: “Mr Ballard, we’re going to Lunghua together.” Had some deep-cover assignment led me to Shepperton in 1960, knowing that one day I would write a novel about Shanghai, and that part of it would be filmed in Shepperton?
Spielberg, an intelligent and thoughtful man, generously gave me a small role as a guest at the opening fancy-dress party. Warners had rented three houses in Sunningdale to stand in for our Shanghai home. When I arrived at the location I found an armada of buses, vans and coaches that filled entire fields and resembled the evacuation of London. Bizarrely, it also reminded me of the day we were bussed into Lunghua from our assembly point at the American club near the Great Western Road. I can still see the huge crowd of Brits, many of the women in fur coats, sitting with their suitcases around the swimming pool, as if waiting for the water to part and lead them to safety.
The Sunningdale house where the fancy-dress party was filmed closely resembled our Amherst Avenue home, but this at least was no coincidence. The expat British architects in the 1930s who specialised in stockbroker’s Tudor took the Surrey golf course mansions as their model. Past and present were coming full circle. The Warners props department filled the house with period fittings - deco screens and lamps, copies of Time and Life, white telephones and radios the size of sideboards. In the drive outside the front door, uniformed Chinese chauffeurs stood beside authentic Buicks and Packards. A 12-year-old boy ran through the costumed guests, a model aircraft in one hand, racing across the lawn into a dream.
Surprisingly, it was the film premiere in Hollywood, the fount of most of our planet’s fantasies, that brought everything down to earth. A wonderful night for any novelist, and a reminder of the limits of the printed word. Sitting with the sober British contingent, surrounded by everyone from Dolly Parton to Sean Connery, I thought Spielberg’s film would be drowned by the shimmer of mink and the diamond glitter. But once the curtains parted the audience was gripped. Chevy Chase, sitting next to me, seemed to think he was watching a newsreel, crying: “Oh, oh … !” and leaping out of his seat as if ready to rush the screen in defence of young Bale.
I was deeply moved by the film but, like every novelist, couldn’t help feeling that my memories had been hijacked by someone else’s. As the battle of Britain fighter ace Douglas Bader said when introduced to the cast of Reach for the Sky: “But they’re actors.”
Actors of another kind play out our memories, performing on a stage inside our heads whenever we think of childhood, our first day at school, courtship and marriage. The longer we live - and it’s now 60 years since I reluctantly walked out of Lunghua camp - the more our repertory company emerges from the shadows and moves to the front of the stage. Spielberg’s film seems more truthful as the years pass. Christian Bale and John Malkovich join hands by the footlights with my real parents and my younger self, with the Japanese soldiers and American pilots, as a boy runs forever across a peaceful lawn towards the coming war. But perhaps, in the end, it’s all only a movie. —JG Ballard
This is why I love Steven Spielberg.
“The car crash occupies a huge place in the public imagination, particularly among filmgoers and television viewers; it’s almost impossible to see a film these days without a car crash. Now why? What is it about the car crash that so touches a vital part of human experience?” — J.G. Ballard, author of Crash
- ‘Driver´s Side - Director David Cronenberg pulls over to answer AC´s questions about Crash.’, American Cinematographer, April 1997
- The Crash Debate: Anal wounds, metallic kisses, Screen 39: 2, Summer 1998
- Crimes of the Future (on ‘Crash’), Screen 39:2, Summer 1998
- ‘Cronenberg´s Crash - The most audacious picture of 1996 finally comes out in 1997.’ Cinefantastique April 1997
- ‘Crash: David Cronenberg turns S&M injury to S.F. metaphor’, Cinefantastique October 1996
- David Cronenberg interview, Sight and Sound, 6 / 1996
Truly a visionary writer, J. G. Ballard has constructed a body of work marked by recurrent themes and obsessive symbols that is capable of transcending generic codes to decipher the present and propose plausible views of the future. This exhibition offers an itinerary through Ballard’s creative universe: his times and obsessions, his dissection of the secret keys of the contemporary, the traces of his own life in his fictional body of work, his artistic and literary referents, and his precise, disenchanted intuitions of a future life governed by the concepts of aseptic dystopia and disaster.
Ballard’s work represents an open-ended body of work that still has many revelations in store for his readers and the capacity to throw light on the course of our future. An author with an enormous influence on later generations of creators in all disciplines, from fantasy cinema to industrial music, Ballard is the author, among many other works, of The Empire of the Sun and Crash, adapted for the cinema by Spielberg and David Cronenberg, respectively.
The sections of the exhibition are:
• “What I believe”
• From Shanghai to Shepperton
• Landscapes of Dream
• Inner space
• Disaster area
• Technology and pornography
• Asepsis and neo-barbarism
• Bibliographical area
• Ballardian art