Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Atrocity Exhibition

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

The Atrocity Exhibition

Article excerpt

The Atrocity Exhibition (Jonathan Weiss US 2001). Reel23. PAL region 0. 4:3. euro24.99. Available from www.reel23.com.

Mark Bould

Assuming it is even possible, to what extent and in what ways should adaptations remain faithful to their sources? All manner of possibilities emerge when the adaptation is free of the constraints of respectability, accessibility and banal fidelity that a studio budget tends to entail, and when the source is supposedly 'unfilmable', as is the case with Weiss's independently financed adaptation of J. G. Ballard's novel.

Ballard's and Ballardian prose is recited in voiceover and by carefully positioned actors - affectless mannequins in static tableaux. The camera is locked or tracks slowly. Interspersed is footage of Hiroshima survivors, crash test dummies, nuclear tests, Kennedy's assassination, plastic surgery, the Challenger disaster, the war in Vietnam, penetration, Marilyn Monroe. A voiceover posits that the film was shot by Dr Travis (Victor Slezak), misappropriating the institution's equipment and funds, as therapy, but is uncertain for whom. Often, however, its mixture of stock footage and re-enacted scenes feels more like a high-end BBC documentary profile of Ballard, with the talking heads and explicatory arc excised. Some shots are strikingly composed, particularly when situating humans among architecture, but they lack the clinical precision of Cronenberg's adaptation of Ballard's Crash (Canada/UK 1996) and never achieve the gorgeous insanities of Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle (1995-2002). The static set-ups and slow tracks suggest Tarkovksy, but lack his attention to rhythm, to sculpting in time. While the film is never as torpid as, say, a classical Hollywood adaptation of Hemingway, its languor is strangely at odds both with Ballard's surrealist prose montage and the media landscape he dissected. …

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