High Rise Ben
Wheatley (UK; 2015) Tom Huddleston,
Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller.
Viewed: 29 March 2016 Empire Cinema Newcastle; ticket
What a carry-on.
J G Ballard’s work is a grounded writing project of observation and analysis that is guided by metaphysical speculations. In Ballard’s work it is his characters state of mind and speculative psychology that interpret structures and events generated by the built environment. The Ballard characters understand life as a rhizome of interconnected abstract forces that shape and mould their destinies. His work is a virtual dissection of modernism probing through the skin of contemporary life in order to expose a collective para-sympathetic nervous system as it responds and adapts to the provocations of the new order; a thought experiment that tests the careers of physical bodies and their prosthetic extensions into cars airplanes hermetically sealed structures and media. The novels record new connections and paradigms of psychic possibilities in response to the changing order of existence.
For Ballard it is not so much that the traditional drives governing human behaviour have changed. Rather that they are warped and distorted and cannibalised by the new parabolic connections and geometries of modern living. In the actual novel High Rise, Wilder speculates whilst he and one of the continuity girls from the studio are making love. He imagines that if they were interrupted, that on resumption of their enjoyment she would pick up perfectly from the place where they had left off, recalling every one of their gestures thrusts caresses and kisses that had proceeded the interruption. Or in Love and Napalm USA the character equates the bend of a elevated highway with the inner curve of Jackie Kennedy’s thigh, linking them in a future of blood caked deaths.
Ballard doesn’t do characters so much as types or occupations. In effect all his characters are introjected self imaginings of states of consciousness moulded by an outer function: the cost accountant, the orthodontist, the airline pilot.
None of this is easy starting point for film.
Film doesn’t do metaphysics easily. Goddard and Tarkovsky have in different ways produced wondrous movies with a metaphysical core, as have Hitchcock and Mackendrick. But these film makers all knew what they were about, understood the types of statements they were making. In the hands of Ben Wheatley and his script writer Amy Jump, High Rise turns to metaphysical dust. Unable to transpose these projected abstractions onto the screen, Wheatley is left with a setting, a couple of familiar ideas, situations and characters. The resultant mix comes out situation and character dominated which lumps High Rise into a sort of sub-genre Ealing Comedy, driven by familiar British class oppositions intermixed with a dystopian Lord of the Flies play out.
High Rise’s recreation of the high rise structure is the one element of the film that works visually to define the concrete mausoleum envisaged by Ballard. But the problem is what is happening inside this wonderfully conceived digital edifice? Orgies?
This unknowing of what it is that is happening inside the tower dogs High Rise. It is a potpourri of different inputs that are mixed together in increasing desperation. We have a couple of ideas, the symbolic acting out of class conflict in the maw of the tower, the idea of atavistic reversion, but the expression of these ideas is mediated through the expressive device of the British eccentric, the character actor expert at delivering the cameo role. Eccentricity replaces metaphysics as the film’s conceptual resource. Besides the setting of the tower, there are significant subsettings within its carapace: individual apartments, corridors, lifts, the stairwell. Wheatley uses these subsettings for events, and the main type of event in High Rise is the orgy. The orgy is the dominant feature of the film, taking up a lot of its footage. Perhaps Wheatley felt orgies were metaphors for the idea of degeneration, perhaps he felt the audience would be titillated gazing at the sexual posturings of actors body doubles and extras. The duration of the orgy scenes points to directorial anxiety rather than directorial confidence, as the orgies in themselves only incoherently fill out the screen with the explicit rather than the implicit.
Ben Wheatley’s High Rise seems to me to be the very worst sort of filmmaking. Buy a property and exploit it by filling it out with stuff you hope the audience will buy. If it’s a British film you don’t need to worry much about the reviewers, most of them, as part of the UK film industry, will fall in line. It’s a Film making industrial culture encouraged by a financing system dominated by TV companies and private finance companies. It is interesting to note that in the film credits it is the money that comes first. Once it was the stars and actors, once it was the tech people, now the first front credits of most films are dominated by the production companies who have put up the finance. It seems to mean that any potential director has to meet multifarious and perhaps conflicting demands from all the ‘interested’ parties, before they can even begin to want to understand their material. adrin neatrour email@example.com