Tag Archives: Crash

Drive, he said

Cosmopolis, an unreadable novel by Don DeLillo, has begotten a somewhat watchable film from David Cronenberg, which in turn has begotten a highly listenable soundtrack by Cronenberg’s longtime collaborator, Howard Shore. And I do mean “collaborator.” Cronenberg gave Shore his entree to film scoring with The Brood in 1979, and he’s used Shore’s music on all of his subsequent films except The Dead Zone.

Though there are plenty of long-running relationships between directors and composers — I’d be hard-pressed to think of a Steven Spielberg film that hasn’t been scored by John Williams — few compare with Cronenberg and Shore in terms of artistic quality. Alfred Hitchcock relied on Bernard Herrmann to give his films warmth and humanity, to the point that I’d give Bennie co-auteur status on just about all of Hitch’s certified great films. But Shore’s approach is more adaptive than Herrmann’s. His scores for Dead Ringers, Naked Lunch, and Crash, for example, do not announce themselves as Shore’s work the way Vertigo, Marnie, and North by Northwest are instantly recognizable as Herrmann’s compositions. Shore is also exceptionally astute in his choice of collaborators. His use of Ornette Coleman makes Naked Lunch an exceptional soundtrack. The Lord of the Rings is a showcase for beautiful female voices, such as Aivale Cole, Isabel Bayrakadarian and Emiliana Torrini.

Shore’s work for Cosmopolis has some of the same metallic sheen as Crash (appropriately, since cars figure heavily in both flicks), but without the earlier film’s spiky menace. Shore wrote his music to be performed by Metric, a Canadian band with a bright, synthesizer-heavy sound that works for the protagonist’s disaffected mindset. Like the young financier in his stretch limo, the music combines forward motion with a sense of drifting. There are very few composers whose work I want to get even before the film comes out. Shore is one of them.

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Sinister in suburbia

Martin Amis pays tribute to the late author J.G. Ballard:

Ballard was a great exponent of the Flaubertian line — that writers should be orderly and predictable in their lives, so that they can be savage and sinister in their work. He lived in a semi-detached in Shepperton, which might as well have been called “Dunroamin,” and there was the tomato-red Ford Escort parked in its slot in the front garden. When I wrote a long profile of him in 1984, I arrived at 11 in the morning and his first words were “Whisky! Gin! Vodka!” He told me that “Crash freaks” from, say, the Sorbonne would visit him expecting to find a miasma of lysergic-acid and child abuse. But, in fact, what they found was a robustly rounded and amazingly cheerful, positively sunny — suburbanite.

As it turned out, the wildest behavior indulged in by the  author of such wildly disturbing works as The Atrocity Exhibition, Crash and Empire of the Sun was to have a glass of Scotch every hour of the day, starting early in the morning. It wasn’t exactly an indulgence: when Ballard found himself a widower with a demanding writing schedule and children to support, that hourly dose was what he needed to stay functional. He also worked to push back the starting time for that first glass.

I wouldn’t recommend that for anybody else. Personally, I’d stick with coffee — or some nice green tea. But it seemed to work for Ballard, and his books worked for me.

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Ballard bundle

I see that The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard is finally going to get a U.S. edition: 1,200-plus pages encompassing 92 stories. Meanwhile, the jg-ballardexemplary fan site Ballardian has links to obituaries and appreciations, as well as reactions from Ballard’s friends, admirers and colleagues, including Michael Moorcock, Christopher Priest and Toby Litt. And in this interview, Ballard talks about his admiration for William S. Burroughs. Curious to think that Ballard and Burroughs each saw their most infamous novels — Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Ballard’s Crash — turned into David Cronenberg films that were ultimately best remembered for their outrageously creative soundtrack music by Howard Shore. And here’s a list of Ballard novels that almost but never quite became movies, including an adaptation of The Unlimited Dream Company that would have starred Richard Gere, and a list of pop and rock groups that cite Ballard’s work as an inspiration.

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J.G. Ballard

J.G. Ballard died this morning at 79. He was probably best known for his novel Empire of the Sun, a supremely tough and well-wrought tale drawn from his childhood in a Japanese prison camp during World War II, which Steven Spielberg made a brave attempt at adapting for film. I grew up on Ballard’s science fiction work, particularly the mind-warping stories in Chronopolis and Vermilion Sands, but it became clear pretty quickly that “science fiction” was simply a default designation: stories like “The Drowned Giant,” or “The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered As a Downhill Motor Race,” or “The Voices of Time” were sui generis, and Ballard’s work answered to genre conventions only at its weakest.

The violence and alienation in his work put him closer to William S. Burroughs than Robert A. Heinlein — in fact, Burroughs wrote the preface to The Atrocity Exhibition, an outrageous collection of stories and story-fragments Ballard called “condensed novels.” When David Cronenberg adapted Ballard’s difficult and rather repulsive novel Crash into an equally difficult and rather repulsive film, all you could do was marvel at how it had taken so long for the two to come together.

Ballard was better understood and more widely celebrated in the U.K. than the U.S., but I hope the interest stirred up by his death leads to more of his work becoming available.

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