Death at work: the cinematic imagination of J.G. Ballard

Depper, Corin (2008) Death at work: the cinematic imagination of J.G. Ballard. In: Baxter, Jeannette, (ed.) J. G. Ballard. London, U.K. : Continuum. pp. 50-65. (Contemporary Critical Perspectives) ISBN 9780826497260


Having made his home in Shepperton for the last forty years, JG Ballard has lived much of his creative life in the literal shadow of cinema: perhaps then it is unsurprising that his writing has exhibited such a pervasive fascination with film, as both the embodiment of popular culture in the last century, and as a form that offers new approaches to the experience of the world. This article explores three works by Ballard, 'The Atrocity Exhibition', 'Crash', and 'Empire of the Sun' through their cinematic adaptations, and seeks to demonstrate how Ballard’s work generates a complex series of interactions between literary and cinematic texts, effectively problematising the usually unidirectional relationship between source text and cinematic adaptation. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze’s work on the Cinematic Image and Francis Bacon (and considering Bacon’s own fascination with the proto-cinema of Muybridge and Marey) the work will be explored through a Deleuzian model that allows for the reflection and refraction of image and narrative. It will be argued that Ballard’s works effectively anticipate their cinematic revisioning, suggesting that the supposed ‘unfilmability’ of ‘The Atrocity Exhibition’ and ‘Crash’ lay less in any moral squeamishness, and more in the fact that they are novels that were effectively filmed in the very moment of their writing.

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