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'All about stars and time…'

Author: • Jun 25th, 2008 •

Category: alternate worlds, Ballardosphere, deep time, film

Ballardian: Jean Seberg

ABOVE: Jean Seberg as Louise?

Ballard archivist David Pringle knows of my obsession with Ballardian film and he has supplied me with a few more crumbs. Searching for Ballardiana on Google Books, David came across a reference to a book called Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (2004, 480 pages), by Jonathan Rosenbaum, an American film critic.

The reference contains the following passage about a film of The Crystal World that never was, (un)starring Jean Seberg. David says: ‘Unfortunately it tells us no more about the Ballard film project. Who the film producer “friend of mine who was a friend of Seberg’s” was, Rosenbaum doesn’t say. Still, it’s an intriguing, and specifically-dated, piece of information for the
JGB films-that-never-were file. Just think — if this production had gone ahead, it might well have starred the great but tragic Jean Seberg. Joan of Arc herself!’

“… in Paris on the afternoon of March 17, 1973, I met Jean Seberg at her apartment on rue de Bac. […] A friend of mine who was a friend of Seberg’s had hired me to adapt a J. G. Ballard novel, _The Crystal World_, for a film treatment — the only scriptwriting I have ever done. After I did about half the work, the pages were shown to Seberg for a second opinion. Seberg had recently tried her hand at screenwriting and was interested in looking at some of the efforts of others. A meeting was called at Seberg’s flat. I arrived first and was delighted to discover that Seberg — hobbling about in a plaster cast, having recently broken a leg — liked my treatment just fine (though I suspect it was mediocre at best; I had so little confidence that the film would ever be made that I didn’t even bother to make a copy of the treatment for myself). The upshot was that I was hired to complete the treatment. I still knew that the film would probably never be made, but from that point on I mentally cast Seberg as my heroine.”

Rosenbaum, Essential Cinema, 2004, p205-206.

I loved Jean Seberg in Godard’s Breathless — so iconic it almost hurts to watch. Imagine: she might have rivaled Gabrielle Drake as the ultimate Ballardian anti-heroine. But I had no idea of Ms Seberg’s tragic life until David showed me the wiki link on her. It’s put me in a sad mood.

David also pointed myself and Dan O’Hara to a detail in an article on Ballard by Gerald Houghton, published in the zine Adverse Effect, in which it is claimed that:

The great screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer [Two-Lane Blacktop] reputedly discussed adapting High-Rise for the unorthodox director of Stranger than Paradise and Mystery Train, Jim Jarmusch.

Dan went digging and found this interview with Wurlitzer in Arthur magazine:

Arthur: Do you agree with William Burroughs when he said that it’s mostly bad books that make good movies and vice versa?

RW: Well I always prefer, if I’m stuck with adapting a book into a film, to work with a bad book. Because making a book into a film is like cutting up a body. You have to be ruthless about it. So with a bad book you’re much freer. With a good book you want to protect it, do it justice in some way. I just went through that experience trying to adapt a J.G. Ballard book. I changed it a lot. And it’s sort of fortunate that the English producer was appalled by what I did. [laughs] So I’m off that case. And I feel relieved. But I’m not so much of a purist that I can’t do it to one of my own books.

Wow! Two-Lane Blacktop, the greatest existential road movie ever made… head-on with Ballard. I’m delirious. But wait — Wurlitzer’s statement is ambiguous. Is he saying High-Rise is a bad book because he changed it a lot? (bearing in mind he’s saying that with a good book, he wants to ‘protect it’, whereas with a bad book he’s ‘much freer’?). Hmmm, maybe not such a good idea, then.

Finally, Tim C. provides this snippet:

Think this is news. The press release for Brad Anderson’s new film, ‘Transsiberian’, notes of the director:

“Projects in development include: an adaptation of J.G..Ballard’s novel Concrete Island; and a musical called Non Stop to Brazil.”

Anderson’s best known for the really rather good ‘The Machinist’, starring none other than young Jim himself, Christian Bale.

Have to disagree with you on the worth of The Machinist, there, Tim — it looked great but I thought the so-called ‘twist’ was even more obvious (and cliched) than The Sixth Sense’s. Young Jim lost all that weight for nothing.

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5 Responses »

  1. Those are some sad lost opportunities, but I think Brad Anderson would be a great director for Concrete Island. The Machinist was pretentious, but what I’ve seen of Anderson’s work has a dark undercurrent to mass audience drama. He directed some episodes of The Wire ( http://www.salon.com/ent/tv/feature/2007/09/15/best_show/index1.html ) and an enjoyable film called Next Stop Wonderland. And wouldn’t Christian Bale make a nice Maitland?

  2. The friend of mine who was a friend of Seberg’s is/was Edith Cottrell. She still lives in Paris, and works, I believe, as an agent. I haven’t seen her in years, but through another friend we exchanged emails several month ago.

  3. Joanne, I agree — it would be good to see ‘young Jim’ return to a Ballard production.

    Jonathan, thanks for the info… Googling Edith and JGB, I find on your website that none other than Susan Sontag was interested in directing your script! Very interesting. (By the way, is there any chance I could read your script, if you still have it?)

  4. Well, I didn’t say ‘The Machinist’ was great – just rather good. A lot better than ‘The Sixth Sense’ at least, and a lot less reliant on the (admittedly not terribly surprising) twistie bit.

    A large part of why I like it is the sense of geographic displacement – Barcelona acting as misc US industrial burg.

  5. Well, you said ‘really rather good’, but that’s alright, I won’t hold it against you! I agree about the Barcelona location, though: globalised, generic America. Give Mr Anderson a promising script, ie based on Ballard, and we could have something decent.

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