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Ballardian Home Movies: The Final Cut

Author: • Mar 2nd, 2008 •

Category: competitions, dystopia, entropy, features, film, gated communities, humour, psychopathology, speed & violence, suburbia, suicide, surveillance, technology, television, urban decay, YouTube


Ballardian: Mobile Phone Competition

Illustration by John Coulthart.

Ben Slater; ‘Vista 8’

JOHN: Monochrome location scouting inside a high-rise hotel that looks half-finished. Remnants of an affair litter the piece: photographs, a high heel and the cutting to two cars so close together it would be difficult not to predict a Crash. As Christopher Brookmyre said, beware half-finished places, you know, the Death Star, Jurassic Park, Nakatomi Plaza…

SIMON: Ben’s film, shot among the Vista 8 high-rise in Singapore, seems to me like it’s recording the last moments of a suicide. You chance upon a mobile phone discarded in the high-rise’s courtyard; you press ‘play’, and this is what you find… I do like the snatched inclusion of Bowie’s man-machine classic, ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’.


I’d like to organize a Festival of Home Movies! It could be wonderful — thousands of the things… You might find an odd genius, a Fellini or Godard of the home movie, living in some suburb. I’m sure it’s coming… Using modern electronics, home movie cameras and the like, one will begin to retreat into one’s own imagination. I welcome that…

J.G. Ballard, quoted in ‘Interview with JGB by Graeme Revell’, RE/Search No. 8/9, 1984.

We had eight entries in our little competition for 1-minute-or-less films shot on cameraphones, modelled after Ballard’s 1984 call for a ‘festival of home movies’. A reminder of the requirements:

+ Shoot a film using your mobile phone’s video function, no more than one minute in duration, and using no post-production or processing — the film must be shot entirely ‘in camera’.
+ The theme: anything at all to do with either one or both of the Collins English Dictionary definitions of ‘Ballardian’:

BALLARDIAN: (adj) 1. of James Graham Ballard (J.G. Ballard; born 1930), the British novelist, or his works. (2) resembling or suggestive of the conditions described in Ballard’s novels & stories, esp. dystopian modernity, bleak man-made landscapes & the psychological effects of technological, social or environmental developments.

Mounting this exercise was hugely enjoyable for me and I was delighted to discover some real gems among the eight. I have been inspired by those Ballard ‘home movie’ quotes ever since I first read them years ago, and just the very the idea of unearthing ‘a Fellini or Godard of the suburbs’ has always excited (and humoured) me. So have we found one? Perhaps not. But we just may have discovered, finally, what lies in the angle between two walls…. (not even John Foxx, you may recall, could crack that conundrum).

To determine a winner, John Rivers from HarperCollins assigned points to each film, as did I. We then combined our rankings. The result is that Ben Slater, with ‘Vista 8’, came out on top. Ben wins a copy of Miracles of Life, plus these HarperCollins reissues: Millennium People, The Drought, The Crystal World, The Drowned World and The Unlimited Dream Company.

The runner-up is Pablo Sgarbi from Brazil, with ‘120 Days of an Angle Between Two Walls’ (see below), and he receives a copy of Miracles. Congratulations to Ben and Pablo, and many thanks to all entrants and to everyone who supported and promoted the festival. Extra special thanks to HarperCollins UK for getting behind the idea, and to JGB for everything: always and of course.

Next year, who knows? Perhaps we’ll get entrants to simulate the filmed ratissages in Super-Cannes, or Bobby Crawford’s home porno movies in Cocaine Nights

Here now are the remaining entries direct to you from BallardoTube, the Net’s only dedicated Ballard TV channel, where ‘history is just a first-draft screenplay’ (according to JGB in ‘The Greatest TV Show On Earth’), and where ‘premium subscribers can experience transexualism, paedophilia, terminal syphilis, gang-rape, and bestiality (choice: German Shepherd or Golden Retriever)’, as decreed by JGB in ‘A Guide to Virtual Death’.

Pablo Sgarbi; ‘120 Days of An Angle Between Two Walls’

JOHN: A voice simulator spews forth graphic prose like a poetry machine from Vermillion Sands. Juxtaposed with images of ordinariness, a ceiling corner, a kettle, a cup of coffee. Reminding us what lies in the dark psyches of people everyday.

SIMON: Beautiful and hilarious: a robot reads a passage from the Marquis de Sade’s The 120 Days of Sodom, dispassionately intoning squirting buttocks and jets of blood, while common household objects ‘star’ on the screen: those elusive wall angles, a coffee cup, and so on. In its juxtaposition of extreme and violent sex with banal home appliances, this is perhaps the most ‘Ballardian’ film of them all. I love this entry a lot.

..:: Remaining entries (not ranked; in alphabetical order)

Shahin Afrassiabi; ‘Home’

JOHN: A static shot, half composed of white, with red material intruding beneath. A seemingly random collection of sounds from talk radio or television are heard, slowly snatches emerge. Mopeds, a body found on a golf course. Murder on the roads, in the suburbs. “They shouldn’t be here,” claims a politician or letterwriter and as if to answer the listener appears to move away.

SIMON: An effective study in boredom, the psychological blank slate against which all manner of deviant behaviour is exposed and spontaneously generated, like flyblown maggots on rotting meat…

Mike Bonsall; ‘Day of Creation’

JOHN: Machine noise, loud and abrasive. A tool kit, saws, cutting tools. The slow reveal of a pile of Ballard titles leads you to wonder if here JG’s works are being recut, sliced, diced and served again. The Day of Creation is the final title to appear. The maker has taken Ballard and chopped him up.

SIMON: Mike B. is the creator of the JG Ballard Short Story Concordance, and he is currently working on a concordance of Ballard’s novels. These projects required him to buy extra copies of Ballard books and to razor their pages for easily digestible scanning under the all-powerful OCR software, before they could emerge out the other side as digital mulch. This film, then, is a delightful little in joke aimed squarely by Mike at his own obsessiveness, but it also functions as a sly and clever appraisal of Ballard’s entire ouevre, which has always relied on repetition, recycling, détournement, collage, bricolage…

Julian Gough; ‘Flesh Frame’

JOHN: Micro-entertainment, as flesh is exposed on a computer screen. That it only takes up a quarter of the screen makes it look like the body has been filmed and is being edited. Only to blur into a sunset. Consumerism takes over as the computer screen turns and pulls away to a credit card rectangle ready to accept your chip and PIN.

SIMON: This film chases its own tail, eventually disappearing into the black hole of inner space. Utterly beguiling.

Russell Miller; ‘A Journey Through A Distant Land’

JOHN: Concrete, bleakness, a travelator that moves vs. a river refusing to run. CCTV-positioned footage of a seemingly empty street lined by lock-ups hiding ephemera, memory junk, yesterday’s crashes. Daylight as harsh as the artificial strip lighting. In a denial of creation we return to the water from which we emerged.

SIMON: Classic Ballardian imagery, here: the flyovers, the apartment blocks, the obsessive stalking of nothing in particular. An artificial eye scanning the ruins of a humourless Earth, perhaps…

Jack Strain; ‘Ballardian’

JOHN: An urban warrior applies his warpaint in slow-mo before a projection of traffic is destroyed in a deliberate act of vandalism. The whole process seems to be watched or logged.

SIMON: A fabulously evocative film, menacing and dark, and making full use of the competition’s ‘in camera’ editing stipulation. The burning frame is a wonderful touch, and the glimpse of madness at the very end is bizarre and unsettling, behaviour that is perhaps the only response to the crushing insanity of the outside world.

Supervert; ‘Superego’

JOHN: Big Ballard is watching you! And joined by a smaller version of himself. Ballard argues with himself over an unheard question. As we watch, we are given permission only to be refused a second later. We are eventually told ‘no’ twice and our audience is over. That the responses are from Sam Scoggins’s movie about The Unlimited Dream Company and the ’90 questions from the Eyckman Personality Quotient test’ give the film a different meaning, that you’re being fed the results of a psychological experiment, while appearing to participate in one yourself.

SIMON: This film manipulates footage from the Scoggins film and is just a little disconcerting. It’s like being given a glimpse into a malfunctioning brain, with its psychopathology unashamedly on show, brandished like a weapon. Ultimately the synaptic process is unfathomable and the viewer, like all readers of Ballard, is left on the outer, able to only impotently guess at the intent, forced to fill in the dots herself…

..:: Previously on Ballardian…

+ J.G. Ballard Pastiche Competition

Everybody will be doing it, everybody will be living inside a TV studio. That’s what the domestic home aspires to these days; the home is going to be a TV studio. We’re all going to be starring in our own sit-coms, and they’ll be strange sit-coms, too, like the inside of our heads. That’s going to come, I’m absolutely sure of that, and it’ll really shake up everything…

J.G. Ballard, quoted in ‘Interview with JGB by Andrea Juno and Vale’, RE/Search No. 8/9, 1984.

The mobile phone can be seen as a fashion accessory and adult toy as well as a break-through in instant communication, though its use in restaurants, shops and public spaces can be irritating to others. This suggests that its real function is to separate its users from the surrounding world and isolate them within the protective cocoon of an intimate electronic space. At the same time phone users can discreetly theatricalize themselves, using a body language that is an anthology of presentation techniques and offers to others a tantalizing glimpse of their private and intimate lives.

J.G. Ballard, ‘Impressions of Speed’, in Speed : visions of an accelerated age / / edited by Jeremy Millar and Michiel Schwarz (1998).

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24 Responses »

  1. Excellent idea for a competition Simon, and some really great entries; imaginative, refreshing and appropriately disturbing. Ballardians of the world unite!

  2. I totally disagree with the choice of winner. being somehow over produced, to many cinematographic effects. in short to skilled.
    while other entries seems just to happen, the winner’s video seems to be ‘made’.

    the entries for the competition takes you to the dark room of you tube I watch.
    I think the next competition should have a perpetual mechanism.
    the deadline is pure indication and competitors should just ignore it
    the results of the jury are, due to internal problems, postponed constantly to the
    extent that a final conclusion is never reached.
    at the end the whole thing gets out of control.

  3. wow, tough audience…

    no one said the films couldn’t be ‘produced’ or have ‘effects’, it just had to be done in a very lo-fi way. even ballard’s call for a ‘fellini or godard of the home movie’ implies a certain artistry.

    which was your favourite film, john?

  4. point taken, Simon.
    however, artistry leads quickly to mannerism and style, a historically dead ally.
    not that vista 8 is a bad film, on the contrary it is a very skilled film.

    for me the films flesh frame and home could share a price.
    lo-fi all the way with minimum interference of the ‘maker’, just one shot no fuzz.
    these two films have this self-narrative puzzling quality. like auto-pilot takes control.
    that is perhaps the golden future of film making: films without makers.
    maybe your competition has struck on gold already.
    looking forward to more of this Ballardian stuff.

  5. The quality of the entries is impressive. I’m sure everyone will have his own favorite. I agree with the judges that Vista 8 is probably the most “ballardian.” Personally, though, I like Jack Strain and Mike Bonsall’s films best.

  6. I can honestly say it was a very very tough call to pick just one film above all. I was/am quite blown away by the standard of entries.

  7. i think the essential aspect of the mobile phone is that it is constantly sending out dat about ones geographical position even when turned off. this is a haunting aspect. but it also has a bearing on our understanding of audience. the merging of data waves in the stratosphere, the mutual interference of data, this is what might be the future of art in the spatial and political sense. in the movie called home, the notion of autonomy of the device is the most apparent. filmmaking becomes unnoticed exposure in the sense of traceability rather then serving as a creative intentional tool.

  8. supervert!

  9. john, yes, i appreciated the films for those reasons, also, but in the end there were two judges and we had to reach common ground somehow. in the end, our rankings were almost completely different from each other.

    maziar, that’s a very, very interesting assessment. i loved the minimal approach of home, and your explanation could serve as the theme for a whole new competition. very stimulating.

  10. […] Home Movies Festival. Simon Sellars, chief archivist over at Ballardian.com decided to create a competition where people could post short, one-minute movies, created any way they liked, relating to the […]

  11. simon,
    maybe a data intereference/merge competition? just thinking aloud….

  12. I like them all – but I don’t own a cameraphone, so…. I had to dedicate one to the Oracle of Shepperton on my YouY00b chan:


  13. […] the staple of YouTube – is clearly visable. So much so, that a group of his devotees have launched The 1st Ballardian Festival of home movies, a kind of belated realisiation of the legendary author’s vision, except that all films had […]

  14. Brilliant stuff, and what a great idea to use the low-tech medium of the moment, the cameraphone. Haven’t watched all of them yet but I certainly will be doing.

  15. hey ben’s back! hi ben. yeah, i thought they were a pretty good bunch, again thanks to all who entered.

  16. […] ballardian flics […]

  17. excellent, what great fun.
    personally, i like ‘home’ : it’s got that super-cannes, high-rise, kingdom come suburban death trip thing….however the jack strain film is amazing, really. it’s, somehow, a real film.

  18. Chris, I agree — the Jack Strain film is completely amazing. I’m sorry we couldn’t find a prize for it.

  19. […] 8” de Ben Slater fue el vídeo ganador del Primer festival de vídeos domésticos ballardianos grabados con móbil que organizó el australiano Simon Sellars, cuyo sitio web Ballardian.com es una […]

  20. […] Il seguente è un cortometraggio di Ben Slater dal titolo “Vista 8”, vincitore del primo Ballardian Home Movies. […]

  21. […] Ballardian is a great example of organic literary online community. It’s very well-written, frequently updated, and widely read. It as much explores the writing of J. G. Ballard as it does his obsessions and themes in a contemporary context. There is a forum and much activity in the comments. Simon Sellars, who runs the website independent of the author and publisher, even hosted a contest for cellphone-shot home movies inspired by Ballard’s novels. […]

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  23. […] Ballardian Home Movie competition is over and I never got round to entering. Check the site out and see the winner. If […]

  24. […] group of Ballard devotees have instigated The 1st Ballardian Festival of home movies, a kind of belated realisation of the author’s vision using nothing more than a video-enabled […]

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