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Kingdom of the DeadAuthor: Simon Sellars • Aug 5th, 2008 •
I saw George Romero’s zombie flick Dawn of the Dead for the first time at the Melbourne International Film Festival last night. What a super film. What a statement. And very, very funny too. And in fact very reminiscent of Kingdom Come, for Dead, like KC, also features a sealed-off shopping mall in which a band of resistance fighters attempt to restart a micro society, sustained yet ultimately imprisoned by the trappings of consumer capitalism.
The mall in both Ballard and Romero becomes a city, a country, a galaxy, a self-sustaining micronational state seceding from reality, a State of mind absorbing and zombifying all it touches, and the faceless, cartoonish football hordes in KC are consumer zombies as much as the walking dead in Romero are metaphorically intended to be.
Yet, if you tweak your perspective just a little, the survivors in both could conversely be read as the oppressors, the old world clinging to its accumulated wealth, hording it for themselves in the face of the zombie attack — an all-devouring, ever-growing underclass.
For Romero, like Ballard, is nothing if not a master of ambivalence.
The most Ballardian part of the film is when the survivors seal off a department store — privileged retail space — from the zombies in the mall’s concourse, ie the tacky public domain. The survivors turn on the store’s muzak and roam the aisles to take whatever they want from the limitless, yet depthless wonders of consumerism, free to act out their decadent bourgeois fantasies, setting up their attic space with expensive furniture and luxury TV sets, even though the apocalypse that has blighted the outside world means there is nothing to watch anymore.
Watching this sequence, I could almost imagine yet another parallel world in which KC was written in the late 70s, and George Romero, the master of guerilla filmmaking — an aesthetic and a philosophy that informs the guerilla responses in his storylines — had become the first director to adapt Ballard for the big screen, setting the tone for future Ballard adaptations to come: raw, uncompromising, revolutionary, and shot through with the blackest humour, the perfect defence against insanity.
In short: how Ballard’s books, and Romero’s films, appear to me.
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