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Kingdom of the Dead

Author: • Aug 5th, 2008 •

Category: alternate worlds, America, Ballardosphere, body horror, consumerism, death of affect, film, gated communities, horror, humour, micronations, urban revolt

Ballardian: Dawn of the Dead

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.

Ballardian: Dawn of the Dead 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.

Ballardian: Dawn of the Dead

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7 Responses »

  1. Wow…seeing DAWN OF THE DEAD for the first time. The movie has become so much a part of my life that it’s delightful to vicariously experience someone else’s first exposure to it. The remake is pretty good, too.

    -Jonathan Maberry
    Bram Stoker Award winning author of
    ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead
    http://www.zombiecsu.com

  2. I have seen Night of the Living Dead a few times and loved it, but I put off seeing the sequels for years because they looked super gory and I’m essentially a squeamish person. Then I won a ticket to a Romero doco at this same film festival, and discovered the glory of Romero! And now I’ve booked to see all the others.

  3. You will be disappointed with the next two ones: Day of the dead, and Land…Basically its the same old story, but this quite boring and too gory for the squeamish!

  4. I had the chance recently to visit the Monroeville Mall outside of Pittsburgh where Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was shot. Strange place. A couple of people had an authentically living dead look about them. Took tons of pictures. Now I’ll have to post some up to the Ballard flickr group. The connection to Kingdom is even stronger now as the mall has developed this protective shell of the new style of outdoor mall shops like Borders Books. It’s a shame a couple of the newer additions to the mall were not around when Romero shot dead: the Mr. Rogers Neighborhood playground and the carousel.

  5. mmmm, zombie flicks and Ballard… it’s a great opportunity to talk about David Cronenberg’s Shivers and Ballard’s High-Rise, both saw the light of day in 1975 and have obvious similarities.

    http://www.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/01/19/shivers.html

    I’ve always sensed a very deep connection between the worlds of these two creators… maybe it’s because I entered Ballard through the gate of Cronenberg’s adaptation, but I think everyone can trace obvious similarities. Of course I realize I’m saying nothing new here, many critics have pointed out that or even dared to say that the tone of most of Cronenberg’s films could be tagged as Ballardian. Listening to both Ballard and Cronenberg talking about the influences on their work, I guess Burroughs (and his pseudoscientific and emotionally detached style) could be the nexus between them… Nothing new again :)

    btw, even when I saw Jonathan Weiss’ the Atrocity Exhibition it reminded me of ‘Stereo’ and ‘Crimes of the Future’, two early experimental films by Cronenberg.

  6. Marc, let me know when you put those photos up: I’d love to see them.

    Aleix, everyone tells me about Shivers and High-Rise, but that’s another film I haven’t seen! Thanks for reminding me.

    You’re right about Atrocity and Stereo, of course — there are many linkages there.

  7. I can’t believe I never got back to you before this one year anniversary of the post! Here are my photos on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wowcool/sets/72157608670520355/ and a video I slapped together: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2g5qWV3j78 enjoy!

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