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Sam Scoggins: 'Unlimited Dream Company' Film

Author: • Dec 22nd, 2007 •

Category: features, film, filmography, Lead Story, science fiction, Shepperton, surrealism

After much pushing and prodding from me over a period of months, Sam Scoggins has finally digitised his ‘lost’ quasi-doco on Ballard, loosely structured around themes found in The Unlimited Dream Company. Sam has posted it over at blip.tv, and it’s a special work, with wonderful fictional interventions interpolating passages from The Atrocity Exhibition with close ups of Ballard discussing his fiction.

Great sound design, great effects, and it also features an astounding section in which Ballard responds to “90 questions from the Eyckman Personality Quotient, each of which Ballard answers Yes or No”. Ballard is clearly amused, but also deeply absorbed, and the minimalism of this interrogation is actually quite revealing, saying a lot about the man’s character, as when he’s asked if he “locks the house up at night” — to which the reply is “no”. Sometimes he hesitates, as when asked if manners are important (“yes”); other times he answers quick as a flash, such as when asked if he would dodge taxes if he was sure he wouldn’t be caught (“yes”). The nature of both responses, in different ways, betray the rough grain of Ballard’s anti-establishment bias. There’s a real sense that this format, as minimal as it is, is far more revealing than some of the more recent, overblown and repetitive interviews with Ballard, in which he seems fed up with answering the same biographical questions from journalists over and over again. Stripped to the bone in this fashion, we inhabit Ballard’s psychology in extreme close up…an effect mirrored by the camera, which inches ever closer as Ballard ploughs his way through the questions.

I have tentative plans in the near future to do an interview with Sam about the film, but for now, here’s some info from RE/Search #8/9: J.G. Ballard:

The Unlimited Dream Company, written, edited & directed by Sam Scoggins. 16mm, 24 mins, color, 1983.

“The British science fiction writer J.G. BALLARD talks about his life and work. Meanwhile a crashed pilot stalks the landscapes of his dreams. The film is concerned with what constitutes an adequate picture of a person, the role of the imagination in transforming the world.”

Cast: J.G. Ballard, Tom Pollock. Credits: Camera, Ian Duncan; Assistant Camera, Bryan Morgan; Art Director, Charlotte Humpston; Sound, Tom Pollock..

Scoggins’ own description of the film follows:

“There are two main types of material intercut in the film:

1) A big close-up of Ballard’s face. He talks, looking straight at the camera,

2) Ballard’s alter ego wearing a ragged flying suit wanders through “Ballardian” landscapes and in each makes a portrait of Ballard from things around him.

The landscapes are:

a) The jungle (past). He makes a portrait from feathers.

b) Motorway/Scrapyard (present). He makes a portrait from crashed cars.

c) The Beach (future). He draws a huge spiral in the sand.

These sections were shot in black and white, then printed each in a different monochrome, i.e. a green, b) red, c) blue.

There are other bits of material in the film!

i) Tracking shots through Shepperton ending up on Ballard’s house with him standing outside,

ii) The same repeated but in negative color while Ballard talks about The Unlimited Dream Company in voice-over.

iii) Shots from different sequences of the film cut to the “Captain Kirby” quote.

iv) Single framed images from TV while Ballard talks about the latent and manifest content of TV.

v) A 6 min. duration very slow zoom in from a head and shoulders shot of Ballard to a very large close-up of his right eyeball. Off camera a voice asks the 90 questions from the Eyckman Personality Quotient, each of which Ballard answers Yes or No.

vi) The last sequence of the film is a zoom out from some clouds to a shot of the whole earth, which match dissolves into Ballard’s eye as the zoom out continues until we see the whole of Ballard’s head.

On one level I hope the film is a fairly straightforward introduction to Ballard and his work, but on another level the film (at least for me) is concerned with two things:

1) How can you make an adequate picture of someone;

2) The way in which the imagination/film transforms “reality.”


+ ‘A Home and A Grave’: Mike Holliday explains how to read J.G. Ballard’s 1979 novel The Unlimited Dream Company as a fascistic work.
+ The Unlimited Dream Company: bibliographical entry.

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12 Responses »

  1. Amazing work! I’ve waited to see this since the RE/Search book came out.

  2. Right on, Simon! This was one of my desperate searches ever since i had read it in the Re/Search book but it was absolutely impossible to find. There wasn’t much of any other Scoggins films on the Internet either. Is he planning to release it properly, among other works of his? I would like to discover yet another one of our mental siblings… ;-).
    Merry Christmas to every one that reads – we could all use some cheer-ups, i suppose.

  3. A superb portrait of the Oracle of Shepperton. Glad it wasn’t lost as media formats changed over time.

  4. John and Iraklis: like both of you, I have been searching for and wondering about this film ever since I read the RE/Search book years ago. I was thrilled to finally hunt Sam down and find out that the film still existed; like Crashman I was worried it had been lost forever. I think it’s a fabulous snapshot, and Sam’s introduction of the 90 yes/no questions into the framework is a stroke of genius in my view.

    Iraklis, regarding Sam’s future plans, I imagine this will be covered in our interview.

  5. That’s a great film. I crunched it down and watched it on my iPhone. Those tight close-ups were perfect for the tiny screen.

    What’s the Eyckman Personality Quotient? Is that something Scoggins made up?

  6. No idea! I’ll make sure to ask Sam, though…

  7. So what did Sam say about the personality quotient? I have an amateur interest in psychological testing and would be curious to know.

  8. Thank you so much for posting this…I too have waited many years to see it…a beautiful little film…so much better than what usually is done on writers…as far as I know the personality test is one of many designed to be given by psychiatrists to patients…should you answer “yes” to the question “would you feel sorry for an animal caught in a trap” I daresay the good doctor will scribble down the word “psychopath” in your case notes…thanks again for posting this beautiful film…

  9. Like everyone else I am thrilled to see this film finally. I remember vaguely trying to track it down through someone at the RCA but my leads petered out somewhere in Kent. Where did you find Sam Scoggins Simon?

  10. Internet, Pippa! It’s easy these days.

    Via Google, I found Sam’s flickr page, then emailed him and hassled him to digitise the film.

    Which he did.

    I love it; the questionnaire is an absolute stroke of genius. All of it, though, is special.

  11. […] of the Sun, The Atrocity Exhibition) for a documentary film made on him. You can view the film here. In the original test, you can only answer yes or no (that also accounts to it’s validity being […]

  12. Dear Simon Sellers, many thanks for the info from Re-Search 8/9.didnt quite gather if this Eyckman Personality Quotient is something Sam Scoggins invented for the piece?

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