Crash!, 1971, Harley Cokliss

Fabulous short made for the BBC in 1971 based around J. G. Ballard’s writings and ideas that would soon coalesce into the 1973 novel of the same name. It features Ballard himself, driving around, inspecting crash-damaged cars, narrating from his books, staring into the camera and generally displaying a real gift for on-screen presence and sideburn-wearing unease. He’s haunted by the spectral, alluring Gabrielle Drake (Nick’s sister) representing the mechano-sexual nexus between human and car bodies (no, really). There’s also still-captivating glimpses of test crash footage, the slow-motion grace of violent impact. It’s a brilliant, compact seventeen minutes of bracing ideas that shames most things twice or three times as long.

It makes you wonder what Ballard would make of our modern age. If the car was the machine par excellance in the 70s now its the computer (or laptop, tablet, hand-held device of your choice). We need someone like Ballard to tell us what’s going on there in the same cold-eyed, fearless manner. What would he have made of Her, Spike Jonze’s computer com-rom between man and machine? How would he interpret the hazy, narcotic allure of sleek surfaces, the numb desire of adolescent men alienated from their own true instincts, neutered drones adrift in the utopian ease of operating systems and instant gratification? Maybe, as in this film, we just have to imagine him watching it all from the sidelines, an unnervingly still and watchful presence, reading us like a novel, a touch-screen system of submerged and self-deluding signs.


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