THE ATROCITY RETURNS
Several years ago I selected for our annual “25 New Faces” feature filmmaker Jonathan Weiss, who had just finished a many-years-in-the-making adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s great novel The Atrocity Exhibition. The film is full of amazing sequences, has a truly unique and disquieting tone, and embodies a keen understanding of the ideas that course through Ballard’s most radical novel. (Yes, more radical than Crash.)
I spoke to Weiss a few weeks ago and it seems like he’s looking for a U.S. video deal for the film. I hope he’s secured one by now, but in the meantime, here’s Tim Lucas reviewing a Dutch disk (that includes a commentary track by Ballard!) in Sight and Sound.
Here’s Lucas on the exhibition history of the film:
Made over a nearly ten-year period on a modest, undisclosed budget, The Atrocity Exhibition has had a release pattern almost as oblique as the chapters in Ballard’s controversial, non-narrative novel. It debuted as a work in progress at the 1998 Rotterdam film festival, later resurfaced at the 1999 Slamdance festival with a running time of 103 minutes, then was voluntarily cut to 90 minutes as Weiss searched for a distributor that never rode to his rescue. Completely bypassing theatrical release, it has now become the elegantly packaged first release of Reel 23, a subsidiary of the Dutch DVD label Filmfreak Distributie. In the process, it has been restored to its original running time, despite an alarming 80-minute time listing on its sleeve.
And here’s his description of the movie itself:
Ballard’s work isn’t new to being filmed, of course, but compared to Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun or Cronenberg’s Crash, The Atrocity Exhibition is unique in refusing to meet its source material only half-way. Working in colour and black and white, mixing dramatic and documentary footage, Weiss gives his film a jigsaw texture comparable to the book, and he never flinches from the documentary material demanded by the text: often abrasive and disturbing images of plastic surgery, war atrocities, film stars, fornication, automobile impact tests performed on human corpses, modern art, the assassination of JFK. Only the inclusion of news footage of the Challenger space-shuttle disaster during the chapter of the film devoted to the subject of death in space removes The Atrocity Exhibition from the era in which the novel was written. Indeed, Weiss’ evocation of Ballard’s wryly scientific, geometric world is so complete, it’s almost possible to watch the entire film without realising it was shot in New York; appropriately, the sole shot betraying that fact offers a glimpse of an imminent disaster area, the World Trade Center
About the video label, which also distributes the work of film’s latest cinematic provocateur, Cyrus Frisch, here’s what its website has to say: “Here’s the plan: we’ll offer a platform of ideas for ideas of independent minds and disturbing opinions. A series of copious DVDs creating new syntaxes and dismantling misconceptions, bringing the darker side of a postmodern society into the open.” Somebody distribute these guys over here!