Back in 2010 my fifth ever post on the EYE was about the wonderful Vincenzo Natali being attached to direct the long-in-development adaption of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise. To paraphrase myself:
"Our bizarrely evolving relationship with technology and the urban environment is a theme that runs through my favourite Ballard stories (Crash, Concrete Island and High-Rise), and I don't think that the ideas he played with in those novels have dated at all. In fact I think they're more relevant now than when they were written, showing a real prescience to Ballard's vision of where we're headed as a society (it's not optimistic).
It's heartening to know that High-Rise is in the capable hands of an intelligent, independent film-maker. Too many of Philip K. Dick's works have been reduced to dumbed-down action fests, but with first Cronenberg's Crash and now Natali at the helm of High-Rise, Ballard's cinematic legacy will hopefully fare better."
Well, that was over four years ago, the world has moved on and Natali has been off the project for a while now (I'm rooting for him to get his Neuromancer made, a daunting task to say the least). Sometimes things change for the better though, and as much as I love Natali and think he was a good match for High-Rise (there are striking thematic similarities between Ballard's novel and Cube), I think the film has fallen into even more capable hands now.
High-Rise is a distinctly British feeling science fiction novel, and the alienating, sprawling bleakness of Ballard's London has always set it apart from other 1970's dystopias. I suppose it could be transplanted to somewhere like L.A. (with its dehumanising landscape of freeways), but to really do Ballard's novel justice it should be set in the U.K.
With that in mind, the film's current director, Ben Wheatley, is perhaps the perfect choice. Wheatley, whose Down Terrace, Kill List and Sightseers (I have yet to see A Field in England) are all near flawless gems, has a uniquely English vision that seems perfectly suited to tackling '70s era Ballard.
As a filmmaker he seems genuinely interested in exploring the grimy underbelly of modern British society, albeit from some pretty weird perspectives. Whether by accident or not, the three films mentioned above are perfect examples of the social realism of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh spliced onto modern genre cinema. Be it crime, horror or black comedy, Wheatley has so far managed to effortlessly combine "kitchen sink realism" with whatever genre he sees fit.
This time around he's shifting his gaze from the struggles of the working class to that oldest and most British of all conflicts: class war. There is no real proletariat living in the luxurious 40 story apartment complex of the novel, but as things start falling apart the residents quickly find themselves divided into lower, middle and upper classes... whether by choice or not. I can't wait to see how Wheatley handles this incendiary material. Will it remain rooted in naturalistic realism like his previous movies, or will it take a more mythical approach like the similarly themed (and fucking brilliant) Snowpiercer? It's also going to be really interesting to see what Wheatley does with a big budget.
Wheatley isn't the only interesting person involved with High-Rise though. The project has been patiently shepherded for over three decades by one of the most interesting producers in the business, Jeremy Thomas. I saw Thomas speak at length a couple of years ago, and he is that rarest of rare commodities among producers: a man who is genuinely passionate about leaving behind a legacy of art. Without him we might not have some of the more challenging movies from the likes of Nicolas Roeg, David Cronenberg, Bernardo Bertolucci, Jonathan Glazer, Wim Wenders, Richard Linklater, Harmony Korine, Takashi Miike and Jim Jarmusch. Seriously check out this guy's filmography, it's incredible. As far as Ballard is concerned, he was behind Cronenberg's Crash, and back in the '70s almost brought High-Rise to the big screen under the direction of Nicolas Roeg.
With a great cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss and Jeremy Irons, High-Rise is set to blow minds when it finally hits next year. Filming began earlier this month in Belfast, Northern Ireland.