I first read J. G. Ballard’s novel High Rise more than twenty years ago. In common with most of Ballard’s ‘dystopian’ fiction, his ideas were good but his characters always struck me as being one-dimensional, without a past and a future, not people whom you would meet in any context. With High Rise, the synopsis is of tribal warfare breaking out in a luxury apartment block in London’s docklands, the book having been published in 1975 when any such developments were still a long-way off. Each floor of the apartment block was inhabited by a different social stratum, with the wealthiest at the top; the inverse of the Roman insulae and the tenements in the posher parts of Edinburgh (eg Marchmont), where a ground floor (main door) flat with its own garden carries greater status. Reading the book, I couldn’t help wondering why the less wealthy who lived on the bottom floors didn’t just block access and egress to those living further up when the warfare broke out, depriving them of food, water and all services.
And so on to last year’s film adaptation, released this year on DVD. With its supposedly stellar cast it was disappointing to me, though presumably not to those who enjoyed the eye candy of Tom Hiddleston; one for the ladies. The problem with the film is that no-one really looks or acts the part, they either go over the top as Luke Evans did with his character, or just seem bored, dressing up for the sake of getting paid. A hairy chest, sideburns and collar-length hair were not mandatory for any 70’s man, but in the case of Hiddleston, he appears just like a modern man of the present era and can’t escape from looking that way. The kids don’t look like they (we, my generation) looked back then either. I couldn’t relate to them as I could do with kids in programmes or films that were made during the 1970’s. Such films and programmes are widely available on DVD for anyone who wants an authentic taste of the era.
So instead of trying and failing, in my opinion, to mimic the mid-1970’s, it would have been better to set the film in the present, as David Cronenberg did with his adaptation, now twenty years ago, of Crash, where he also changed the setting. Granted, that film was absurd (and I even went into Brum to watch it at a now defunct multiplex), but at least he tried to inject some originality into it, rather then making a 70’s pastiche.
High Rise ends with a speech by Margaret Thatcher, placed presumably to try and give a ‘historical’ context to a younger audience, but the problem of course that she only became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975. She had not yet then become the ‘Iron Lady’ and was four years away from becoming Prime Minister. As to what she looked like in 1975: