Ben Wheatley’s recent adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s masterful 1975 novel High-Rise scratched a profound itch many of us had had for years, but by rights we really should have had an adaptation from its own time, a brutalist B-movie with dissonant stereophonic music that should take its rightful place alongside Death Race 2000 and Logan’s Run.
We never got that movie, but that doesn’t mean we can’t pretend.
Adam Scovell has helpfully put together a marvelous trailer for a make-believe BBC series based on High-Rise using imagery from a really interesting-looking series from the early 1970s called Doomwatch that garnered controversy at the time for several episodes, including one that focused on mutant rats taking over the streets of London. The episode Scovell used is called “The Human Time-Bomb,” and it ran on the BBC on February 22, 1971.
I don’t know much about the plot except that the bland plot synopsis from the time sounds intriguingly Ballardian: “Dr. Fay Chantry performs a biological study of tower block life—and finds far more than she expected.”
On his blog Celluloid Wicker Man, Scovell raises a very interesting point, which is the possibility—one might even say the likelihood—that “The Human Time-Bomb” is actually a direct source for Ballard’s novel:
The Human Time-Bomb rather uniquely pre-empts almost all aspects of High-Rise in such detail that it must be considered whether Ballard himself actually saw it when broadcast. I have little doubt that he at least knew about the series, such was the crossover of the series’ goals with his own conflation of science and disaster.
He also notes that during this time, it wasn’t hard at all to find Ballard’s themes played out on the telly:
British Television of this period is brimming with Ballardian imagery; endless brutalist structures, obsessive emphasis on cars, violence and misogyny. This is all compacted into a huge variety of drama, only ever really escaping from such aspects when a series or play was set in period.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Ben Wheatley’s amazing storyboards for ‘High Rise’