The Atrocity Exhibition
dir. Jonathan Weiss
Opens Thurs Nov 2 at the Little Theatre.

THE GOOD NEWS is, The Atrocity Exhibition is actually close to the text it's based on--which is of the same name and written by J. G. Ballard. The bad news is, Ballard's text is practically unreadable. The difficulty his text presents has nothing to do with complexity or prolixity; no, the primary problem is that it obsessively recounts the same pornographic nightmares, bizarre preoccupations with American movie stars, theories about technology, and the violent transformations that occur within the psyche and physical body of a post-Hiroshima human. After a few pages of this repetitive prose, you have to stop and do something that's more productive. The same, I'm sad to say, is true for the film.

The movie, which is directed by Jonathan Weiss, deliriously loops pornographic images, car-crash footage, scenes from an airport, a parking lot, and a lecture hall. None of it comes together, all of it is suspended in air, waiting for someone to press the red gravity button. That finger never appears. To make matters worse, the director suggests that these obsessions, shocks, and traumas of J. G. Ballard's age are still alive and well in the psyche of today. Here he has made a grave error: The Atrocity Exhibition, which was written in 1970, throws up a set of random ideas, events, and images that are pointing toward something that is just on the horizon. Thirty years later, we have passed that horizon--the Vietnam War was answered by Desert Storm; the car crash was replaced by the plane crash; Björk's music videos and the gains made by bio-technology corporations offered us a clear resolution to the man/machine dichotomy. In a word, the film should have been a period piece, strictly set in the late '60s and early '70s, with actors wearing bell-bottom jeans, polyester shirts, and maybe an Afro or two glimpsed here and there on the city streets.

All in all, of the three major films that are based on Ballard's books (Crash and Empire of the Sun being the other two), this is the least satisfying and yet the most faithful rendering of J. G. Ballard's peculiar obsessions.