What do these films have in common besides being watched by me over consecutive days? Well they both feature scores by grebo guru Clint Mansell who is someone I love from my student days listening to Pop Will Eat Itself, they both feature scenes of drug taking, violence and sex, and they are both based on books whose stories descend into chaos – High-Rise (HR) is based on the novel by J. G. Ballard and Requiem for a Dream (RFAD) on the novel by lesser-known author Hubert Selby Jr.
I didn’t purposely choose to watch them back to back. RFAD has been sitting around on my list of Sky+ recordings for months since it was shown on Film 4 and HR came via Lovefilm without me remembering that I put it on my list. I watched RFAD on my own while Siggy was at the gym and HR with her the following evening, as the disc had been sitting on top of the player for almost a week. In retrospect I wish we had seen RFAD together – although I think she might not have enjoyed it as much as I did, she would’ve enjoyed it more than she enjoyed HR.
Both films use a lot of montages overlaid with strong scores and so almost play out as silent movies at times. However, where the music on RFAD is mostly simple and haunting, the music on HR for the most part is discordant orchestral noise with the exception of the Portishead cover of ABBA’s S.O.S. which was an outstanding surprise.
Both films also lapse at times into periods of dullness – perhaps to allow the viewer breathing space to think profound thoughts, but as I found with A Field in England when watching HR I just wanted the story to gain some momentum. RFAD makes effective use of time lapse footage of a drug-fuelled party to tell a portion of the story very quickly whereas HR seems to spend ages on a mishmash of all tomorrow’s parties with very little impression of narrative progression.
The drug taking in RFAD is sordid and realistic showing the effects of addiction upon son, friend, lover, mother, the human body and psyche, whereas the drug taking in HR is comic strip stuff serving as a signal of a wider societal decay. The sex is mostly like a baudy Seventies Confessions film in HR and grotesque, violent and all too believable in RFAD.
Unlike RFAD, HR could be considered to be a dark comedy but it’s not particularly funny, despite the wealth of actors at the director’s disposal who could’ve provided comedic turns. I wonder if the screenplay might have worked better as a more obvious comedy because it’s also not really that dark. The body count and dog deaths are not overly macabre and because they’re not contextualised realistically they have little shock value.
Also a fundamental flaw in HR is the lack of explanation of why the microcosm of British society held within the building descends into chaos and again it’s all too unrealistic as a result. Dystopian near-futures and societal decay have been more convincingly portrayed in a multitude of films and this one with its over-stylised airs falls flat. I was hoping for another Brazil but it didn’t come close in terms of comedy, sentiment, atmosphere or relatable characters.
Having read Cocaine Nights recently I was rather weary and wary of Ballard’s obsession with deconstructing British society and found it all rather hamfisted. RFAD left me genuinely shaken whereas HR didn’t even stir me.
The telling difference, beside the stark difference in cinematic styles and choice between realism versus surrealism (the scary fridge and gameshow hallucinations in RFAD aside), for me was the small cast in RFAD and the concentration on the very personal tales of four well-rendered characters, rather than an ensemble of crayoned caricatures sketched from a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
RFAD obviously relied on some excellent performances from Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, Marlon Wayans and Ellen Burstyn. HR in contrast contains some very mixed performances from the assembled ensemble some of whom I felt were either miscast or not given ample screen time to shine. The only standout performance for me was that of Luke Evans better known for his role as Bard in the mediocre Hobbit films and that was only perhaps because of the difference between the villainous and heroic roles.
If you haven’t seen either of these films please watch Requiem for a Dream and take a detour around High-Rise.
(Photo credit: NegativeSpace)