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Crash

****
1996

‘…burrows into one of the darkest areas of human behaviour and makes a virtue of horrific detail…’

Returning like a bad dream from the past, David Cronenberg’s adaptation of JG Ballard’s novel was headline news when it arrived back in 1996; it literally made the front pages for days on end in the UK tabloid world, with many ‘ban this sick filth’ editorials. Nearly 25 years later, this 4k cinema reissue provides a chance to look back on a film that’s still shocking even by today’s standards; we worry less about whether films will corrupt us these days, and it’s easier to appreciate Crash on its considerable merits.

Cronenberg’s icy brand of body horror made him an ideal fit for Ballard’s chrome and steel sci-fi intellectualism; Crash takes a cold, hard look at those who get off on the nature of machines. James Spader plays film producer James Ballard, who enjoys a modern marriage with Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). Ballard finds himself in a headlong car crash which kills the husband of Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), who responds to her sudden bereavement by pleasuring herself in the passenger seat before the wheels have stopped spinning. She invites Ballard to enjoy a certain brand of auto-eroticism; they make love in cars, in airport garages. But things jump up a notch when she introduces Ballard to Vaughn (Elias Koteas), who entertains audiences of similarly inclined souls who enjoy his re-enactments of famous car crashes, from James Dean to Jayne Mansfield. The three get involved, but it’s only a matter of time before things take an even darker turn that the pitch-black relationships described above.

Crash isn’t for your maiden aunt, to be sure, unless she’s turned on by decapitations and bloody bumpers. But it’s also a film that’s fairly fearless about depicting crossed-wires in human nature; while many films promise outré behaviour, Crash certainly delivers, and the endless parade of out-there sexual acts does become exhausting (no pun intended). It’s firmly on message with the two key creatives and their outlook; it feels right that Vaughn’s gathering is raided, not by the police, but by the Department of Transport. Cronenberg’s uniquely Canadian flavour is deliberately off-kilter, and the precise yet non-specific nature of his storytelling is ideally suited to Ballard’s casual nihilism.

This is a film that connects sexual excitement with car crashes, and can only be recommended with the strongest of trigger warnings; issues of good and bad taste don’t apply to a narrative in which restrictive steel braces and scars are seen as desirable by the characters. And yet the movie is not carried along with their emotions; it observes the kink coldly, dispassionately, and allows the audience to decide. The picture below, presumably a publicity shot, is probably as unrepresentative of the film’s actual content as possible; it looks like a Friends reboot, or a brat pack soap, rather than the trawl through the human psyche that Crash is.

Crash isn’t for everyone, and in fact, maybe it’s not for anyone; it burrows into one of the darkest areas of human behaviour and makes a virtue of horrific detail. And yet the final narrative twists are surprisingly conventional; part of Cronenberg’s ability is the way he takes out-there concepts and fashions left of mainstream entertainment. As the central triangle, Spader, Hunter and Koteas all convince; Crash would be easier to ignore if it wasn’t so well made.

Crash returns to UK cinemas from November 6th 2020.

Thanks to Arrow Films for eary access to this title. Blu-ray from Nov 30th 2020.

https://arrowfilms.com/product-detail/crash-limited-edition-blu-ray/FCD2073

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  1. Crash is brilliant, and surprisingly it’s significantly less extreme than the novel. Cronenberg gives it a glacial detachment and there are far fewer fluids! I was thrilled to hear it was restored, and bought the German blu-ray before it was announced by Arrow and Criterion – they’re all from the same restoration, which is very good. This is brave film making, and I believe Westminster Council never lifted the ban from when it was first released. Perhaps they will when Arrow give it a cinema release after lockdown!

    • Yes, the new version looks better than ever。it’s a full-on film to be sure, brave is a good word for it. And farcical to ban it anywhere, can’t see it harming anyone…

  2. I powered my way through a gigantic collection of Ballard’s short stories earlier this year and hated it. I know nothing about the man, but based on what he wrote, he is the kind of person I’d gladly excise from the living.

    So beyond the perversions, I’d be avoiding this movie just because of his name.

    • He’s no friend to the ironing world; cars are machines, yes, but do not make the spirit soar like a hot iron and a freshly covered ironing board. And when will Cronenberg tackle ironing as a subject? Why is it a taboo that even the most outré director will not tackle? Very frustrating…

      • If Cronenberg will do a movie like this but not one on Ironing, I’m not sure if that says that he’s a coward, or a hypocrite or just a dumbo. I’ve never seen a picture of him, so I don’t know how big his ears are.

  3. having read the unsettling story years ago I always took it as a kind of joke about extreme eroticism/paraphelia . . . but it’s such a painfully low-blow of a story, and once you’re exposed to it you can’t help thinking about it in unusual circumstances.

    • It does get under your skin, and such people may well exist; Ballard’s work is hard to adapt, and for some reason, this one hangs together as a film. But I totally understand why many would be keen to avoid…the bottom line is that most people think cars are sexy, and part of that is because they’re dangerous. I guess Crash takes that idea to its limit…

    • Saw it at the cinema at the time, and still would handle with caution; even for Cronenberg, this is extreme…

  4. I did of course hear about this film when it came out back in the day, but I’ve never been in a real hurry to see this film. Like Fraggle said: gritted teeth reaction is something that I definitely get with the plot of this film too 😀

    • It’s very strong meat, and not recommended for anyone unprepared to go down the darkest of roads. It’s no Condorman for sure, but what is?

    • I’m not expecting to hear from anyone who says; this is exactly what I’m into! But if you can handle the subject, this film doesn’t pull out of dealing with shocking material…

      • Haha…no I guess not lol 😂 Doesn’t mean I never will watch it though…I’m pretty much open minded all the time, and always willing to try out just about anything😀

    • Understandable, and I’d carefully put this film on a shelf where it’s out of each of everyone but those who know exactly what it’s about.

  5. I thought this had a couple of moments, but overall I couldn’t get into it. It felt flat to me. I prefer Cronenberg’s earlier work. Basically everything up to Dead Ringers.

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