Crash (1996 film)
|Directed by||David Cronenberg|
|Produced by||David Cronenberg|
|Screenplay by||David Cronenberg|
by J. G. Ballard
|Music by||Howard Shore|
|Edited by||Ronald Sanders|
|Box office||$23.2 million|
Crash is a 1996 American erotic psychological thriller film written and directed by David Cronenberg, based on J. G. Ballard's 1973 novel of the same name. It follows a film producer (James Spader) as he becomes involved with a group of symphorophiliacs who are sexually aroused by car crashes. The film also stars Deborah Kara Unger, Elias Koteas, Holly Hunter, and Rosanna Arquette.
The film generated considerable controversy upon its release and opened to mixed and highly divergent reactions from critics. While some praised the film for its daring premise and originality, others criticized its combination of graphic sexuality and violence. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it received the Special Jury Prize, a unique award that is distinct from the Jury Prize as it is not given annually, but only at the request of the official jury (for example, the previous year, both a Jury Prize and a Special Jury Prize were awarded). When then jury president Francis Ford Coppola announced the award "for originality, for daring and for audacity," he stated that it had been a controversial choice and that certain jury members, "did abstain very passionately." It received six Genie Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, including awards for Cronenberg as director and screenwriter; the film was also nominated in two further categories, including Best Picture.
Film producer James Ballard and his detached wife Catherine are in an open marriage. The couple engage in various trysts but, between them, have unenthusiastic sex. Their arousal is heightened by discussing the intimate details of their extramarital sex. She recounts sex that day with a stranger in a prop plane hangar. She was, however, left unsatisfied. When James replies he did not achieve satisfaction during his sexual encounter with one of his coworkers, Catherine replies, "maybe the next one".
While driving home from work late one night, James's car collides head-on with another, killing its male passenger. While trapped in the fused wreckage, Dr. Helen Remington, the driver and the dead passenger's wife, exposes a breast to James when she pulls off the shoulder harness of her seat belt.
While recovering, James meets Helen again, as well as a man named Dr. Robert Vaughan, who takes a keen interest in the brace holding James's shattered leg together and photographs it. While leaving the hospital, Helen and James begin an affair, one primarily fueled by their shared experience of the car crash. Attempting to understand why they are so aroused by their car wreck, they go to witness one of Vaughan's cult meetings/performance pieces, during which he thoroughly re-creates the car crash that killed James Dean with authentic cars and stunt drivers. When Department of Transport officials break up the event, James flees with Helen and Vaughan.
James soon becomes one of Vaughan's followers who fetishize car crashes, obsessively watching car safety test videos, photographing traffic collisions, and recounting the deaths of famous people in road accidents. Catherine, whom Vaughan has followed in his car on several occasions, begins to fantasize about him and James having sex. Although Vaughan initially claims that he is interested in the "reshaping of the human body by modern technology," his actual project is living out the philosophy that the car crash is a "benevolent psychopathology that beckons towards us".
James drives Vaughan's Lincoln convertible around the city while Vaughan picks up and has sex with a prostitute in the back seat. A short time later, James invites Catherine on one of his and Vaughan's drives. On an interstate, they come across a car wreck involving Colin Seagrave, a member of the group, who had been planning to authentically recreate the car accident that killed Jayne Mansfield with Vaughan. Amongst the wreckage, the three see Colin's bloodied corpse, wearing a dress and a blonde wig to accurately resemble Mansfield. Vaughan photographs the wreck as they pass by. Afterward, when police search Vaughan's convertible regarding a pedestrian hit-and-run, James drives it through a car wash while Vaughan and Catherine have sex in the back seat.
Later, Vaughan invites James to visit a tattooist who tattoos car emblems on Vaughan's body. Afterward, James and Vaughan, both highly aroused, have anal sex in Vaughan's car. James subsequently has another dalliance with Gabrielle, another of the group members whose legs are clad in restrictive steel braces and who has a vulva-like scar on the back of one of her thighs, an injury suffered in a crash. Later, Gabrielle and Helen visit a junkyard, and affectionally embrace while lying in a wrecked car.
Vaughan and James go for a drive in separate cars, aggressively pursuing each other. On an overpass, Vaughan intentionally crashes his car, landing on a passenger bus below, killing himself. After Vaughan's death, James and Catherine perform a similar stunt, with James pursuing her on a freeway at a high speed. Catherine unbuckles her seatbelt as she sees James approaching, and he rams into the back of her car, forcing it to topple down into a grass median. James exits his car and approaches Catherine's, which has flipped upside down. Catherine lays partly under the car, apparently superficially injured. When James asks if she is okay, she tells him she is not hurt. As the couple kiss and begin to have sex near the wrecked vehicle, Ballard whispers to her, "maybe the next one".
- James Spader as James Ballard
- Deborah Kara Unger as Catherine Ballard
- Elias Koteas as Dr. Robert Vaughan
- Holly Hunter as Dr. Helen Remington
- Rosanna Arquette as Gabrielle
- Peter MacNeill as Colin Seagrave
- Judah Katz as Salesman
- Nicky Guadagni as Tattooist
- Boyd Banks as Grip
- David Cronenberg (voice) as Auto salesman
The film was an international co-production between the British company Recorded Picture Company, and Canadian companies Alliance Communications Corporation, The Movie Network, and Telefilm Canada.
The film was controversial, as was the book, because of its vivid depictions of graphic sexual acts instigated by violence.
At the Cannes Film Festival, a screening provoked boos and angry bolts by upset viewers. In a 2020 interview, Cronenberg stated that he believed Francis Ford Coppola, the jury president at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, was so vehemently opposed to Crash that other jury members in favor of the film banded together to present Cronenberg with a rare Special Jury Prize. So great was Coppola's distaste for the film that, according to Cronenberg, Coppola refused to personally present the award to the director.
The controversial subject matter prompted The Daily Mail and The Evening Standard to orchestrate an aggressive campaign to ban Crash in the United Kingdom. In response to this outcry, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) inquired with a Queen's Counsel and a psychologist, none of whom found any justification to ban it, and 11 disabled people, who saw no offense with its portrayal of the physically challenged. Seeing no evidence for a ban, Crash was passed by the BBFC uncut with an 18 rating in March 1997.
A theatre manager in Oslo, Norway banned the film at her location. She denied it was related to a traffic accident that left her husband paralysed.
Media mogul Ted Turner, whose company oversaw U.S. distributor Fine Line Features, refused to release the film in the United States, going so far as to pull it from an October 1996 release date intended to coincide with the Canadian rollout. Cronenberg would later confirm that a Fine Line executive shared the rumor that Turner's distaste for the movie was the reason for its delay. He said Turner was morally offended and concerned about "copycat incidents." The film eventually received a U.S. release in Spring 1997.
AMC Entertainment Inc., the second-largest U.S. theatre chain at the time, said it was posting security guards outside about 30 screens showing the movie to ensure minors did not get inside. At AMC's Century City location in Los Angeles, two security guards were present, one inside the auditorium and one outside.
The film was still banned by Westminster Council, meaning it could not be shown in any cinema in the West End, even though they had earlier given special permission for the film's premiere, and it was easily seen in nearby Camden. In the United States, the film was released in both NC-17 and R versions. In Australia, a cut version rated R18+ was given a limited release; it was later released uncut on VHS in early 1997, and then on DVD in 2003. The American NC-17 version was advertised with the tagline "The most controversial film in years".
An academic study of the controversy and audience responses to it, written by Martin Barker, Jane Arthurs and Ramaswami Harindranath, was published by Wallflower Press in 2001, entitled The Crash Controversy: Censorship Campaigns and Film Reception.
It has a 63% "fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 59 reviews, with an average score of 6.8/10. The consensus reads: "Despite the surprisingly distant, clinical direction, Crash's explicit premise and sex is classic Cronenberg territory." On Metacritic, the film's score is listed as 50 out of 100, as determined by 23 critics, signifying "mixed or average reviews".
In his contemporary review, Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing:
"Crash" is about characters entranced by a sexual fetish that, in fact, no one has. Cronenberg has made a movie that is pornographic in form, but not in result... [Crash is] like a porno movie made by a computer: It downloads gigabytes of information about sex, it discovers our love affair with cars, and it combines them in a mistaken algorithm. The result is challenging, courageous and original—a dissection of the mechanics of pornography. I admired it, although I cannot say I "liked" it.
In 2000, a poll done by The Village Voice of film critics listed Crash as the 35th Best Film of the 1990s. A similar poll done by Cahiers du cinéma placed it 8th. In 2005 the staff of Total Film listed it at #21 on their list of the all-time greatest films. Slant Magazine selected it as one of their "100 Essential Films".
BBC film critic Mark Kermode has described Crash as "pretty much perfect" and praised Howard Shore's score, while admitting that it's a "hard film to like" and describing the cast's performances as "glacial".
In 2002 Parveen Adams, an academic who specializes in art/film/performance and psychoanalysis, argues that the flat texture of the movie, achieved through various cinematic devices, prevent the viewer from identifying with the characters in the way one might with a more mainstream movie. Instead of vicariously enjoying the sex and injury, the viewer finds himself a disimpassioned voyeur. Adams additionally notes that the scars borne by the characters are old and bloodless—in other words, the wounds lack vitality. The wound is "not traumatizing" but, rather, "a condition of our psychical and social life".
Of the adaptation, author J. G. Ballard reportedly said, "The movie is actually better than the book. It goes further than the book, and is much more powerful and dynamic. It's terriﬁc."
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for the Golden Palm at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival. In the end, it won the Special Jury Prize. Cannes jury president Francis Ford Coppola noted that "certain (jury) members did abstain very passionately" from endorsing Cronenberg's film, but added that it was important to give Crash an award, "even though in mining some truth of the human condition it offended (certain viewers)." However, other accounts have suggested it was Coppola himself who didn't like the film, with producer Jeremy Thomas later saying, "It touched a nerve with him." In a 2020 interview for the film's 4K restoration, Cronenberg said Coppola was the main dissent on the support for the film on the Cannes jury, adding that "he wouldn't hand me the award" and got someone else to do it.
In 1996, the film won six Genie Awards from the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television, including awards for Cronenberg as director and screenwriter and John Douglas Smith for "Best Achievement in Sound Editing". The film was also nominated in two further categories, including producer. Crash was also nominated in 1998 for the USA Motion Picture Sound Editors Award.
The film won in the category of Best Alternative Adult Feature Film Award at the 1998 Adult Video News Awards.
At the 1997 Stinkers Bad Movie Awards, the film was filed under the Founders Award, which lamented the year's biggest studio disgraces, and stated, "How Oscar winner Holly Hunter and the usually reliable James Spader and Rosanna Arquette got suckered into this mess is a mystery."
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