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Sex & Drags & Wreck & Roll (Part 1)
on 19 February 2008
Not to be confused with this years Oscar winning sensation, you can't help but conclude that Crash 2005 must be referencing its older namesake with the opening dialogue... "We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much that we crash into each other just so we can feel something." Crash 2005 is a blockbuster on the controversial subject of racial tensions in Los Angeles.
Crash 1996 was just plain... controversial.
A decade ago the British press ran a series of front page appeals for governmental pressure to ban a new film which they'd described as "Beyond the bounds of depravity."
The 1973 J.G Ballard novel, on which the film is based, had long been a favourite of mine but as the controversy raged on throughout the summer of `96' it became apparent that the film may never be shown in the U.K. Crash had already been released in France, so by the time this idiocy hit the point where an audience of paraplegics were invited for a special screening to see if they were offended or not, I had no choice but to leave for Paris where exactly one year later Ballard's `cautionary tale' of car crash celebrity deaths would reach an apotheosis of sorts in an underpass at the Pont D'Alma.
Described by its author as "the first pornographic novel about technology" the book is about a group of car crash survivors who, led by deranged T.V scientist Vaughn, see the car crash as a new form of sexual perversion. Vaughn's ultimate fantasy is to die in a head-on collision with the actress Elizabeth Taylor who, throughout the 60's and 70's was the Princess Diana of her day; constantly hounded by the press and ultimately crucified on the beam of her own celebrity.
The film adaptation, directed by David Cronenberg, avoids the heavy traffic of `serial bride' Liz's potential legititive clout and instead becomes `a futuristic love story set in the present'. James (James Spader) and Catherine (Deborah Kara-Ungar) are a married couple so filled with inertia that they are desperate for some emotional connection by any means necessary. After a series of extramarital encounters they find themselves attracted to a group of disturbed members of a bizarre car-crash sect who enact famous car crashes for kicks. The pair soon find themselves willing accomplices in a tableaux of violence and desire until finally they attain some provisional approximation of actual love.
Kara-Ungar's portrayal of Catherine exemplifies perfectly the icy detachment of a woman who appears to be observing herself from another galaxy. Unfortunately, the film hinges on a moment where the groups leader Vaughn, played by Elias Koteus who explains his philosophy of auto-geddon as a fertilising event rather than a destructive one to his disciple James. Koteus' delivery is addled and Spader (understandably) laughs; blowing the scene and almost the entire film with it.
Nevertheless Crash is, above all, a brave attempt to explore an almost un-bearable subject - the death of affect and our unconscious desire for violence. As we're bombarded with pseudo-events and war entertainment - designed to make us consume in ways that are of optimum benefit to multi-national conglomerates who really (forget governments) walk where the power is - Cronenberg's Crash is as much a road sign warning of our impending emotional bankruptcy as it is to the sexual ambiguity of the highway pile up.