Cult Canadian film director David Cronenberg found something like his ideal text in J.G. Ballard’s Crash. Preoccupied with the same mix of violence, sex, technology and bodily modification that characterised such films as Videodrome, Naked Lunch and The Fly, Ballard’s account of a sub-culture of automobile freaks, who get off on the mangled flesh and metal of car accidents, was not an obvious candidate adaptation for the big screen — but it did make perfect sense as a Cronenberg film.
Entwining the two artists’ sensibilities, the film version of Crash stars James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger as married couple James and Catherine Ballard. Bored with their already adventurous sex lives, the two find renewed vitality when a deadly collision leads to a meeting with a group of car crash fetishists led by battered stunt driver Vaughan (Elias Koteas), who stages reenactments of famous accidents and carries a folder full of gruesome medical photographs.
The film has a coldness and sterility to it. The characters cruise the Toronto freeways, finding new sexual configurations as the camera lingers on crumpled metal, ripped leather and torn skin. The car, such an integral part of the functioning of the modern world, has become an extension of the human body: thus rendering the on-screen transgressions a perfectly rational progression. Today, in an era of smartphones and augmented reality, this perverse blend of body and technology is only increasingly familiar.
As with Ballard’s novel in the 1970s, Cronenberg’s Crash was intensely and viscerally rejected by popular society when it was released in 1996, with Westminster City Council going as far to ban the film from screening in its borough. Above The Line’s screening allows audiences another shot at seeing this exhilarating, challenging work of cinema with a crowd.