Thursday, June 22, 2006

Reshaping the human body by modern technology.

I can't tell you why, but I'm drawn to David Cronenberg's Crash.

Initially, it was an ironic infatuation; in college I'd watch the tape in mixed company, snickering at Cronenberg's ability to profoundly repulse unsuspecting viewers. I didn't much care for the film (or Cronenberg for that matter), but Crash was good for a laugh.

Then a funny thing happened. I started taking Cronenberg and his work more and more seriously (during my third or so viewing of Dead Ringers I was startled to realize that it was easily one of the best films of the 1980s and an indisputable masterpiece) and Crash became something entirely different. I still think there's a lot of gallows humor in it, but I'm struck by how Cronenberg seems to be wrangling with these weighty concepts--the erotics of danger, compulsion, technological paranoia, relationships--and he doesn't seem to have (or care about) a defined thesis. He's content to wrestle with these themes in a film that basically lacks any conventional narrative and does it in the most clinically explicit, provocative, and violent way imaginable. And in the end, he ultimately leaves it all open for discussion.

A confession: when I watched the film a couple of nights ago, I spent most of the time not thinking about the moral implications or the perfect production values; I thought about Ted Turner. This was the mental image in my head: Turner, then owner of TimeWarner, is settled into his private screening room to view this controversial movie his conglomerate has recently acquired at Cannes. He brings a perfectly grilled beefalo burger to his mouth and just as he's about to take a bite, from the screen Deborah Kara Unger asks James Spader if he knows was Elias Koteas's semen tastes like. Uncle Ted chokes for a second and does a spit take. And scene.

Juvenile? Yup. But every time a Cronenbergian bit of perversity showed up on the screen, that was the mental image that ran through my head. And it made me laugh. Every time.


At 12:09 PM, Blogger girish said...

Same here, Ben.
I can't shake this damn movie either.
I like how its structure mirrors that of a porn film: it's a serial stringing together of sex scenes (either literally; or metaphorically--like the James Dean crash or the aftermath of the Jayne Mansfield crash, which for me is the creepy-crawliest scene in the movie).

You've probably read the Iain Sinclair BFI book on the movie? It's my favorite in that whole series, and spends a lot of time on the novel too. (Ballard loved the movie.)

And there's a killer interview-essay by Martin Amis on Ballard in VISITING MRS. NABOKOV. He sounds mild, innocuous and garden-suburban, nothing like the guy who might've perpetrated such a mindfuck.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Tim said...

Double Feature: Crash and Ted Turner's end-of-the-world video he's lovingly worked on for CNN. And as an appetizer, a Jane Fonda exercise tape. All screenings begin 5 minutes after the hour.

At 2:33 PM, Blogger Ben said...


I actually need to get on it and read that BFI monograph. And I need to check out that Amis essay. (I also need to go back to the trusty Complete New Yorker DVD and dig out Salman Rushdie's creepy essay comparing the coverage of Princess Diana's death with Crash.)
I also love that one could make the case--if one stretched it a little--that Crash is actually a sequel to Empire of the Sun. That innocent little Christian Bale-as-James Ballard would grow up to be sick-fucko James Spader-as-James Ballard.

And I bet you've seen this Rosenbaum piece, but I'll link to it just in case you haven't. I think it nails a lot of my feelings towards it, especially this passage:
"The fact is it's difficult to say what Crash is. Ballard doesn't know, and neither does Cronenberg. Not even Turner or I can slap on a ready-made label like 'pornographic' or 'cautionary' and make it stick. It looks romantic but isn't, feels pornographic but isn't, appears to be set in the present but isn't--at least not exactly. (There are also times when it appears to be a parody of or critical commentary on romanticism, pornography, and the present day, though not consistently.) That's what makes it so interesting, even if it leaves us all in a critical quandary. It's a project in search of its own definition--like America, one might say, except that Cronenberg's movie is Canadian and Ballard's novel is British."

The sad thing is: the actual content of the tape sounds hella lame.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger girish said...

Holy crap. No, I hadn't seen that Rosenbaum essay but it's spot-on.
And I'll dig up the Rushdie article in the college library. Didn't know about that one either.
Thanks, Ben.

And if you don't have the Amis book, drop me a line with the address of your new digs and I'll put a xerox in the mail to you.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Ben said...

Thanks for the offer, but after reading a certain blog post I ran out and bought a copy of the Amis book.

At 11:54 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

Crazy Kathy Acker also wrote an excellent essay on this film (it's in her collection "Bodies of Work"):

"The camera transforms each wound into a new, never-before-seen genitalia. After a car crash, anything can be penetrated, anyone, everything and everyone is, anyone can penetrate and does. The new realm is no longer one of duality, of men who penetrate with cocks and women who get penetrated via cunts. Each car crash allows sexual organs to proliferate everywhere: the world is sexualized as it was when it began."

At 11:41 AM, Blogger Flickhead said...

Crash is one of the very few films I've seen repeatedly at the movies, at least four times when it was first released, and then once or twice later on.

I'm not a fan of Cronenberg's, though Dead Ringers is excellent and Naked Lunch works as slapstick for manic depressives like myself.

Crash taps into sex and pain like no other film, equating the two as one (thus the emphasis on sodomy). There are not many filmmakers who could make Rosanna Arquette's car showroom scene work, or make that gash in the back of her thigh appear so...inviting.


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