Thursday, May 6, 2010

I Will Be Your Ambulance, If You Will Be My Accident

Crash(1996)

Directed By David Cronenberg


Vaughan: "It's too clean."Tatooist: "Medical tattoos are supposed to be clean."Vaughan: "But this is not a medical tattoo. It's a prophetic tattoo. Prophecy is ragged and dirty... so make it ragged and dirty."The reason I added a content warning to this blog was so that when I wanted to I could review film's like David Cronenberg's "Crash" , having at least given fair warning. That being said, "Crash" is basically Cronenberg, who had been up to this point made primarily body-horror movies, directing soft core porn for car crash fetishists(This is your last chance to stop reading).When I read the words erotic printed on a DVD/VHS case, I usually take it with a grain of salt as virtually any euro or artsy film with more than one close up of a set of lips, hips, or...will get the brand "erotica", but this was pretty genuine smut (a nice sounding word I too rarely get to use), and that kind of sincerity I appreciated right off the bat.

James Spader does things in this film, some porn actors won’t do.

James Ballard: "After being bombarded endlessly by road safety propaganda, it was almost a relief to have found myself in an actual accident."From the first few minutes onward we get fairly straightforward sexual escapades in virtually every scene, involving a bored, zombie like husband named Ballard (after the novel's author) and his wife, stiff and only excited by each others infidelities. They say things to each other like...James Ballard: "You should've gone to the funeral."Catherine Ballard: "I wish I had. They bury the dead so quickly. They should leave them lying around for months."

Until one day the couple have a head on collision with another car, killing the husband in the oncoming car. The wife in the same car while pinned in her seat, (accidentally or on purpose) exposes her breast to Ballard, who hitherto becomes obsessed with car crashes and sex and all the combinations between the two.

More sex is had, and Ballard’s wife, and several other people come into the general swinging mix of things. Ballard begins a sexual affair with the wife he crashed into as well as a man who is obsessed with re-creating celebrity car crashes named Vaughan. Vaughan is a charismatic leader of this fringe group and makes up multiple explanations for his fetish which all sound vaugely reasonable, but like "The Dark Knight’s" Joker, all of them are flimsy names for what is basically unexplainable chaotic impulse. Whether he is explaining Crashing as a "fertilizing rather than a destructive event, mediating the sexuality of those who have died with an intensity that's impossible in any other form.", or discussing the time honored back-seat boogie as "reshaping of the human body by modern technology," its all just ego making excuses for Id.

Author J.G. Ballard, survived WW2, as documented in Stephen Spielberg’s “Empire Of The Sun”, an autobiography of the authors youth, but considers this his most personal work; both protagonists share his name, "Empire Of The Sun" the youthful usually referred to as "James" while "Crash" the adult "Ballard". He says of the his own story, for those of you in a contemplative "what does it all mean" mood the following...
"The car crash is the most dramatic event in most people’s lives, apart from their own deaths, and in many cases the two will coincide. Are we just victims in a totally meaningless tragedy, or does it in fact take place with our unconscious, and even conscious, connivance? Are these arranged deaths arranged by the colliding forces of the technological landscape, by our own unconscious fantasies about power and aggression, our obsessions with consumer goods and desires, the overlaying fictions that are more and more taking the place of reality?....I remember seeing some films on television of test crashes a few years ago. They were using American cars of the late 50s, a period I suppose when the American dream, and American confidence, were at their highest point. It's may be helpful to understand the Ballard of "Crash" by understanding the Ballard of "Empire Of The Sun". After living through the trauma of a sheltered well to do little boy suddenly thrown into an internment camp during the largest global war in history, it's not un-reasonable to imagine the same "character" growing up to view the universe and the varieties of contacts and connections in it, as either a disaster or an accident.

James Ballard: Do you see Kennedy's assassination as a special kind of car crash?
Vaughan: "The case could be made."
The performances are emotionally stale even during sex, eternally alienated, every one's looking for greater and greater kicks, and the story moves like any porn should with escalating extremities building toward climax. If there is a climax, and I’m not totally sure there is one, it comes a little too late, and doesn't leave us with enough intellectual or emotional denouement.In the end everyone is as automatic and mechanistic as the cars they operate, and are forced to collide in order to create spontaneous human contact, but we get that within the first 30 minutes, so why the additional hour of sex? "A beautiful body is it’s own reward", "sex has become meaningless", or "Who cares?/Why not?", are all decent enough answers, so you can pick whichever sounds best to you.

James Ballard: You had sex with all those men in cars? Only in cars? Helen Remington Yes. I didn't plan it that way.

James Ballard: Did you fantasize that Vaughan was photographing all these sex acts as though they were traffic accidents?

Helen Remingon: Yes. They felt like traffic accidents.

Lacking a denouement is not lacking emotion, the film draws our attention to the absence of feeling in a way, though be it with very different aims, that Robert Bresson would through his use of toneless, expressionless performances. Like Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" or Pier Pasolini's "Salo" the depictions of intercourse are dehumanized and passionless, and not intended to be enjoyed as erotic. The characters fuck constantly, never ceasingly, but hardly ever touch, rarely otherwise smile or blink, and grow to naturally rely more and more on the cars to add what Vaughn called "an intensity that's impossible in any other form" , having themselves become mechanical props in their own growing ever more extreme fantasies, little more than piston rods and fuel injectors made of flesh.

That being said Cronenberg is as much a masterful director of the body and the human form, here as he was ever, veering between unease, violence, the grotesque, and the arousing eventually into a wreck, but a flaming wreck of a film, that fails, but does so in manner that can generate an amarous discord of arguments and interesting thoughts. "Crash" is not a film for everyone, but for the minority interested in literate cinematic porn, there may be something amongst the debris.

1 comment:

dustin said...

There are. Sex in a machine age realized by a boy who saw the atomic blast and became a pilot carrying bombs and went through swinging sixties is completely logical progression and it's a good match for a filmmaker who's been interested in the darker side of human desire. Is it a good movie? At least an interesting one. Does the intentional repetitiveness of sex scenes turn us off? Undoubtedly. I went to see it with some friends of mine and they walked out in the middle. It has been a divisive movie for sure but I think it is skillfully done film reflecting a certain generation of our human population. I liked it.