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Crash (1996) (DVD)

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Actors: James Spader, Holly Hunter, Rosanna Arquette, Elias Koteas, Deborah Kara Unger / Directors: David Cronenberg / Writers: David Cronenberg, J. G. Ballard / Format: PAL / Subtitles: English, Spanish / Number of discs: 1 / Classification: 18 / Studio: Uca / DVD Release Date: 21 May 2007 / Run Time: 96 minutes

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      12.08.2013 22:08
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      2.5/5

      Crash is a Canadian psychological thriller movie. The film also shares its title with a 2004 American production about racial tension in L.A.. To be totally clear, this film is not about race, it is in fact about people who share a highly specific paraphilia: they get off on car crashes. Still pushes boundaries, I think you'll agree.

      Though it was certified 18 on release, Crash was banned in the West End and the Daily Mail famously opposed it on moral grounds. A similar story unfolded throughout the world, as it was rated R in America, criticised in Italy (of all places) and only heavily censored versions were allowed to air in Australia.

      Based on the book by J.G. Ballard, Crash tells the story of Ballard, as played by James Spader. At the start of the film we see he and his wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) engage in various acts of infidelity; their very lackluster sex life together is spiced up only by relaying details of their affairs.

      Early on, Ballard is involved in a head-on collision with another car when driving home from one such liaison. The male passenger of the other car is killed instantly, but the female driver, Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) is trapped in the fused wreckage. When trying to escape, her blouse rips and exposes her breasts.

      Dr. Remington and Ballard meet again in hospital. Along with various other injuries, Ballard's leg is shattered. He is confined to a leg brace and a wheelchair until further notice. In contrast, Dr. Remington comes away mostly unscathed. While in recovery, both of them are accosted by a man called Vaughan (Elias Koteas), ostensibly a photo-journalist. While Remington and Ballard begin an affair fueled by the shared trauma of their car crash, they find a common ground in arousal by re-living the accident. Confused, they go to visit Vaughan at one of his showcases. This is his attempt to recreate the automobile accident that killed James Dean, with real cars and no safety precautions. There Vaughan introduces Ballard, his wife and Dr. Hunter to Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette), a young woman whose legs are permanently braced. Thus Ballard is drawn into the seedy underworld of those who fetishise car crashes and their victims.

      As in all good deviant films, James Spader stars in the main role. He gives his usual, but believable, take on James Ballard. As well as Spader, Rosanna Arquette is excellent as the slightly deranged Gabrielle, though her part is small. Elias Koteas (as Vaughan) is a highly repulsive individual and Koteas does well to make every move and word that escapes his lips intensely disturbing - but it's not a part that gives me any joy. No other actor stood out for me. This is probably because, overall, the characters are understandably shallow. Crash doesn't offer much in the way of character development, let alone insight into the psychology or philosophy of destructive paraphilias... but at the same time it isn't exactly exploitation material either, and the actors involved weren't relegated to the B-movies quite yet at the time of release. It straddles a strange kind of line between the two; it almost feels like a Hollywood remake of a dodgier film - where there's just something missing in the latter's adaptation.

      Along with the unsympathetic characters, I have seen this movie described as "flat". I like to view this as a stylistic decision on the part of the film-makers. In a film full of dangerous passion, the incredibly dispassionate way it's conveyed is strange and compelling. It would have been too easy to make the film over-wrought and hammy.

      However, where I can forgive stylistic decisions, I cannot forgive dullness. I found the initial car crash scene between Ballard and Dr. Remington very striking. The contrast between death and pain and the obvious sexual provocativeness of Holly Hunter's breasts was genuinely quite disturbing. The film fails to recapture this jarring juxtaposition until the finale, and then only at a modicum of the former scene's intensity.

      Intensity is a strange phenomenon in Crash. Just as light slows when passing through certain objects, the tension that ties scenes together seems to undergo changes in speed and direction seemingly at whim. The first half follows Ballard's discovery of the underground world of his particular fetish, while the second half is just a disconnected list of sex scenes with various people. Set it to music and you would have a montage. For such a widely "controversial" film, the 100 minutes of its duration drag along seemingly until the end of time.

      Crash is not nearly as morally reprehensible as the press made it out to be at the time, nor as scandalous as it thinks it is. For example, we do see nipples (only in pairs, thankfully) and a full frontal of Deborah Kara Unger, but there is thankfully no gore where there so easily could have been. I suppose the most reprehensible things are the sex scenes, and only for how boring they are.

      While the first half of the film was rather taut with uneasy scenes contrasting sex and death, the second half was a sloppy procession of vague smutty images. The acting in Crash delivered strange and unnerving characters paired with awkward, repetitive sex scenes. The exceptional sex scene between James Spader and Rosanna Arquette, verging into the territory of the hilariously awful, was the highlight of the film for me. Probably best experiencing it yourself, as I couldn't possibly do it justice with words like, "leg", "labia" and "irrigation".

      While Crash is actually rather dull, at the same time, there was something abstract and compelling about the whole film. I don't think I'll forget the scene where Ballard watches the long lines of traffic through his binoculars, or different characters mentioning to each other that "there seems to be more traffic on the road, since the accident..."

      Price: £16.99 + FREE delivery (new); £6.98 + £1.26 (used)
      Subtitles: English, Spanish
      Number of discs: 1
      Classification: 18
      Studio: UCA
      DVD Release Date: 21 May 2007
      Run Time: 96 minutes
      ASIN: B000PY4WVY

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