Crash (1996)

Since I recently watched that movie CRASH that Roger Ebert said was the best movie of 2005, I decided to finally go back and watch the original David Cronenberg version, which in my opinion is pretty fucking different.

This is the courageous story of a movie producer (James Spader) and his wife (Debora Kara Unger from STANDER and PAYBACK and THE GAME) and all the people they like to fuck from behind (various). The movie opens with Ms. Unger in an a hangar rubbing her nipple against an airplane while some dude licks her ass. And you can imagine where it would go from there (perverted car crashes, etc.). Very predictable, standard stuff.

CrashOkay, if I must spell it out for you: The plot really kicks in when Spader causes a car accident that badly injures himself and Holly Hunter, and kills her husband. They later meet up at the junkyard where their wrecked cars are kept, and have sex in a car while (we find out later) Elias Koteas takes pictures.

The only way to accurately describe this movie is as a late night Cinemax movie gone horribly, disastrously wrong. Maybe this is the Shannon Tweed movie you’d watch on Videodrome.

Elias Koteas’s character Vaughn is sort of the leader of a weird subculture of people sexually obsessed with car crashes. Both James Spader and Holly Hunter met him while rehabilitating in the hospital, because he came in and took photos of their injuries. Later they go around together and find highway accidents and lecherously photograph them.

My favorite scene in the movie is the introduction to this subculture. Spader and Hunter sit with a small crowd on some bleachers while Vaughn and two professional stuntmen recreate the car crash that killed James Dean. Then the cops show up (actually Department of Transportation, Vaughn says) and everybody runs off. This whole scene just has this great dreamlike feeling of that weird perverted thing you stumbled across that you probaly aren’t supposed to know about, like that time I found a web sight of photoshopped giantess pictures, or that other time I found the web sight of dudes riding around in canoes wearing diapers. What makes it even better though is Spader doesn’t look all that horrified by it, it’s more like he’s watching a school play or something. Everybody claps politely after the crash, even though they’re not sure yet if everybody is okay.

There’s not as much dialogue as in most movies, and what’s there is usually in half whispered monotones. The score is spacy, minimalistic guitar strumming. Some people will read this as artiness but for me it only emphasises the Cinemax feel. I like Cronenberg alot and his freakiness is a big part of his appeal. But I gotta be honest, I didn’t enjoy watching this one too much. The uncovering of the subculture is great, but after the Jayne Mansfield crash it seems like there’s no more plot to propel anything. It really does have a porno structure because most of the movie is just stringing together the different combinations of characters having sex with each other and the crazy, disgusting shit that happens. (At least in the NC-17 version I saw. I’m sure the R-rated version is probaly a light comedy about an auto race or competition among used car salesmen or something like that).

So you get a scene where Spader fucks Rosanna Arquette’s leg wound. And you get a scene where Spader and Vaughn get “prophetic tattoos” of a steering wheel and a hood ornament, then they fuck in a car and lick each other’s bloody tattoos. That kind of thing. There’s one scene that’s more like a normal sex scene between Spader and Unger, but if you’re gonna jerk off to that one you’ll probaly have to put it on mute because the whole time Unger keeps asking questions about Elias Koteas, like “Have you seen his penis?” and “What do you think his anus looks like?” It’s possible that she’s just really terrible at pillow talk but I think something more was going on here.

Okay I’ll just say it, I don’t get this movie. I mean I like that it exists but I don’t really understand what it’s supposed to be about. But I bet it’s something. Way to go Cronenberg, I imagine you probaly did a good job on this one.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 29th, 2006 at 3:16 am and is filed under Drama, Reviews, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

11 Responses to “Crash (1996)”

  1. Yeah….*rubs back of head*…..I saw this the other day…..don’t really want to talk about it.

  2. The general queasiness of Vern’s review is understandable, but is a little telling of film audiences’ prudishness towards sexuality in film. Especially towards alternative sexuality, that isn’t homogenized into a cliche or stereotype as it is here. You could say it was a good barometer of the subject for the film community in general. Francis Ford Coppola opposed the film when it was shown at Cannes, the year he was president of the jury. It was banned from being shown in London’s West End, British journalists and politicians went out of their way to crucify it on moral grounds. In the U.S., it was practically buried in release by the studio and really found a life after in home release.

    Probably exposing a bit of myself here, but I liked it a lot. It’s my 2nd favorite Cronenberg movie (1st being HISTORY OF VIOLENCE). The sex didn’t feel as quite as pornographic (one could make the argument it isn’t that at all) as I’ve seen in more pulpier mainstream fare, and it was a welcome change to see it. I am a sucker for jangly guitar scores, so Howard Shore’s music hit the right note for me. And an interesting cast, in that he could get such name actors for such risky material. Spader in particular is good, and his fearlessness for diving into these kinds of roles (SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE and later SECRETARY) is to be applauded. It’s a shame he hasn’t done more worthy film work, but I was glad to hear he was cast in Spielberg’s LINCOLN.

  3. But if you see Spader on BOSTON LEGAL he was amazing week in, week out.

  4. From what I saw of it, I thought he was too. Didn’t catch him on THE OFFICE, though. He even had one seriously bad-ass role in 2 DAYS IN THE VALLEY.

  5. Should probably point out a few errors in my initial comment. “As it is here” meant that the film didn’t stereotype what I referred to as alternative sexuality. And I clearly missed typing “video” in the last part of that first sentence.

  6. Ugh, first paragraph.

  7. Revisiting the sight in these lockdown times…

    I love this movie but don’t know if this is my reading of Crash, a half-remembered think-piece or (probably) a combination of the two but I think the eroticism is tied to a couple of things;

    1. The compulsion to look as you drive past a crash site.
    2. The long tradition of sexualising cars. Every part of a sports car from exhaust note to hood ornament is designed to elicit an emotional response.
    and 3. The parallel between cars crashing into each other (the intertwined bodywork, oozing fluids and post-impact, loss of control daze) and sex.

    And that’s why I love it, like so much of Cronenberg’s work it’s looking at an area of human behaviour and amplifying it to the point where you squirm and can’t quite figure out why.

  8. It is interesting to think of this film in a current context, in that intimacy is potentially dangerous now because of COVID, and how this brazenly explores such risky desires. It’s as clinical as I’ve heard the book is described, without judgment or moralizing from a more mainstream prudish point of view towards the behavior shown.

    Criterion is finally putting this out in December. A German company comissioned a 4K restoration last year, and put it out on UHD Blu-ray (Criterion’s is DVD and regular Blu, still not having made the upgrade to putting out 4K discs). Cronenberg and Viggo Mortensen had a pretty amusing and informative Q&A after a screening at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival.

    Viggo Mortensen & David Cronenberg on CRASH

    Frequent David Cronenberg collaborator Viggo Mortensen joins us for an introduction and Q&A following a screening of Cronenberg’s controversial tale of bodil...

  9. Arrow Video’s UK branch is about to release a UHD of it for those who can import and have a region free player.

  10. Honestly thinking of getting a region-free player that can play UHD’s (which are region free anyway), just so I can get both the Arrow and Criterion versions. They each have almost entirely different supplemental material, and I’d just love to see this in 4K quality anyway. Criterion is on a roll with releases this year, with PARASITE and THE IRISHMAN and now this, a long-awaited title.

  11. Today I learned that my prudish mother actually tried to watch it a while ago, because thanks to BOSTON LEGAL and THE BLACKLIST she became a James Spader fan. She didn’t make it very far.

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