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This review appears direct to the web courtesy of THE CINEMA LASER.



David Cronenberg’s CRASH ($50) is not a film that will appeal to all audiences, nor is it a film that can be easily liked even by its admirers. Based on J.G. Ballard’s controversial novel, the subject matter of CRASH is difficult, and I would imagine very distasteful for many individuals. This isn’t because CRASH deals with sexuality, but because of fetishism associated with car crashes and car crash victims. This isn’t to say that CRASH doesn’t have sexually explicit moments, it does. The film did receive an NC-17 rating, and while there is a fair amount of nudity and simulated sex, it is the disturbing subject matter that earned this film that rating. It is obvious that one of Cronenberg’s objectives was to push the envelope of commercial filmmaking, by creating an intentionally adult, NC-17 rated film. Paul Verhoeven attempted the same thing with SHOWGIRLS, but Verhoeven’s film exhibited sex and nudity for their own sake, with nothing to back it up. Cronenberg creates an environment where a perverse sexual obsession is the direct result of the traumatic experiences of car crash victims. Not only do they become obsessed with the crashes themselves, but also the way that crashes reshape the human body. Rosanna Arquette’s character Gabrielle is a rather extreme example. Gabrielle is a very sexual creature, although crippled and scarred by her accident. She is one of the most perverse and alluring images in the film. Clad in a leather miniskirt and custom leg braces and body harness, Gabrielle almost looks like an S&M cyborg. But the character of Gabrielle is only part of it; Cronenberg fills the film with startling imagery. He uses Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography to imbue CRASH with a detached dreamlike quality, which at times turns nightmarish and shocking.

The plot of CRASH centers on a jaded married couple (James Spader and Deborah Kara Unger),who engage in extramarital affairs then relate the details of those affairs to their partner. James, the husband, is seriously injured in a head-on collision with another car. Helen (Holly Hunter), traveling in the other car survives the crash, although her husband is propelled through the windshield and is killed. James and Helen encounter each other while recuperating in the hospital; this is where they meet Vaughan (Elias Koteas), a car crash fetishist. Because of  their traumatic experience, they become part of Vaughan’s world, attending recreations of famous car crashes and having sex in cars. CRASH is filled with strong and very brave performances, and despite how bizarre my description of the film may seem, these actors deserve recognition for their work. James Spader, Holly Hunter, Deborah Kara Unger, Rosanna Arquette and Elias Koteas all bring something great to the material, with Unger being a particular standout.

The Criterion Collection Laserdisc edition of CRASH has been given a good-looking Letterboxed transfer which renders the film in its proper 1.66:1 theatrical proportions. The image has good detail, even during the numerous dark sequences, although there is a bit of film grain in a couple of places. Color reproduction is super, with vivid hues for both the warm and cool colors. The digitally encoded Dolby Surround soundtrack has a great mix that adds directional effects to the film’s car crashes and car chases. Howard Shore’s intense score also benefits from the Dolby encoding. This score, while integral to the film, is so good that it can stand alone as a work and is highly enjoyable. The Sony DADC pressing had modest speckling and was slightly noisy. David Cronenberg supplies an audio commentary on analog track one. Cronenberg’s commentary is very interesting and explains many of the decisions behind the film; he also discusses the controversies connected with the film’s strong subject matter. Other supplements include American and European theatrical trailers, as well as behind-the-scenes footage that includes interviews with Cronenberg and author J.G. Ballard.

If you are a fan of CRASH, this Criterion Collection Laserdisc is the definitive way to own it.


Laserdisc reviews are Copyright 1997 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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