Video Sundays: Cronenberg, Controversies, and "Crash"

Recommended viewing: David Cronenberg, his collaborators, and his critics, discuss the controversial sensuality of "Crash."
Kelley Dong
In March, Viggo Mortensen and David Cronenberg participated in this delightful discussion following a screening of Crash at the TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) Bell Lightbox. Released in 1996, Cronenberg's Crash (based on the novel by J.G. Ballard) follows a sleazy producer who joins a group of thrill-seekers whose particular fetish involves near-death, vehicular accidents with a streak of exhibitionism. Throughout the talk, Cronenberg shares his initial response of repulsion towards Ballard's clinical and humorless approach to such a "medical sensuality," and his sudden, impulsive decision to make the film ("I did have a Ferrari at the time, that might have had something to do with it," he says).
"I was more depressed by [Crash] than impressed," says Gene Siskel, in a heated debate with Roger Ebert during their show At the Movies. Siskel insists that the film is plainly idiotic; Ebert recognizes that the film is "too tough" for audiences to take, accusing Siskel of bringing no sympathy to Cronenberg's attempt to make "pornography without pornography."
David Cronenberg on the set of Crash 
Producer Jermey Thomas insists that he had "no idea [Crash] was going to be controversial," in a video detailing TIFF's invaluable virtual exhibition dedicated to the works of David Cronenberg. The exhibition, which includes behind-the-scenes images and academic texts, also includes a video interview (included here) with special effects specialist Stephan Dupuis, who shares the process of creating one of the most iconic costume pieces from Crash, Rosanna Arquette's body brace, which functions as her character's armor suit.
To compare, consider the 1971 short film Crash! by Susan Emerling and Zoe Beloff, which stars J.G. Ballard in both voiceover and as a man driving along the highway, intercut with close-ups of a sleek black car. Though the ultra-violence and hyper-sexuality of the feature film Crash are not to be found, Emerling and Beloff emphasize Ballard's cold vision prior to its transmutation into something far fleshier, and pushed to its moral and ethical extremes, by Cronenberg.


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