The other film adaptation of J.G. Ballard's "Crash"
July 29, 2012 6:58 PM   Subscribe

Long before the David Cronenberg film (NSFW: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10), before even the publication of the novel, Harley Cokeliss directed Crash! (1, 2) - a short film adapted from the story in J.G. Ballard's The Atrocity Exhibition, starring Ballard himself and Gabrielle Drake (sister of Nick Drake). (previously)

... in 1969, I staged an exhibition of crashed cars at the New Arts Laboratory in London — three crashed cars in a formal gallery ambience. The centerpiece was a crashed Pontiac from the last great tail-fin period. The whole exhibition illustrated a scene from my previous book, Atrocity Exhibition, where my Travis hero stages a similarly despairing exhibition. What I was doing was testing my own hypotheses about the ambiguities that surround the car crash, ambiguities that are at the heart of the book. I hired a topless girl to interview people on closed-circuit tv. The violent and overexcited reaction of the guests at the opening party was a deliberate imaginative overload which I imposed upon them in order to test my own obsession. The subsequent damage inflicted on the cars during the month of the show—people splashed them with paint, tore off the wing mirrors—and at the opening party, where the topless girl was almost raped in the rear seat of the Pontiac (a scene straight from Crash itself), convinced me I should write Crash. - J.G. Ballard, "The Art of Fiction" No. 85, The Paris Review
posted by Egg Shen (23 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Nice find!
posted by Bwithh at 7:03 PM on July 29, 2012

Lorry, Gabrielle Drake is so beautiful. I remember purchasing the Space:1999 (I think - why am I too lazy to look up the exact title?) boxset for the videostore I worked at maybe 15 years ago. Short purple bob = rowr.
posted by item at 7:18 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

the opening party, where the topless girl was almost raped in the rear seat of the Pontiac

WTF Ballard!?
posted by infinitewindow at 7:27 PM on July 29, 2012

posted by Artw at 7:29 PM on July 29, 2012

Short purple bob

That would be UFO.
posted by Artw at 7:33 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely UFO.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:53 PM on July 29, 2012

Wait, he's driving around London in 72 in an Olds 88 four door?

Minus Colin Chapman party points for you Mr. Ballard.
posted by Relay at 8:09 PM on July 29, 2012

Right, UFO. As I said, too lazy to click around to discover the truth.

posted by item at 8:35 PM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Casey Jones stole this movie, although I don't understand why the Turtles weren't in the film.
posted by PJLandis at 8:38 PM on July 29, 2012

I have been a huge fan of the Ballard story and the Cronenburg film for years. Thanks for all of the great links.
posted by Isadorady at 10:52 PM on July 29, 2012

So... the first (and only) time I saw Crash was in the only gay bar in the Haight. I was with a bunch of my theatre friends, and well, we couldn't quite look away. It was sooooo many years ago, but I still feel a little dirty.
posted by smirkette at 10:54 PM on July 29, 2012

Casey Jones stole this movie...

Do you mean Duncan?
posted by Bango Skank at 5:01 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

The handbrake just penetrated my thigh.
posted by Decani at 8:38 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Very nice to see this short. Like Isadorady, I've been a fan for years.
posted by doctornemo at 12:25 PM on July 30, 2012

It's strange how Cronenberg's adaptation almost seems to purposely avoid the novel's central obsession with the fusion of cars and celebrity death: in a sense, any future film version was hopelessly eclipsed by the reality of Princess Diana's death in the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, a moment of such Ballardian singularity that to further dramatise Crash was surely rendered largely pointless.
posted by specialbrew at 2:11 PM on July 30, 2012 [5 favorites]

Great post, Egg Shen. Thanks.

I always find it interesting that, since they were both depicting Ballard at different times in his life, young Christian Bale's character in Empire of the Sun grew up to become James Spader's character in Crash. Sort of.

Now Bale and Brad Anderson are supposed to be working on movie version of Concrete Island.
posted by homunculus at 2:57 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

"It's strange how Cronenberg's adaptation almost seems to purposely avoid the novel's central obsession with the fusion of cars and celebrity death"

I haven't read the book, but the movie definitely touches on this with the scene where the group gathers to recreate James Dean's death.
posted by PJLandis at 5:46 AM on July 31, 2012

Yeah, starting at Part 5 about 9:30 they make the connection with celebrities and history very explicit and it grows from there.
posted by PJLandis at 6:19 AM on July 31, 2012

Admittedly a fair few years have passed since I watched Cronenberg's adaptation, but I very much recall my bafflement over his decision to almost completely excise the novel's most suffocating obsession. I do recall the concept of celebrity death being used as a component of fetish for Cronenberg's film, but this I feel is a long way from being the very centre of its narrative arc as it is in the novel.
posted by specialbrew at 12:06 PM on July 31, 2012

So, the main couple gets into a car accident and finds themselves sexually excited and obsessed with car crashes (to be literal). They meet another man who is similarly obsessed, but his focus is on recreating and watching famous car crashes. The couple then gets drawn deeper into this dangerous subculture.

What's different in the book because I've often read that the film was a very faithful adaptation, if perhaps more pornographic.
posted by PJLandis at 1:29 PM on July 31, 2012

I don't really remember Cronenberg's version as being particularly faithful to the text, at least not in the same way that something like Linklater's A Scanner Darkly traced PKD's original novel on an almost word-for-word basis. Even the seemingly trivial shift of transposing the film's setting to the States away from England removed the book's most palpable secondary character, the road systems that orbit around Heathrow: Ballard only really ever had three 'stages' in which he set his work (Shanghai, the Mediterranean, West London) and the context of these settings were as important as the ideas he presented.

Crash is not really a narrative novel, but a good deal of its cohesive focus revolves around James Ballard's overwhelming need to be involved in a head-on collision with Elizabeth Taylor, a form of pitch-black satire that I'm not sure Cronenberg ever really tried to address. The film also seemed to possess a weird atmosphere of vacant ennui, whereas the book is genuinely quite deranged: certainly so far as pornography goes, Ballard's text even now is pretty challenging stuff whereas the sexual content of Cronenberg's take seemed fairly sanitised at the time.

Although in theory Cronenberg should have been a fine choice as director, for me Cronenberg has his own set of obsessions as an artist and his fit with the Ballardian universe seemed to slightly jar, rather as if the Philip Glass quartet was playing a piece of Steve Reich.
posted by specialbrew at 3:28 PM on July 31, 2012

I just finished rereading Crash and watching the Cronenburg adaptation for the first time, and I'd say it's pretty faithful in spirit (much as the Linklater A Scanner Darkly was, though as a semi-obsessive PKD nerd, I have a lot of quibbles with Linklater). In the novel it's Vaugn, not Ballard, who is obsessed with Liz Taylor, but I didn't really find it to be a large focus independently of Vaugn's various other obsessions. It does sort of secondarily illuminate the character of the stunt driver who is in Vaugn's coterie, though, and Cronenburg sort of leaves that character to the side in favor of focusing on his wife instead.

Crash is one of those novels that I find it impossible not to respect as a well-formed realization of its author's vision, even at the same time that I don't really like it or find it in the least enjoyable to read. I am ready to spend several months without reading the words chromium, pubis, or binnacle again. I did find more depth in it in my recent rereading, though, in the way that the characters exist in a sort of permanent clinical detachment when they engage in sex, but seem to exhibit some vestigial flashes of empathy when they examine one another's wounds.

Also I thought readers of this thread would probably enjoy the cover of this romantic comedy (source unknown).
posted by whir at 12:18 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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