Film Scouts Interviews

David Cronenberg on "Crash"

by Harlan Jacobson

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May 19, 1996

"In most films," says David Cronenberg, director of "Crash", "the movie stops and you have the sex scene. Then it continues. And you could take out the sex scene and not change a thing." In many respects, "Crash" is the sex-driven car commercial turned into a nightmare of strange couplings incited by thre fresh smell of death on the highway.

Cronenberg is the Toronto-bred director of such itchy films as "Videodrome", "The Fly", "M. Butterfly", and "Dead Ringers". "Crash", he points out, strings together three or four sex scenes in a row, making them impossible to cut and, indeed, integral to the drama.

"Audiences begin to wonder 'When is the movie going to start?'", Cronenberg says. The sex scenes in the film, which was greeted by walkouts and boos in its screenings at the 49th Cannes Film Festival, "are the movie. The characters and their philosophical concerns are all revealed in them," according to Cronenberg, who adds "And I didn't give their inclusion much thought other than the difficulty in filming them."

Based on the1973 cult novel of the same name by JG Ballard, "Crash" was physically difficult to shoot," Cronenberg relates, due to the high incidence of night shooting, moving vehicles and the time and delicacy of shooting sexual activity.

"You know you can't talk someone into making a film like this," Cronenberg explains in praise of the film's cast, James Spader, Deborah Unger, Hollu Hunter and Elias Koteas. All doubts, fears and hesitations were addressed in the casting process itself, so that "Everything was resolved by the time we started shooting," he adds.

Cronenberg differentiated the result from the typical over-researched Hollywood product and "Crash". "Typically, a studio tests and does screenings and lets the audience tell you what they want. But if you do that, you only meet the audiences preconceived expectations... You need to lead the audience," Cronenberg countered, "to a place you yourself are discovering."

That place he continues, involved setting in motion characters "who are disconnected, who can't connect, but who have discovered a way to bring themselves back to life" through what he called a new emotionality and sexuality. "Variety", the trade paper, has a word for it: "Auto-eroticism."

Cronenberg spells out his thoughts on sexuality, saying it began as a "biological fact, but now we do not even need to meet to procreate. Sex has become a human invention, an art form, a form of technology no longer having a biological basis. These characters explore" that development, he says.

The cinema and the automobile, Cronenberg notes, were both born 100 years ago. Each brought unparalleled freedom to explore, and each compressed time and space. That observation completed, Cronenberg - who owns a Ferrari and used to race cars in the 60's - was whisked away in a helicopter to check out some grand prix racers at Monte Carlo.

Hold on to your gear shifts: Cronenberg's next film is set in the world of race car driving. There are no plans to crash cars and stage violent sex acts before the cheering multitudes, however. For now.

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