Arts Notebook

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The Independent Culture
I belong to a deeply unfashionable minority - we few, we allegedly traumatised few, who have actually seen the film Crash in Britain. Exactly 950 of us viewed it at the London Film Festival last year. That's several hundred fewer than those who have been fulminating against the film ever being shown. I failed to spot Virginia Bottomley, Yusuf Islam or the leaders of Hull or Chester councils at the screening, though they are all among those encouraging the banning and boycotting of the film. And what of the much-quoted critic who labelled the film "beyond depravity"? He wasn't there because he doesn't exist. No critic ever used this phrase. It appeared in a newspaper headline and the copywright belongs to the headline writer.

Crash is a minor movie but far from being titillating or socially subversive, its sex scenes are cold and sterile, played out to a bleak and unerotic background atmosphere. The characters searching for thrills are sad and unfulfilled. I watched the film alongside its director, David Cronenberg, who stresses that the car crashes were "a metaphor for the collision of present technology and the human psyche".

Mind you, Cronenberg told me afterwards that psychotherapists in his home country, Canada, have now informed him that every week they get clients who do indeed experience sexual arousal from car crashes. This was news to him and, I suspect, not terribly helpful to his metaphor argument.

One of the most welcome sights at the Evening Standard's ballet and classical music awards ceremony on Thursday was that of Viviana Durante on stage, even if just to present an award. The Royal Ballet's sensuous, ethereal and compelling principal artist has been notably absent from the company - on sabbatical for many months now. It turns out she is dividing her time between exercise classes to keep the balletic muscles in shape and voice classes for her new non-balletic enthusiasm - acting. "But dancers do act, thank you very much," balletomanes will be huffing. And quite rightly. But as Viviana tells me, too many stage and film directors fail to acknowledge this fact and the crossover from dancing to acting rarely occurs. In her last season, Durante demonstrated in both Anastasia and The Sleeping Beauty a dramatic prowess and sensibilities which had most critics reaching for superlatives. It would not surprise me at all if she turns out to be in the vanguard of cultural crossover.

Dame Muriel Spark said on receipt of the British Literature Prize on Wednesday that she would be using her pounds 30,000 award to buy "a lovely, new, suitable motorcar". But just what sort of vehicle does a novelist in her prime (she is 79) buy? The lovely, suitable motorcar that Dame Muriel wants turns out to be an Alfa Romeo. The creme de la creme, and exactly what Jean Brodie would have driven herself if she had had the chance.

If you blinked you will have missed it. But then perhaps you were intended to miss it. Labour's Jack Cunningham launched the party's strategy for cultural policy and the Arts last Tuesday. Barely a line appeared in a newspaper. There was no coverage on television. Tony Blair did not honour it with a single soundbite. The party released its Arts document on the first day of the campaign, when it was inevitably elbowed out by other concerns.

It all sounds as if Labour wants to keep its strategy for cultural policy deadly quiet. If so, it's a pity. The document is somewhat lacking in The Big Idea but it's not short on initiatives that might actually help both artists and attenders of arts events. It contains a commitment to an Arts Card for 16- to 19-year-olds guaranteeing concessionary admission prices; pay-what-you-can nights for all ages at theatres on Monday nights, and the much heralded Nesta, the national endowment whereby wealthy stars and inventors leave some of their copywrights and patents to fund future generations of young artists and scientists. So my first question to Mr Blair in the TV debate would be: "Why did you want to hush it all up?"