Motoring: David Cronenberg, director of the controversial film `Crash', talks about his enthusiasm for cars and racing

I've just finished a script. It's called Red Cars. I don't know whether it will be my next movie or not. It's about the Formula One Championship of 1961, which was won by Phil Hill, the first American to win the championship. He won it for Ferrari when his team-mate Wolfgang von Tripps was killed at Monza. It's really about creative dynasties, about fathers and sons, and it's about car racing. Enzo Ferrari is a major figure in the script. So it's quite a different thing from my movie Crash. It would be interesting to play them on a double bill. They're almost like two sides of a coin.

I'm a vintage racer myself. I race old cars from the Fifties and early Sixties in events for old guys who couldn't afford those cars when they were younger. I am certainly a car enthusiast, but Crash is not made out of that part of me. The only part of the movie that came out of my car- enthusiasm side was when I was working with the stuntmen.

Have I ever been involved in crashes myself? Yes, I have scars on my back from motorcycle crashes. And I have been in crashes in race cars. But a crash in a race car is a completely different thing. You're wearing a fire suit and a helmet. You've got a six-point harness. And everybody else on the track is a racer. There are fire marshals with fire extinguishers at the corner. There are no cars coming the other way because you're all going the same direction.

It's very unlike a serious traffic accident, which I have never had. But it all adds to your understanding and curiosity about velocity and impact, and I mean that emotionally as well as physically. I've never had the kind of crashes portrayed in the movie.

But one of the reasons for making the movie was to come to an understanding of what that can mean, what it can be like. Making the movie was my way of exploring those phenomena, including the one we all know of people slowing down to look at a traffic accident. Everybody does it. Everybody denies it or feels guilty about it.

One of the amazing things that happened when I first met J G Ballard, who wrote the book on which the movie is based, was that we had this instantaneous understanding of each other's art, even though we come from very different backgrounds. I felt when I read Crash that it was taking place in a strange phantom North America rather than in Britain - the cars he described were not Ford Anglias. They were 58 Buicks. That's what they felt like when he talked about the chrome and grilles.

North America looms very large in Ballard's imagination. It represents many things for him which are perhaps unfashionable. It represents freedom and expansiveness and generosity and open spaces. When I read the book I thought of Toronto. That felt to me like where the book was happening, even though he does mention very specific roads and motorways near London. Ballard felt the same. He felt that spiritually it was not happening in London.

One of the things in the book I dispensed with was the Elizabeth Taylor element. Twenty five years ago, when Ballard was conceiving and writing the book, Taylor was a Hollywood icon. Now she's become an old lady who does Aids benefits. That's what most audiences would know her for.

I replaced Taylor with the James Dean car crash, which is not in the book. He was safely dead as an icon, untouchable, and I felt that was much more useful to what I was doing in the movie - the idea that James Dean died of a broken neck and became immortal. How do you die and become immortal at the same time? That was what I wanted to ask. Since then, of course, I've moved on - to other heroes: Phil Hill, Wolfgang von Tripps, Enzo Ferrari; and to other pursuits: the challenge of the racing track.

David Cronenberg was talking

to Geoffrey Macnab

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