David Cronenberg's film, Crash, based on JG Ballard's novel, has been ruled out-of-bounds for showing in West End cinemas. The decision made yesterday by Westminster City Council to impose an interim ban means that the film must now be considered by the British Board of Film classification later this year.
If I was to prepared to risk my life in the Channel tunnel, I could of course nip over to Paris and watch it. If the hysterical fears about Crash were well-founded, one would have thought that Paris is by now a place full of smouldering wrecked cars peopled with perverted Parisians copulating amongst the debris. This does not, however, appear to be the case.
Why? Perhaps because French citizens are less easily influenced than we are. Perhaps because they don't believe everything they see. Perhaps because they understand the difference between reality and fantasy. Perhaps because this film is meant to arouse the imagination rather than the libido.
In Britain, however, Crash has aroused indignation and incomprehension. Despite pleas on its behalf from prominent writers and artists, from Salman Rushdie to Mike Leigh, a dreadful literalism prevails. Without all this fuss, whipped up mostly by those who haven't seen the film, Cronenberg's movie would probably never have been big box office any way. Those of us who are Cronenberg fans have never expected his films to be an easy or particularly comfortable ride. We sat cross-legged through Dead Ringers which featured twin gynaecologists fashioning surgical instruments for "mutant women". A feel-good movie is the last thing we would ever expect of this man.
The subject of Ballard's novel, which he once eerily described as a kind of interior autobiography, is an exploration of sex and violence in entertainment culture and, as he explains, "the probably sinister effects they are having on the public imagination".
The novel, written more than 20 years ago, was "a cautionary tale," a prophetic vision of what happens when violence is eroticised, when ordinary people become obsessed with celebrity life and celebrity death. Crash takes our obsession with sex and cars to its logical and, yes, extreme, conclusion. Ballard, who realised he could write science fiction set in the English suburbs, is himself concerned about the level of violence in cinema, pointing out that Reservoir Dogs is far more likely to incite copycat behaviour than anything in Crash.
The Westminster councillors have bizarrely insisted that one of the lines that should be cut from the film is "Car crashes are fertilising not destructive". There, you have just read it, but you are not currently permitted to see an actor saying it, presumably on the grounds that you might be persuaded this was true.
Crash will offend, it will bore and it will fail in some eyes because after all the hype, it is not a film designed to titillate. Cronenberg, speaking the other day, told us that one of the most common complaints about the film was that the car crashes were not realistic enough. So used are we apparently to seeing them on screen in slow-motion, that his crashes were not exciting enough.
That is a definition of depravity if ever there was one and in essence is what the film is actually attempting to bring to the surface. Yet to ban this film one must assume it depraves and corrupts, that it may cause imitative behaviour. This is ludicrous and just because the censors cannot distinguish between reality and fiction how dare they assume we can't either.
Councillors ban film, page 9