WORDS OF THE WEEK; `You know, it's kinda strange here. Nobody, not one voice, has used the word freedom'
David Cronenberg's `Crash', a disturbing film which explores the relationship between sex and the violence of car crashes, goes on general release next week. It cannot be seen in Westminster, where it has been banned ... Co-producer Chris Auty rails at the decision
Saturday 31 May 1997
Last week, exactly a year later, I was choking again, this time in Westminster Council chamber on the Marylebone Road as I stood up to hear Councillor John Bull (sic) announce that Crash, despite its 18 certificate, was banned from playing in the borough. "No cinemas in Leicester Square for you, sonny," was the message, and with it the lurching realisation that other councillors in other boroughs around the country might just - blindly - follow where Westminster had led, and harm the film even further.
In the intervening year I had learned a lot: the Daily Mail had instigated and led a witch hunt, first against the film and then, when it received a certificate in March, against the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) personnel themselves. Four front-page banner headlines, and leader articles to match, is a lot of firepower: my in-laws rang from the country.
My older sister told me over dinner that she couldn't possibly see the film - she knew it would be too "violent". Violent?!! Violent?!! Here was a film as chaste and as sexy, as surreal and elusive, as Bunuel's masterpiece Belle de Jour. Perverse, yes. Funny, yes. Violent? Never. But my sister knew different: she'd read the headlines; she'd watched the outraged Councillor Bull on the evening news; she'd seen a government minister quoted as calling on local councils to view and ban the film, and the only thing she had not seen was the film.
Believe me, there is such a thing as bad publicity, and my liberal sister is a barometer of its effect. All it took was two lone newspaper voices and a dying government with only the morality card left to play, and we were damned as pornographers and worse. If you believe the commentary - largely made by those who have never seen our film - then we are the moving forces behind the Road Rage, Teenage Joy Riding and Foot Fetishism which are blighting our nation. Straight up.
But let's pause for a moment. Let's rewind to the week in November when those two voices first volunteered to denounce Crash on national television during the London Film Festival. Four days later I said goodbye to a dazed, but ever-ironical David Cronenberg: "You know," he said, "it's kinda strange here. Nobody, not one voice, has used the word `freedom'."
He was right then, and he is now. If Crash was a TV movie, a book, a painting or a stage show, it would have gone before the public. It would have taken its chances, been loved or hated, applauded or ignored, and ultimately faced the sanction of the courts if it was found obscene.
Crash, in the meantime, was passed uncut after six long months of consideration by the censor, only to be banned by a Westminster Council whose judgement imposes the Lady Chatterley double standard - OK for the master of the house but not to be seen by the wife or the servant.
In our case, Westminster were worried about "morally immature" adults who might wander into a cinema playing Crash. They shouldn't: I see these adults all the time and they're usually hugging a can of lager while they queue up at the Soho peepshows, whose premises are licensed by ... Westminster Council.
What has happened to Crash is an outrage. The cynicism and cant of its opponents doesn't matter. But the authoritarianism and moralism do. David was right: however much his film has been misrepresented, and it has, the real issue is one of free artistic expression to an adult audience.
And the voices speaking up for that point of view seem very muted at the moment. A year has passed and I'm not laughing any more. I'm tired. Fabulously proud of David's film. And spitting with rage.
So whether you're a road-raging, DM-booted, train spotter-fibrillated, techno-headed rover, or just, like me, a Levi-wearing, rumpled looking, thirtysomething, please follow doctor's orders: go and see Crash for yourselves.
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