Letters: `Crash': difficult art or sick and inappropriate?

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Last week in the Sunday Review we published a long extract from the screenplay of David Cronenberg's difficult and disturbing new film, Crash. Here are some of the responses we received, most of them criticising our decision.

We knew the screenplay would upset some readers. Crash was already the focus of much debate, conducted almost entirely by people who hadn't seen it. Our decision to publish was based on the belief that it was an argument best held by those in full possession of the facts.

The film has been granted a certificate in the US and Canada, and is showing to enthusiastic audiences in Paris. There it has provoked argument - no one is denying that it is a challenging work - but few serious calls for it to be banned.

It is our belief that Crash should be thought of as belonging to a tradition of "difficult" cinema - one that stretches back through Reservoir Dogs and Monty Python's Life of Brian to Last Tango in Paris, The Wild One and beyond. Only time will tell whether Crash is remembered as a great film, or even a good one. In the meantime we felt that it deserved a fair hearing.

You are to be congratulated for publishing, in these censorious and sanctimonious days, the extract from David Cronenberg's screenplay for Crash.

J G Ballard's novel, written in a stunned, eerie, affectless prose, discovered a new literary landscape in the techno-neuter peripheries of London airport. Ever since the publication of Crash and its companion piece Concrete Island, such dead zones have been English literature's Ballard Country: his Wessex, his Blandings, his St Mary Mead. One of the great gifts that art can give us is to see new "real worlds", and so to make us see them too.

The screenplay, like the novel, wears its own shockingness casually. It is based on the assumption that the casting of a cool eye on love, on death, is the artist's job. If I have a criticism of the screenplay, it is that it reads "hotter" - perhaps even "steamier" - than the book. But I salute it for making the assumption of freedom. If we do not believe ourselves free to speak as we choose then we are already convention's slaves.

I haven't seen the movie yet, though I have discussed it with David Cronenberg. Martin Amis describes it as "almost a very funny film". I hope it is because Crash is almost a very funny book. What is obvious from the excerpt you printed is that the film is a serious attempt to film one of the few genuinely original and genuinely unforgettable texts of post-war English fiction.

That you felt obliged to preface the extract with a sort of health warning ("those who do not wish to be offended are advised not to read on") is an indication of how far we have slipped towards blandness, what a moralising lot we have become. But for treating your readers like adults, for permitting us to make up our own minds about a film that has been given a certificate everywhere in the Western world except here - that is for remembering what are the normal privileges of life in a free society - I offer you my thanks.

Salman Rushdie

I was mentally composing an ironic response to the extract from Crash when I caught sight of my husband staring at your cover shot of actor James Spader with fake cuts and bruises.

Twenty-five years ago almost to the day, on my husband's 13th birthday, his father died of multiple injuries sustained in a car crash. Remembrance Sunday is always a difficult day for him as it coincides with this anniversary. Spader is now about the same age as my husband's father was when he died. Sometimes, cool detachment is not enough. Sometimes, things are simply sick and inappropriate. This was.

Helen Walker

London W7

I read the screenplay of Crash carefully. I could find no evidence of J G Ballard's assertion that "it discusses ... the role that Hollywood sex and violence plays in our lives". I could also find no evidence that "it actually points out the dangers" of this same Hollywood psychosis for our imaginations as claimed by Sheila Whitaker.

What I could find was a banal, repetitive, thoroughly nasty piece of work that eroticised a specific mental illness. Our society has had years of Hollywood males' vile obsession with stalking and terrifying women, beating up women, and raping and murdering women. We don't need this film to "discuss" or "actively point out" the problem.

I'm sick of it and so are MILLIONS of others, men and women. And I'm fed up with you self-satisfied journalists who think we should all see whatever we want as individuals, regardless of the effect on society.

Suzie Johnson

Whittington, Staffordshire

I am astonished that what I thought was a responsible paper should give a large space to a verbatim extract from the text of a film which may be banned in Britain. Do you believe that "sexual arousal by car collision syndrome" is a common phenomenon worthy of artistic treatment?

Robert Shipway

Epsom Downs, Surrey

Your decision to bring the extract of the Crash screenplay to a wider audience, who can be trusted to decide for themselves the merits of the piece, showed much responsibility. Much better the desire to inform and act than to suppress and react being peddled by the self-proclaimed great and good.

Michael Kelly

Sutton, Surrey

As two of the minority who have actually seen Crash and are of an age and inclination to prevent moral outrage blurring our judgement, we think David Cronenberg's latest effort should be given a widespread release. The reason? It is by far and away the worst film we have ever seen. Far from being outrageous and shocking it is just plain bad.

We suggest that Virginia Bottomley, Councillor John Bull, Mary Whitehouse et al see it before making such a fuss about a film which would, and should, have died a death.

Ian Bengey

Darren Wickings

Bristol

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