Crash, the film described by one critic as "beyond depravity", may be banned from London's West End cinemas even if it is cleared for screening in other parts of the country.
As the British Board of Film Classification said it would convene all 22 of its examiners and managers to assess the film, Westminster City Council responded to a call by Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary - who has not seen Crash - for local authorities to exercise their little- used powers to veto the film in their boroughs.
The chairman of Westminster's licensing sub-committee, Councillor John Bull, called for a review of the film tomorrow. If the committee feels the film should be banned and the BBFC allows it to be screened, it will then explore ways of keeping it out of the West End.
"In the light of Mrs Bottomley's appeal and in response to the mood in the country following the Dunblane tragedy and the death of the headmaster Philip Law-rence, it is our duty to look very closely at films like this," he said.
Last night people queued around the block outside the Odeon West End cinema, Leicester Square, where Crash received its first public showing as part of the London Film Festival. Most tickets had been sold in advance to British Film Institute members. Christopher Hilton, the cinema manager, said: "I estimate that we could have sold all the available seats five times over."
Crash tells the story of a couple who survive a collision, only to become erotically obsessed with car crashes. It is based on a 1973 novel by JG Ballard that has acquired cult status. The film, starring James Spader and Holly Hunter, has been given an adult rating in the States but has yet to be released. It features numerous scenes of heterosexual and homosexual sex in cars.
Yesterday Mr Ballard defended the film on Radio 4's Today programme. "I think it's a brilliant film," he said, "a serious film which discusses a very important matter, the role Hollywood fantasy sex and violence play in our lives. It deserves to be seen by a large number of people."
The public viewing last night followed the granting of a special limited release by Westminster Council, which hadn't seen the film. Councillor Bull is unhappy. "I almost cut myself shaving when I heard on the radio this morning that we had given permission for this film to go ahead."
The screening was authorised by a council official who gave permission on the basis of a written account of the film's content. The BBFC said yesterday: "We are looking at what exactly are the attributes of this particular film that are problematic, whether the disturbing aspects indicate harmfulness."
After last night's screening the director, David Cronenberg, told the enthusiastic audience that he was not surprised by the media reaction to his film and admitted Virginia Bottomley's intervention had posed a problem.
"We have had Mrs Bottomley screaming for the banning of the film and she hasn't even seen it. I'm still hopeful you will be able to see the film here again, uncut."
Outside, several filmgoers expressed surprise at the film's content, with its emphasis on people with disabilities and terrible scars. "It's like Casualty with full-frontal sex," said one.
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