Prior to the formation of GPS, several of the contributors were active in The C Foundation's house magazine The C Foundation Quarterly, a savage hotbed of left-wing politics and counter-culture commentary. Sadly, TCFQ failed to outlive the Tory administrations it vehemently denigrated, and is now defunct. The article reproduced below featured in the final issue (TCFQ 6, December 1996). At the time a core of right-wing media reactionaries were attempting to ban David Cronenberg's film Crash. Shortly after the publication of TCFQ 6, Crash was certified for release, uncut, although the ban by Westminster Council remained in place (whether TCFQ influenced the BBFC's decision is still unclear). In the years after the film's release, carnage continues unabated on London's orbital motorway, the M25. However, the author has not, as yet, identified any leather-jacketed pervs having anal sex on the hard-shoulder. The censors therefore appear to have been correct in their decision. Finally, confirming the validity of Ballard's original vision, we strongly suspect Crash's protagonist Vaughan would have had a novel viewpoint on Princess Diana's death, and the subsequent media over-reaction.

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Crash



In recent months, the UK, in the wake of the Dunblane massacre, has embarked on one of its regular moral crusades. As is invariably the case with such national debates, reactionary soundbite ranting from the likes of the Daily Mail, Tory backbenchers, Labour frontbenchers [1] dominated and more thoughtful contributions have been largely ignored. In this climate, scapegoats are sought, almost at random; this has produced some positive results - e.g. increased restrictions on the ownership of guns [2], and some negative - notably, increasing censorship focusing on attempts to ban David Cronenberg's film Crash. This article attempts to articulate the case against specious censorship and argues that Crash - far from being "depraved", "perverted" or "filth" - is an intelligent work which make many important, though uncomfortable, observations about contemporary society.

Crash is based on J G Ballard's 1973 novel of the same name. The novel, set in the sodium-lit technological landscape of the motorway network around Heathrow Airport, is concerned with the sexuality of car crashes. What Martin Amis calls the "hard stare" of Crash begins when the narrator (uncompromisingly called James Ballard) is involved in a fatal car crash with a woman doctor, Helen Remington, in which her husband is killed. Ballard then, in a maelstrom of confusion, guilt and aggression, begins a denatured relationship with Remington which centres around a growing awareness of the couple's fetishistic attraction for motor vehicles. Remington introduces Ballard to the novel's key character; a psychotically obsessed TV scientist, Vaughan ("the nightmare angel of the expressways"), who with a coterie of crash victims re-enact fatal car accidents involving celebrities (James Dean, Albert Camus) in order to obtain sexual gratification. Ballard (the author) pushes this subject matter to the limit, until in a hellish collision of engine coolant, windscreen glass, wound profiles and semen, Vaughan is killed attempting the ultimate orgasm: ramming into a Rolls Royce carrying the film actress Elizabeth Taylor.

Ballard's novel is not only extreme, but utterly original. To place it in its literary context is difficult - possibly it is a fusion of SF and the French 'nouveau roman' genre. Certainly Ballard has stated that in response to the "marriage of reason and nightmare" that is the history of the 20th century, the novelist no longer has the moral authority to invent a hermetically sealed universe in which the narrator is God, knowing every nuance of her character's thoughts, knowing all answers in advance. Ballard's response in Crash is to offer the reader the contents of his own mind, to devise hypotheses and test them against his (subjective) perception of reality. To this extent, the novel's themes are metaphorical: Ballard's experiences [3] twisted through his imagination. The car should be viewed as representing modern technology. (That this technology is both deadly and erotic is demonstrated by the media's orgasmic reaction to the Gulf War.) Crash is therefore cautionary; a warning against the brutal, impersonal, erotic world we are unwittingly creating.

Cronenberg's film of Crash was premiered at Cannes and won a special prize for originality. Initial reports from critics indicating that the film was a classic were quickly superseded by cries from outraged tabloid journalists that the film should be banned. This alerted the usual suspects: the film, despite box office success in France, had problems finding a UK distributor amidst rumours that it would not be granted a certificate by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). Unsurprisingly, Virginia Bottomley, now applying her unique brand of reactionary incompetence as National Heritage minister, jumped aboard the bandwagon and without having seen the film recommended that local councils ban it from being shown in areas under their jurisdiction [4]. Curiously only one council appears to have responded: gerrymandering Tory 'flagship' council Westminster who have the power to ban the film in leading West End arthouses [5]. After viewing the film councillors demanded three scenes to be cut from the film, bizarrely including a scene where Vaughan states that "car crashes are fertilising and not destructive". We are allowed to freely publish this statement, so why are we not allowed to see an actor say the words? The demand is nonsensical. At the time of writing Westminster Council's recommendations have been forwarded to the BBFC. Precedent suggests that if Crash is certificated then the released version will be heavily cut.

Censorship gives rise to a dilemma for the liberal-minded. On one hand the freedom to express thought is contained in the UN declaration of human rights and should be protected. On the other, many films portray gratuitous violence, but by treating their subject matter lightly and its portrayal insipidly, they act far more insidiously to promote an acceptance of violence. Furthermore, films which incite hatred on racial or sexual grounds are currently legislated against, and we see no reason to change this legislation. Faced with this ethical dilemma, it seems sensible to judge each film on its own terms. In the case of Crash any misgivings regarding the film's subject matter should be offset against the obvious benefit of having a challenging, thought-provoking and artistically meritorious film [6] on general distribution.

The UK has a poor track record on censorship: Crash adds to a growing list. The revolutionary ideals of egalité and fraternité have been systematically and deliberately eroded under 17 years of Tory rule. Censorship is an attack on liberté: the freedom to express our thoughts. It causes deep concern that the political climate permits censorship to be hijacked for cheap party political pointscoring. We should not allow politicians and censors to keep the thoughts of our best artists from us simply because these thoughts present truths which are unpalatable to them.



Footnotes:
[1] At one point it seemed to the writer that Blair was suggesting anyone not living within a Christian nuclear family was inherently immoral.
[2] Incidentally, this does not appear to have prevented heirs to the throne from pursuing their taste for blood sport.
[3] Which include witnessing the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, as a distant glow on the horizon like a sunrise.
[4] The 1952 Cinematograph Act rules that BBFC certificates are only recommendations; local councils have the power to ban films which have received certificates, or to grant licences to uncertificated films. The objective of the Act was the protection of children.
[5] UK film distribution is rigged so that is near impossible to see anything bar Hollywood blockbusters in provincial cinemas; so-called arthouse films usually require a trip into London or a film club showing months after the film is released. A ban by Westminster Council would therefore severely limit the film's distribution.
[6] This is in essence the nub of the argument. There is no question that Crash is artistically meritorious, it would not have received the excellent critical reviews at Cannes had it been otherwise. We acknowledge that the concept of artistic merit is inherently subjective. As a nation we have strict laws regulating what is acceptable in terms of sex and violence on film (which apply equally to the production of films). We believe it is the role of the BBFC to determine what age group should be exposed to a film, not to act as Big Brother, censoring what art may or may not be seen.


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