Here's an article where JG Ballard and Cronenberg discuss the criticism of the "Crash", following its screening at Cannes. This time from the Guardian, 20 May 1996
Cannes: Shock Value; Provocations Special: David Cronenberg and JG Ballard
By Jonathanguardian_1996_crash Romney
"I wrote a book where there'd be nowhere to hide for the reader" J G Ballard
"Mutation can be sexual. Scars have been sexy for years" David Cronenberg
Throughout the Cannes press screening of Crash, someone in the row behind me muttered a refrain of "Sick . . . sick . . ." There was a whiff of scandal in the air a full week before anyone even saw it. This was the film, it was rumoured, that no British distributor would dare handle; indeed, one did walk out of it in disgust. But for many people, David Cronenberg's version of the JG Ballard novel about car-crash sex wasn't extreme or disturbing enough -- too designed and too cool to be the apocalyptic pile-up that it perhaps needed to be.
The only truly confrontational film of this year's festival, Crash presents a sexual universe in which S&M means Saab and Maserati, in which crash survivors couple in car washes and fantasise about the high-speed deaths of James Dean and Jayne Mansfield. Whatever British distributors make of the film, it's certain to have certification problems here, if only for its identification of hot sex with reckless driving. Many viewers seemed turned off as much by the film's wilfully clinical feel -- like an Antonioni remake of Bullitt -- as by its explicit sexual content. Crash may not be as visceral as Cronenberg's other films but, he says, there's a reason for the hypnotic style.
"Late 20th-century western civilisation is like having been in a car crash. Everybody is traumatised, everybody is overwhelmed, and what happens is you just shut down. You still have to function and interrelate, but the passion, the emotion, even the sexuality is gone. The characters in this movie have the passion to recover what has been lost, and they must go to extremes to find it."
Ballard feels the film is true to the book "in letter and in spirit". His novel shocked the British literary establishment in 1973 -- "This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!" ran the reader's report -- but remains his best-known work in France. Holly Hunter, who plays a sexually voracious crash survivor, says she's in the film for a simple reason. "So often movies tell us, 'this is how we should think, this is how we should feel', and you sit back and have this thing happen at you. Cronenberg isn't insulting in that way. He demands your participation. People know that walking into a Cronenberg movie. If you don't, you find out within the first 10 minutes, and then you can leave."
What's likely to shock most in Crash is not the frequency of the couplings, but the explicitness of the talk. In one scene, Deborah Unger asks James Spader to describe an anus as if she wanted the technical specifications of his Fiat exhaust. Not surprisingly, many critics have tagged the film as pornography.
"Pornography," says Cronenberg, "is created to arouse you sexually and has no other purpose. It's obvious Crash is not pornographic. People say it's sexual but not erotic, as though that was a criticism. The only time most people have seen sex scenes is in pornography. In most movies, the story stops, you have a sex scene, then the story continues. But there's nothing to say you can't use a series of sex scenes as a structural element -- things evolve and character is revealed. Why not? It's part of the narrative of one's life." The most disturbing element in the film -- certainly the most Cronenbergian -- is Rosanna Arquette's character, whose prosthetic carapace appears to be the only thing holding her scarred body together but doesn't prevent her from having acutely uncomfortable dashboard sex. "I'm not saying the movie is striking a blow for the disabled" -- Cronenberg smirks at the thought of being so right-minded -- "but there is a sense in which that's true. She's not saying, 'I should hide myself away.' She's saying, 'My disfigurement is not disfigurement, it's a transformation and a mutation and it can be sexual.' Scars have been sexy for years."
Cronenberg hasn't transformed Ballard's vision anything like as much as he did William Burroughs's in his effects-heavy version of Naked Lunch. But there's still some disparity in how Ballard and Cronenberg see audience response. Ballard has called his book "cautionary", and sees his book as belonging to the Swiftian school of provocation. "I chose to write a book where there'd be nowhere to hide for either the author or the readers. It's an established literary technique when you're tackling a provocative subject. You can fit the action within an established moral framework and say, 'How appalling these car crashes are! Those despicable drivers!' It provokes a few nods of assent. I chose the other approach, which is to take the nightmare logic totally for granted and see what follows from that. That's much more challenging."
Cronenberg, on the other hand, says that audience reaction is the last thing he worries about. "It's an exploration for me and my actors, we're trying to see what this leads to, what's the potential. If you're shocked yourself, you say, 'I must push on'.
"The film's all about dealing with mortality. I always do this in my films, it's a rehearsal for my own death to see what my characters do with theirs. They've eroticised death, and that's their triumph. It's a good trick to pull off if you can do it."
Crash will inevitably be the next key exhibit in the screen violence debate, but Ballard sees it as a special case. "Although there's comparatively little sex and violence in the film, it's one of the most sexual and violent films ever made because of the explicit assumption set out in every frame that sex and violence are inherent in the experience of driving a car. It's a subject that must be addressed. We'd be deceiving ourselves if we censored out any maginative response to sex and violence. That would be like censoring the news."