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the Complete Review
the complete review - essay / film


Iain Sinclair

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To purchase Crash

Title: Crash
Author: Iain Sinclair
Genre: Essay
Written: 1999
Length: 128 pages
Availability: Crash - US
Crash - UK
Crash - Canada
  • David Cronenberg's Post mortem on J. G. Ballard's 'Trajectory of Fate'

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting study of the book and film

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman A 10/5/1999 John Gray

  From the Reviews:
  • "In Crash, Iain Sinclair has given us the most intelligent guide yet to Ballard's work -- and what may be the subtlest meditation on film and fiction since David Thomson's neglected Borgesian masterpiece, Suspects." - John Gray, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       J.G.Ballard's seminal 1973 novel, Crash, and David Cronenberg's controversial 1996 film have both been much discussed. In this study -- an attractive volume in the estimable BFI (British Film Institute) Modern Classics series -- Iain Sinclair explores both film and book, a valuable essay that raises as many questions as it answers. Appropriately, perhaps, as both the film and book challenge readers and viewers, not offering easy answers.
       London-obsessed Sinclair, an archaeological author, is an interesting contrast to the future-oriented Ballard. Both, however, depict the present ruthlessly and exactingly. Ballard's motorway and airport scenes are just beyond the ambit of Sinclair's London ramblings.
       Sinclair has the proper distance to and curiosity about Ballard's work to offer an interesting critical evaluation of it. His attitude towards Cronenberg, the Canadian filmmaker that repositions the text, is more ambiguous. Sinclair is more comfortable in considering the text rather than the film.
       Certainly, one aspect that he rightly pushes to the fore is that of authorship. Ballard's novel is narrated by "James Ballard". In making the film Cronenberg co-opts the character. It was Cronenberg that wrote the screenplay, assuming authorship even on that level. "Crash, like The Naked Lunch, becomes a film of rewriting," Sinclair convincingly asserts.
       Sinclair sums up his view of the film:

Crash works best if it's viewed as a necrophile masque, a post-mortem look on an undead book. The low-key performances, the subdued light, the lacklustre physical permutations, all contribute to an overwhelming sense of alienation. The film is alienated from itself, as well as from Ballard's wild-energy novel. It's an elegy to boredom, loss, futility: to Ballard's "death of affect".
       The book includes an interview with Ballard, useful in placing Ballard's work in context. Sinclair, who has been around for a while, is comfortable and familiar with the literary (and art) scene of the 1960s and 70s, and he usefully examines Ballard and his work against this backdrop. One drawback, however, is that Sinclair is an inveterate name-dropper and not all of the names (most of which are, indeed, literally dropped, without much explanation) will be familiar. And even where they are Sinclair insists on being overly familiar (we're sure it really is "Nic" Roeg to his buddies, but still ...). Readers who do not recall the London scene of two or three decades ago might occasionally find themselves at a loss, as might Americans confronted with the "BFI" and "ICA".
       Sinclair also spins out Ballard's premise of the "death of affect" and the notion of "Crash" by re-examining a number of spectacular crashes -- from James Dean's and Jayne Mansfield's to that of Princess Di. It is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book. Ballard's Crash is an almost unreadable book (see our review), but it is based on a very interesting idea. I.e. it is great in theory, poor in practice. (Much the same can be said about Cronenberg's film version.) By focussing on the ideas behind it, Sinclair highlights the significance of the text. Unfortunately, Sinclair's essay presupposes familiarity with the text and/or film and so, regrettably, is not a true substitute for either. It is, however, a welcome and useful complement to them.
       Among the few true shortcomings of the essay is Sinclair's unwillingness to examine the controversy surrounding the film. It could not be shown in certain countries, and it served for much lively debate -- as had the book upon publication, twenty-odd years earlier. While Sinclair addresses some of the issues at issue (the sex, the violence) he gives too little space to the actual protests and outrage and the possible reasons behind these -- a striking omission.
       Nevertheless, the essay is a valuable gloss on both the novel and the film and we certainly recommend it. Sinclair is very good at highlighting the issues raised by both, ideas that readers/viewers may have been unwilling to consider because they were so put off by the qualities (and lack thereof) of the text and/or film -- significant ideas well worth considering.

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  • bfi publicity page
Reviews: J.G. Ballard's Crash:
  • The complete review's review
David Cronenberg's film, Crash: Iain Sinclair: Other books by Iain Sinclair under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Film-related books under review

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About the Author:

       London author Iain Sinclair has written several collections of poetry, as well as a number of novels and documentary works.

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© 1999-2010 the complete review

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