the novel by
James Spader (James Ballard)
Holly Hunter (Helen Remington)
Deborah Kara Unger (Catherine)
Elias Koteas (Vaughan)
Rosanna Arquette (Gabrielle)
Peter MacNeill (Colin Seagrave)
mpaa rating: NC-17
release: March 21,
availability: VHS -
reviewed on this website:
these people are not watching the R-rated video version.
When David Cronenberg was editing
-- a movie he always intended to be rated NC-17 -- he put together
an R-rated version as well. Why? Partly out of curiosity and
partly, I suspect, because he knew that Fine Line Features would
want a version palatable to Blockbuster (which prudishly and
hypocritically refuses to stock NC-17 films), and he preferred
to oversee the bowdlerization himself, rather than have some
Fine Line intern mutilate his minor masterpiece.
Since I own a copy of the original, uncut Crash, I thought
it might be fun to compare it to the MPAA-approved R-rated Crash
-- the version Blockbuster is proud to carry in its stock of
family entertainment. I figured: Who knows? The cut version might
include footage unseen in theaters -- as did the TV version of
Cronenberg's major masterpiece, Videodrome (of
which there are at least three versions: the TV version with
added footage, the trimmed R-rated theatrical version, and the
uncut, unrated video version).
Alas, the slashed Crash offers no such goodies; it's just
ten minutes shorter than the NC-17 version (which itself is pretty
short, clocking in at 100 minutes). Unlike, say, Paul Thomas
Anderson ("I hated losing this scene! I hated losing that
scene!" he blurts repeatedly about the deleted scenes on
Nights DVD), Cronenberg is ruthless in the editing room.
He isn't much of a deleted-scenes guy: what you see in the finished
movie is what he wanted to put there (since he has final cut).
Ironically, for all intents and purposes, the NC-17 Crash
isn't much more explicit than the fun-for-the-whole-family Crash.
This movie was never particularly explicit -- the sex
scenes merely suffered from the MPAA's twin no-nos: length and
What we're missing in the R version, with three major exceptions,
is a few seconds shaved off all the sex scenes. Just as a few
spurts of blood make the difference between an R-rated horror
film and an NC-17 horror film, so a few frames of writhing and
bumping make the difference between the NC-17 Crash and
the R-rated Crash. Some of the trims are unnoticeable
unless you watch both versions side by side; most of the cuts
amount to a stroke or thrust here, a semen-stained hand there.
That's not to say there's no difference, though.
In one case, the R-rated cut eliminates one of the film's bits
of deadpan humor -- when Helen Remington (Holly Hunter) is mechanically
straddling James Ballard (James Spader) in a car, asking "Have
you come?" (He mumbles "I'm okay.") The R version
picks them up when they're finished, adjusting their clothes.
Another funny bit -- when Ballard, Helen, and the maimed Gabrielle
(Rosanna Arquette) fondle each other while watching Swedish crash-test
videos -- is only alluded to in the R version, which deletes
the panning shot of their heavy petting.
The most eye-opening difference is the loss of an entire scene
-- when Ballard is copulating with his wife Catherine (Deborah
Kara Unger) and she's talking him through a homosexual fantasy
involving the car-crash guru Vaughan (Elias Koteas). Both parties
are totally nude in the scene, which is probably the most explicit
in the movie (actual genital contact is about all you don't see).
So the MPAA's objection to the scene isn't surprising -- but
it is stupid.
What do you lose when you lose this scene? Well, let's see. You
lose the set-up for Ballard's later tryst with Vaughan. You lose
the information that Ballard is disclosing his new explorations
to Catherine (as they disclose other such extramarital activities),
and so, when Catherine goes along for a ride with Ballard and
Vaughan in the R-rated cut, it's jarring (how does she know about
Vaughan?). You lose what Cronenberg called the three-way sex
-- they're having sex with an imaginary third person in bed with
Most of all, you lose Cronenberg's complex, subtle sexual syntax
-- who's fucking whom, and who's positioned where, is the source
of much unspoken information in this movie. In this case, we
see that Ballard (who is boffing Catherine from behind) is beginning
to distance himself from his wife -- and perhaps readying himself
for anal sex with Vaughan. (Incidentally, this scene also comes
right before the "Have you come?" scene, where Helen
is straddling Ballard but is no longer facing him, as she was
in an earlier scene.)
Another brief scene completely gone from the R-rated version
-- perhaps because it links sex and violence in a direct and
disturbing way -- is the one after the car-wash sequence, when
the nude Catherine reclines and displays the bruises Vaughan
left on her body during their rough backseat sex. We no longer
see the physical toll Ballard's journey is taking on his wife,
and we lose the visual foreshadowing ("Prophecy is dirty
and ragged") of the tattooing scene that precedes the sex
between Ballard and Vaughan. And the movie now ends on the famous
line "Maybe next time," without the final roadside
sex between Ballard and the dazed Catherine as the camera pans
up and away.
Oddly, the film's most celebrated/reviled moment -- when Ballard
mounts (not unlike a dog in heat) the vagina-like scar on Gabrielle's
leg -- remains, to these eyes, pretty much intact. Whether a
few frames have been clipped here isn't really relevant; you
get the sense of what he's doing, as you did in the NC-17 cut
-- and is this what Blockbuster Video considers acceptable R-rated
family entertainment? Gee, maybe Blockbuster is more radical
than I thought. Ditto the MPAA -- or maybe they didn't understand
what was going on in the scene. And yes, all the car-accident
gore is intact; the MPAA approves of mangled bodies but disapproves
of naked bodies -- what else is new?
In any event, your best bet is obviously Cronenberg's NC-17 version,
available in video stores without sticks up their asses. I've
also seen the uncut tape for sale at Suncoast; it's not letterboxed,
but Cronenberg usually shoots 1.66:1, which is so close to TV's
1.33 aspect ratio that you don't lose much in the transfer. You
certainly lose less than you will if you watch the R-rated version
-- which isn't Crash, but merely a fender-bender.