The brochure for the 1961 Lincoln Continental line makes the six-seater luxury sedans look almost dainty. They come in pretty pastels: a cream called Sultana White, a fizzy yellow known as Sunburst, an ice-cream-parlor blue-green dubbed Turquoise Mist. A gloved female finger toggles the power-window switch—almost every picture has an immaculately accessorized woman in it, usually as part of a couple, sometimes posing with an equally well-groomed dog. It is hard to believe that this make and model, modified and in Presidential Black, will soon accrue a somber notoriety for the bit part it will play in the Kennedy assassination. Or that, a decade later and because of that grim pedigree, British writer J. G. Ballard will assign a ’61 Continental to be the automotive alter ego of Vaughan, the Conradian madman and car-wreck fetishist at the heart, or the place where the heart should be, of his 1973 neurasthenic nightmare of a novel, Crash.
Described as a “crazed, morbid roundelay of dismemberment and sexual perversion” in its New York Times review—and, to be clear, the reviewer regarded that as a bad thing—the novel’s reception prefigured that of David Cronenberg’s film adaptation twenty-three years later. Ballard apparently had his manuscript returned to him with a note from a publisher’s reader still attached, advising against the book’s publication and asserting—much to the author’s wry delight—that he was “beyond psychiatric help.” Later, the Daily Mail would launch a crusade to get Cronenberg’s film banned in the United Kingdom, succeeding only in one London borough—Westminster—whose denizens had to make the arduous trek to neighboring Camden to see it in a cinema. And this mixed-message moral panic came after the competition judges of the Cannes Film Festival had already awarded the film a Special Jury Prize—from which disapproving jury president Francis Ford Coppola pointedly distanced himself.
“No one has a life story, a past, or a single recognizable emotional response. No one has much of anything, really, except for an insatiable, mechanical libido and a car.”
“What Cronenberg did with Ballard’s novel was to strip out the upholstery, the walnut finish, the chrome detailing.”
Minding the Gap: What It’s About
Bing Liu’s extraordinary debut feature was originally conceived as a documentary about skaters around the country and ultimately became an unflinching exploration of family, trauma, and the filmmaker’s own life.
That Obscure Object of Desire: Desire, Denuded
Luis Buñuel weaved together multiple strands of his artistry in his final film, which blends the surrealism of his early years, the melodrama of his 1950s work, and the elegant erotic comedy of his late career.
The Phantom of Liberty: The Serpentine Movements of Chance
Luis Buñuel lays bare the amorality and illogic of human affairs in the slew of straight-faced absurdities that make up his penultimate film.
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