PRINT October 2009

David Cronenberg

David Cronenberg, Crash, 1996, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 90 minutes. Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette).

J. G. BALLARD AND I did an onstage interview at the Cannes film festival the day after Crash was shown there in 1996, and it caused a huge controversy. It was very touching for me to read the transcript of that press conference again recently and to be reminded of the interplay between us, because I was really being attacked by a lot of people, and I had Ballard sitting up there, and we were really shoulder to shoulder. At one point a Finnish journalist jumped up and said I had destroyed the book and what I had done was an atrocity and hadn’t gone far enough and the movie was terrible, and Ballard interrupted and said, “No, actually, I think the movie goes further than the book.” He thought I’d used the book as a platform to push its concepts beyond what he had done a quarter century before. I thought I was just being faithful to the book, but, you know, it’s a different medium. He really got that. The novel is very explicit in its sexuality, but you can’t really call it pornographic—it’s too clinical for that. I had nudity, but no genitalia; perhaps that’s what the journalist was talking about. Obviously, if I had done that I’d have had a triple-X movie and wouldn’t have been able to show it.

But at any rate I think Ballard was talking about the film conceptually, just the way in which his ideas came together in it, presenting a kind of despairing sexuality that tries to manifest itself in new forms that connect with the technological extension of the human body—ideas that were always everywhere in his work, particularly in Crash. At one heated point during the interview, Ballard pointed out—for my sake, I’m sure—that he lived in Shepperton, which is a very quiet suburb of London, and that he wasn’t looking for physical excitement in his life. He turned to me and said, “You know, this is awfully exciting for a writer, David. I think I’m going to have to go back home.” Flaubert once said that the more bourgeois you can be in your life, the more radical you can be in your art—something along those lines—and certainly that was Ballard.

The other thing I have to say about Jim is that personally he was absolutely adorable. He was funny, he was smart, of course, but he was also this incredibly kind, incredibly generous, incredibly sweet person, and that’s really what I think most about when I think about him—and his physical presence, he had a wonderful voice—just a lovely guy. When I miss him, and I do, that’s what I miss. I really felt at Cannes that we were under fire, and he was steadfast, he was a colleague at arms, and that forms a very strong bond. He never wavered.

—As told to Tom Vanderbilt