Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer The Video Phile

OCTOBER 6, 1997: 

**** Crash (1996, written and directed by David Cronenberg) -- In the preface to Crash, his 1973 novel on which this movie is based, J.G. Ballard writes, "Voyeurism, self-disgust, the infantile basis of our dreams and longings -- these diseases of the psyche have now culminated in the most terrifying casualty of the century: the death of affect." Which just goes to show that while it might seem that director David Cronenberg is on a quest to film the unfilmable -- his 1991 adaptation of Naked Lunch is another example -- he knows exactly what he's doing. The controversy that has surrounded Crash since it was shown at Cannes last year has been in part due to its slow, near-plotless pace, and part to do with its perceived gratuitousness. Ballard's observation about the "death of affect" goes a long way toward explaining the necessity of the former. If the characters in Crash seem flat, it's because they are, in a sense, dead; in particular, their senses have been deadened by modernity such that only technological horror -- the car crash -- can break through their boredom. When James Ballard (James Spader) collides into Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter), the two -- along with Ballard's wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) -- find themselves caught up in a sort of cult-of-the-crash that includes the grossly scarred Gabrielle (Rosanna Arquette) and is led by Vaughan (Elias Koreas). The cult watches crash-test films as pornography and goes to great lengths to recreate infamous celebrity car crashes. The scenario is not without humor -- dark as it might be (Vaughan drives a 1963 Lincoln convertible like the one JFK was assassinated in) -- but the bulk of the film is dedicated to minute exploration of the fetishism of death and destruction. The characters indifferently couple in and near ruined automobiles against a background of an imminent future that is as bland and pale as it is unfulfilling.

It's the sexual content that earned the film an NC-17 rating and charges of gratuitousness. If the movie's conceptual premise -- namely, that the car crash is, in modern times, an object of morbid and primal fascination -- was implausible, the latter charge might hold up. However, that fact that pilgrims are turning out in droves to the site of Princess Diana's crash suggests that the premise of Crash is much more than plausible. If anything, the imminent future of Ballard's 1973 novel has arrived. -- Jim Hanas


*** Party Girl (1994, directed by Daisy Von Scherler Mayer) -- Substitute the fantasy life of the rich and over-privileged youth of Beverly Hills in Clueless for that of ultra-cool New York hipsters, and you have a fairly good idea of what you're in for with Party Girl.

Parker Posey stars as a club-going, fashion-obsessed, lost child of the '90s. A perfect stereotype of a Generation X-er, Posey refuses to get a real job and frequently finds herself in trouble. With good intentions and no direction, Posey is happy to spend her days dancing and primping, throwing parties and tantrums.

After being arrested for throwing an illegal fund-raiser (she needs to pay her rent), Posey is thrown in jail and must be bailed out by her only relative, her aunt. To pay her back, Posey works with her aunt in a New York public library as a clerk, a prospect Posey is less than thrilled about, to say the least.

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Elected officials smoking pot
East High School
The Bluffwalk
Incorporation
The Oilers in Memphis
Gradually, Posey learns the ins and outs of the Dewey Decimal system and the card catalog, but is continuously frustrated because the world won't take this raver-turned-career-girl seriously. After a small accident in the library (Posey and her falafel-peddling boyfriend leave the library windows open during a rainstorm), she is fired and must find a new job. Only then does she realize how well suited she is for library work, (her blue jeans are in a very specific order between the vintage and thrift-shop sections of her closet) and how much she wants to become a real librarian. "I will not be a waitress," she wails desperately.

Posey's club friends, who include cross-dressing dancers and glitter-covered deejays, team up and convince Posey's aunt to not only give her her job back, but to support her decision to earn a degree in library science.

Although the plot is fairly predictable, the strength of Posey's character is not. Just as in her roles in Waiting for Guffman and Dazed and Confused, Posey has mastered the art of comedic timing and a subtlety of facial expression that Jim Carrey could take a cue from. She is a singer, a dancer, a comedienne, and an actress all at once.

Posey's ability to make any character larger than life saves this film from falling into the B-movie category. Worth watching for the soundtrack and Posey's creative ensembles, if nothing else. -- Mary Helen Randall


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