SPINEMA – Issue 4: CRASH – Mondo Unleashes the Score to One of Cronenberg’s Best

 

SPINEMA
Lend an ear to SPINEMA: a column exploring all movie music, music related to movies, and movies related to music. Be they film scores on vinyl, documentaries on legendary musicians, or albums of original songs by horror directors, all shall be reviewed here. Batten down your headphones, because shit’s about to sound cinematic.

The late ’90s were a great time for independent cinema thanks in part to Sex, Lies, and Videotape, which, coupled with home video and the introduction of DVD, helped fuel an arthouse revival. This was also due to emerging auteurs such as Tarantino, Aronofsky, and Solondz, who were turning out some of their best films of their career while also exploring some of the darker aspects of humanity. One of the films I feel is a shining example of this particular period in film is David Cronenberg’s unflinching masterpiece Crash. The film had the director who had already established himself in Hollywood returning to his Canadian indie roots to direct what I feel is still one of his best films in his filmography.

Loosely adapted from the novel by J. G. Ballard, Crash follows film producer James Ballard (James Spader), who shares a very open marriage with his beautiful wife Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger). However, things get complicated when James is involved in a deadly head-on collision and develops a sexual relationship with Helen (Holly Hunter), who was also involved in the crash that resulted in the death of her husband. The pair is eventually recruited by Vaughn (Elias Koteas), who leads a cultish support group of car crash survivors who have also been transformed by their experiences and aid Vaughn in his obsession of recreating celebrity car crashes.

James begins introducing these new elements into his marriage, which has started to feel stale in comparison to the danger and exhalation that he feels with Vaughn on their nightly excursions. Crash has Cronenberg infusing his theme of body horror with technology through Vaughn’s mantra of the car crash being “the reshaping of the human body by modern technology.” The controversy surrounding this film was only amplified at the time due to the fetishism placed on the car crash that manifested itself in the many sex scenes throughout the film that incorporated either a car crash or its aftermath into play.

Frequent Cronenberg collaborator Howard Shore was brought in to score Crash and brought another character to the film with his ethereal score. From the minute the credits begin to roll and the score kicks in with its otherworldly guitars that seem to almost disappear like a passing cars in the night, you know this film is going to go to some very dark places. Those notes then evolve into a metallic melody that plays throughout the film, which is haunting as it is prophetic about the voyage we are currently on with James. Like all good scores it’s immediately recognizable, and listening to it brings you back to that strange world inhabited by these very damaged characters.

Shore, a jazz musician, got his start with Lorne Michaels as the music director for his ill-fated television venture The Hart & Lorne Terrific Hour. Later he transitioned into film with his second scoring gig as composer for Cronenberg’s first big hit The Brood. The two Canadians continued their working relationship long after Shore began working with such directors as Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, and Peter Jackson with whom Shore won two Academy Awards for his work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Shore is well known for balancing work on big blockbusters with darker indie fare where he is often given free reign.

Now that Mondo has released some of the more iconic soundtracks that vinyl collectors have been clamoring for, they’ve more recently been going back and releasing some more obscure “deep cuts” if you will. Crash was released a few weeks ago and comes on 2 180 gram gray platters in a gorgeous gatefold with newly commissioned artwork by Rich Kelly that fetishisticly captures the themes and tone of the film in excruciating detail. I was honestly sold on picking up this release as soon as I saw that cover, which blends the distortion of the crashed car with the distorted body of a faceless woman that perfectly represents everything I love about the film.

The inside gatefold pays tribute to one of the more iconic scenes of the film as James and Catherine make love on their balcony in the beginning of the film as the traffic flows in the background. Having lost my copy of this CD a long time ago, its been a while since I have listened to the soundtrack as a whole all the way through. The sonic range presented here by Mondo’s release definitely does a great job at reproducing the soundtrack with a very full and lush soundscape given some of the highs and lows hit by Shore’s experimental score. For me this is one of the rare instances where the soundtrack and the film are in perfect unison of the message they are attempting to convey.

The presentation here by Mondo is flawless, with the both the packaging and sound perfectly on point. For fans of this unnerving soundtrack you couldn’t ask for anything more. From the mastering, to the breathtaking art, to the liner notes by Russ Fischer, this really feels like the most comprehensive package it could possibly be, crafted by fans for fans. I only hope Criterion is paying special attention because its about time to update my Laserdisc, and if they need any art for that deluxe Blu-ray packaging they could definitely do themselves a favor and reuse the artwork here. This soundtrack is a definite pickup for Cronenberg fans and for those into something with more of surreal bent. I know its easily my favorite vinyl release this year.

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the author

When Dan is not watching movies, planning screenings of movies, writing about movies, he is often busy trying to write and direct his own. Dan is an award winning filmmaker hailing from Rocky’s hometown of Philadelphia, PA where he also writes for Geekadelphia and functions as their Arts and Entertainment editor. His film obsessions range from regional exploitation films of the 70s and 80s, to oddities from Italy or Japan and anything by Lars Von Trier. Dan is a lover of the lowbrow and obsessed with seeking out the films most folks have the good sense to not watch on repeat and is always on the hunt for the next “unwatchable” film.