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.”
Moonage Daydream: “Who Is He? What Is He?”
Brett Morgen’s portrait of David Bowie is a free-associative hybrid of pop history and imaginative extravaganza—impressionistic, eclectically allusive, and, above all, immersive.
La Bamba: American Dreaming, Chicano Style
In this vibrant, music-filled portrait of an artist and his community, director Luis Valdez gathers what little is known about rock-and-roll idol Ritchie Valens and fuses it with a lived-in understanding of what it is to be Chicano.
The Trial: Crime of the Century
In the film he once called his best, Orson Welles found a cinematic language equal to Franz Kafka’s distinctive effects, creating a vertiginous experience that accentuates the writer’s subterranean perversity.
Drylongso: A Refuge of Their Own
Cauleen Smith’s debut feature celebrates the bond between two young Black women and the ways that they imaginatively, collaboratively choreograph their lives in the face of their common vulnerabilities.
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