Scalarama 2020: Inclusion

We invited We Are Parable, Watershed, Umulkhayr Mohamed and Inclusive Cinema to discuss making programming and organisations sincerely inclusive

This month, we hosted a roundtable for Scalarama Glasgow to discuss how organisations, independent exhibitors and programmers can work to make their programmes and events sincerely inclusive. We invited Anthony Andrews (We Are Parable), Umulkhayr Mohamed (freelance consultant, writer, curator), Clare Reddington (Bristol’s Watershed) and Toki Allison (Film Hub Wales’ Inclusive Cinema). dardishi, originally billed, were unfortunately unable to take part due to illness. Our invited guests spoke on their work for and with Black and ethnic minority audiences, their experience of institutional racism and the increasing demand for sincere and lasting change to take hold in our industry. Resources were shared to help educate, interrogate our institutions and inform develop practical ways to overhaul the sector.

This session highlighted some of the fundamental changes that need to occur to sincerely undermine oppressive and racist systems which underpin the film exhibition sector, and which make it near-impossible for Black and minority ethnic practitioners to progress with parity, professionally. These include debunking the concept of whiteness as the neutral state, professionalism (“Western professionalism is rooted in white supremacy”), increasing personal and organsational accountability, and addressing the pressures put on non-white staff and colleagues to deal with institutional, white racism.

You can watch the entire roundtable here (embedded above, with subtitles), read the transcript here or browse the minutes here

Scalarama Glasgow’s monthly roundtables continue online (for now). Follow Scalarama Glasgow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date.

The next monthly roundtable, focussing on accessibility for online and IRL screenings takes place on Sunday 19th July, on Zoom. Details via the Facebook page, here.

Scalarama in Scotland is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI. 

KeanuCon 2020 Zine

KeanuCon 2020, our second annual Keanu Reeves film festival, was cancelled due to COVID-19 – so we made this 28-page zine instead, with contributions from the world’s foremost Keanu aficionados.

The KeanuCon 2020 zine is here! It’s free to all weekend-pass-holders-that-were and £5 from our online shop, here.

As originally intended, this publication would have accompanied our second annual Keanu Reeves film festival, KeanuCon 2020, scheduled to take place 19th-21st June at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. Although the festival was ultimately cancelled due to COVID-19, we are very happy to be able to share this celebratory collection of Keanu-themed writing and artwork with you. This first KeanuCon zine is dedicated to every scientist, doctor, nurse and front-line worker currently saving our world.

The zine features 28 pages of Keanu goodness, featuring brand-new artwork from Vero Navarro and writing and articles by Bim Adewunmi (Thirst Aid Kit), Claire Biddles (FWYL), Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris (For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves), Will Harris (Mixed Race Superman), Nichole Perkins (Thirst Aid Kit) AND “Keanu as Disney Princes” colouring-in pages by Crystal Ro.

We’re really happy with how it turned out and we hope you’ll enjoy it too. KeanuCon will return. In the meantime – be excellent to each other.

Thanks to Ex Why Zed for a typically brilliant job on the printing, and yes, we will have prints of Vero’s beautiful cover artwork before too long too. 

Scalarama 2020: Film Exhibition Online

We invited AGFA, Arrow Video, Factory25, Modern Films, Northwest Film Forum and Spectacle Theater to discuss models for online screenings

Last week, we hosted a roundtable for Scalarama Glasgow to discuss different models for screening films independently online. We invited a variety of guests with recent experience delivering programmes online in various contexts, including New York’s Spectacle Theater, whose team of volunteers usually deliver their programme to a maximum of 35 people in their Brooklyn microcinema and now curate Twitch streams for hundreds of people at a time.

We also welcomed the American Genre Film Archive, based in Austin, Texas, who work with and advise distributors and exhibitors, as well as producing their own content, and Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum, who have developed their own timed screening format for rentals, including the online debut of Paul Bartel’s “lost” final film, Shelf Life.

We also invited distributors like Arrow Video, based in UK but distributing internationally, Factory25, whose recent Other Music documentary was released in collaboration with a variety of independent organisations, and the UK’s Modern Films, who have quickly pivoted to their own online release platform, working with a variety of exhibitors.

You can watch the entire roundtable here (embedded above, with subtitles), read the transcript here or browse the minutes here

Scalarama Glasgow’s monthly roundtables continue online (for now). Follow Scalarama Glasgow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date.

The next monthly roundtable, focussing on accessibility for online and IRL screenings takes place on Sunday 21st June, on Zoom. Details via the Facebook page, here.

Scalarama in Scotland is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI. 

Don’t Let it Break Your Heart: Film Programmer Kier-La Janisse In Conversation

Legendary film programmer Kier-La Janisse joined us for a conversation on her career in cult film, from basement screenings to international film festivals and beyond

Fearless film programmer and Matchbox hero Kier-La Janisse joined us last week via Zoom to discuss her inspirational career in cinema. In a two-hour conversation, Kier-La very generously held forth on everything from her zine editing to basement horror screenings; to founding the CineMuerte film festival; to programming the Alamo Drafthouse; to running her own micro cinema; to publishing her landmark memoir House of Psychotic Women; to launching her own publishing house, Spectacular Optical.

Kier-La shared the secrets of her Cannibal Holocausticles, her Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine (more on that and the scene around it in Donna de Ville’s dissertation, The Microcinema Movement and Montreal), and her hilariously ill-fated stint as a scout for Drafthouse Films. We also heard some of the highlights of her career in genre film programming, including screening Until the Light Takes Us onto a screen made of snow in the dead of the Canadian winter, hosting Deep End in a swimming pool surrounded with electrical equipment and recruiting Udo Kier to help live dub an unsubtitled print of Black Bell of the Tarantula.

Watch our Kier-La Janisse-inspired playlist

We also had a chance to quiz the veteran programmer on the ethics of film programming, the evolution of horror fandom, her advice for aspiring programmers and some of her favourite films – including some of her most memorable screenings, her wishlist and the ones that got away.

You can watch the whole conversation on our Vimeo page here, or YouTube here, or you can read the transcript here.


Scalarama Glasgow’s monthly roundtables continue online (for now). Follow Scalarama Glasgow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date.

The next monthly roundtable takes place on Sunday 24th May, on Zoom. Details via the Facebook page, here.

Scalarama in Scotland is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI. 

spectacularoptical.ca
miskatonicinstitute.com
severin-films.com

KeanuCon 2020 Cancelled

Our second annual Keanu Reeves Film Festival has been cancelled until further notice due to COVID-19 – refunds will be issued automatically, full details below

We are very sad to announce that KeanuCon will not take place as planned in 2020. Refunds will take place automatically and weekend pass holders have been informed directly. We plan to relaunch KeanuCon IRL in 2021, dates TBC. If you have any questions after reading all of the details below, get in touch: info@matchboxcineclub.com.

Please enjoy this special memory of our Wyld Stallyns performing live at KeanuCon 2019 and Be Excellent To Each Other until further notice.

We have/had been working hard on alternative plans, including rescheduled dates for later in 2020, which is one reason why updates have been scarce as goalposts continually shifted, but it’s become clear that despite our best efforts and hopes, the festival will be impossible to deliver this year (more detail below).

We are looking at the best ways to bring everyone together to celebrate Keanu online (watch this space for those), around the original dates, and we’re happy to say weekend pass holders will all receive our KeanuCon brochure/zine, with new and exclusive content from Vero Navarro (beloved KeanuCon illustrator), Kitty Curran & Larissa Zageris (For Your Consideration: Keanu Reeves), Will Harris (Mixed Race Superman) and more TBC.

NB The brochure/zine will go out to all weekend pass holders, regardless of automatic refunds. If you would like to waive your refund by way of donation to support Matchbox Cineclub/KeanuCon, thank you very much and please get in touch here: info@matchboxcineclub.com.

In more detail:

Our original dates in June are impossible to deliver due to the current circumstances (our venue, CCA Glasgow, is closed until July at the earliest). We had confirmed rescheduled dates in August, but these are now unviable since CCA will be closed until the end of July at the earliest, with no way of knowing with any certainty that it will reopen fully in August. This makes it difficult for us to plan and promote the event in good faith, or for audience members to make plans to attend.

CCA is smaller in capacity than mainstream cinemas. Even when mainstream cinemas re-open (no earlier than July 4th, and still contingent on a significant reduction in confirmed cases of COVID-19), they will have to adhere to the COVID-19 Secure guidelines, which at present involve distancing between individuals, enhanced hygiene and limiting numbers of people in any one space. This will impact events like ours even more severely again, since we have a lower capacity to begin with. Clearing and cleaning the theatre space between screening will make back-to-back screenings and day-long events next to impossible to deliver practically and safely, for audiences and staff.

Additionally, CCA’s theatre has a capacity of 150, which would potentially be reduced to 50 under these guidelines. We already have sold in excess of 50 weekend passes and we’d expect to sell out the venue in normal circumstances. The costs involved in venue hire, film licences, marketing and everything else involved couldn’t be covered with an audience of only 50 without dramatically impacting ticket prices. 50 attendees would make for an intimate and certainly fun event, but sadly wouldn’t be practical financially (NB at the best of times no other local cinemas could accomodate KeanuCon without charging an impossible fee).

Finally, while we are optimistic that more activity will be possible towards the end of the year (including our rescheduled Remakesploitation Fest), CCA has a full calendar at the best of times and even if we were 100% confident of being able to deliver KeanuCon to the standard and capacity it deserves, there simply aren’t dates available to us for the rest of the year, among events that were already booked and those that have been rescheduled since the advent of COVID-19 (assuming, of course, any of these will be able to take place anyway).

We’re very sad about it, but know that we’ll get through this and celebrate (Keanu) together before too long.

KeanuCon will return x

Scalarama 2020: Film Licences

Our second Scalarama roundtable of 2020 (hosted on Zoom, Sunday 26/04/20) continued to explore the new challenges independent exhibitors are faced with, but also invited special guests from across the UK and Europe to talk about their current activities. Our main focus was on film licensing, with special guest Greg Walker (Pilot Light TV Festival) on hand to talk about his experiences, good and bad, and share some useful advice.

We passed along updates on current plans for Drive-In screenings across the UK, from Live Cinema and we welcomed Anna Kubelik from Window Flicks, who discussed the development and delivery of their ongoing public screening project in Berlin. Caris from Rianne Pictures spoke about their online quiz collaboration with Screen Queens and Ben from Penarth’s Snowcat Cinema shared his programme of online engagement. Closer to home, Backseat Bingo‘s Casci Ritchie reported on their recent Prince-themed watch-along and Lauren Clark of Femspectives spoke on their ongoing #FemspectivesAtHome activities.

You can watch the entire roundtable here (embedded below, with subtitles), read the transcript here or browse the minutes here. Our 2019 hand-out on the principles and practicalities of film licensing is here.

The next roundtable is Sunday 24th May on Zoom, and we’ll have guests from the world of film exhibition and distribution to discuss new approaches to hosting film screenings online (NB not watch-alongs). Before that, we have a spin-off special in the shape of a In Conversation event with Canadian film programmer and writer Kier-La Janisse on Sunday 10th May, 6-8pm. Read all about that here.

Scalarama Glasgow’s monthly roundtables continue online (for now). Follow Scalarama Glasgow on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date.

The next monthly roundtable takes place on Sunday 24th May, on Zoom. Details via the Facebook page, here.

Scalarama in Scotland is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI. 

Kier-La Janisse in Conversation

The legendary film writer, programmer and general hero of cult cinema worldwide joins us for an online discussion about her work in independent film exhibition

Legendary film programmer, writer, producer, director Kier-La Janisse is joining us on Sunday 10th May, via Zoom/Facebook Live, for a Scalarama conversation about her career in cinema – from video shop to pop-up events to film festivals to cinemas and beyond. Janisse has long been an inspiration and a guiding light for independent programmers and cult exhibitors like Matchbox, so we’re thrilled to get the chance to talk to her about her ethos and her experiences screening films.

The discussion will take place on Zoom, hosted by Matchbox Cineclub’s Sean Welsh, with a small audience of film programmers, curators and writers, and streamed simultaneously on Facebook. If you’d like to participate directly, send us a message here or via email: info@matchboxcineclub.com. We’ll keep an eye on any points raised on the live Facebook stream, so feel free to pose questions there instead. The conversation will be archived and subtitled for access afterwards. Full details here.

Kier-La Janisse (photo courtesy of Kier-La Janisse)

Kier-La Janisse is a film writer and programmer, founder of Spectacular Optical Publications and The Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies. She has been a programmer for the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, co-founded Montreal microcinema Blue Sunshine, founded the CineMuerte Horror Film Festival (1999-2005) in Vancouver, was the Festival Director of Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia and was the subject of the documentary Celluloid Horror (2005).

She is the author of A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press, 2007) and House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films (FAB Press, 2012) and contributed to Destroy All Movies!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film (Fantagraphics, 2011), Recovering 1940s Horror: Traces of a Lost Decade (Lexington, 2014), The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul (University of Toronto Press, 2015) and We Are the Martians: The Legacy of Nigel Kneale (PS Press, 2017).

She co-edited (with Paul Corupe) and published the anthology books KID POWER! (2014), Satanic Panic: Pop-Cultural Paranoia in the 1980s (2015), Lost Girls: The Phantasmagorical Cinema of Jean Rollin (2017) and Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television (2017). She edited the book Warped & Faded: Weird Wednesday and the Birth of the American Genre Film Archive (forthcoming), and is currently co-authoring (with Amy Searles) the book ‘Unhealthy and Aberrant’: Depictions of Horror Fandom in Film and Television and co-curating (with Clint Enns) an anthology book on the films of Robert Downey, Sr., as well as writing a monograph about Monte Hellman’s Cockfighter.

She was a producer on Mike Malloy’s Eurocrime: the Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the ’70s and Sean Hogan’s We Always Find Ourselves in the Sea and her first film as director/producer, Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror is due out from Severin Films in 2020.

www.spectacularoptical.ca
www.miskatonicinstitute.com
www.severin-films.com

Scalarama 2020: Taking things online

Matchbox Cineclub co-ordinate Scalarama activities in Glasgow every September, and host monthly planning meetings year-round. With a very different context in 2020, we’re starting to think about new approaches to screening film independently

Scalarama’s role is to support, connect and grow with independent film exhibitors of all sizes, from those just starting to think about screening films to fully-fledged festivals and venues of all sizes. In the early months of 2020, film exhibition has been flipped on its head, so our first Scalarama roundtable of 2020 (hosted on Zoom, Sunday 05/04/20) explored the new challenges exhibitors are faced with taking things online.

You can watch the entire roundtable here, read the transcript here or browse the minutes here. The associated hand-out is here.

We were joined by Herb Shellenberger, a film programmer and writer originally from Philadelphia and based in London. Herb is Programmer for the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival, where he has worked since 2016, and Editor of Rep Cinema International, a newsletter on repertory and archival film programming around the world. Via the latter (which you can sign up for here), Herb was a key advocate for cinemas, festivals and independent exhibitors to #CancelEverything in the early weeks of the global pandemic.

Herb Shellenberger’s #CancelEverything treatise

One of the best takeaways from the discussion was not to worry if your organisation hasn’t started putting things online yet –  this seems like it will be a bit of a marathon, not a sprint, and with all exhibition facing the same issues, it’s probably best to have a think about what you want to achieve with your audiences and what’s the best method, for you and your organisation, before throwing all you’ve got at it.

As always, we encourage everyone who is thinking about screening films, online or otherwise, to do so legally – obtaining the right licenses and showing them securely. Online rights are something the industry is still untangling, but it’s worth noting that just because a film is on YouTube or archive.org, or Soviet Movies, or Eastern European Movies (or even Amazon Prime!), doesn’t mean it’s available legitimately.

AGFA’s legendary programming at Alamo Drafthouse is now available worldwide

Most organisations that have been able to take their programming online are showing films by filmmakers they have direct relationships with, or films they already hold the rights to (e.g. AGFA and Alamo Drafthouse’s Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday). But join us again via Zoom on Sunday April 26th for our second Scalarama session, when we’ll be discussing film licenses with special guest Greg Walker (Pilot Light TV Festival, Rad Film Screenings, Manchester Animation Festival). 

Below, our notes on taking film content online. We’ll update this as we learn more – you can download the notes as a PDF here. Please feel free to let us know how you get on with any of these suggestions – share your own in the comments or by email: info@matchboxcineclub.com.

Megan Mitchell


Taking Things Online

Watch Parties/ Watch Alongs | Watch Parties aim to recreate a communal atmosphere for watching films, promoting audiences to watch a film already available on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, All 4, Curzon or Mubi at a certain time and participate in discussion throughout the film. This could be within the comments of a Facebook event or page, on Twitter using a specific hashtag or via a dedicated chat group (i.e on WhatsApp, Facebook). Variations on the Watch Party include audiences watching the film at different times and feeding into the discussion at a set time instead.

Consider: Cost, accessibility, content. Watch-alongs on free or freely-accessible platforms like terrestrial/freeview television, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Vimeo are ideal. Commercial television stations also allow ready-made breaks, ideal for commentary/catching a breath. Check if the film you’re recommending/scheduling has descriptive subtitles/SDH/captions, as all the main television channels do, as well as iPlayer, Netflix and often Amazon Prime. Audio description is often available on Netflix and other platforms too. Finally, content – knowing the film you are going to watch means you can provide content or trigger warnings if necessary. Read more about those here.

Netflix Party | Netflix Party is a free extension for Google Chrome which allows people to watch films currently on Netflix together through a shared link with an accompanying chat function running down one side of the screen. This allows for real-time interactions and engagement, although it does require all attendees to have a Netflix subscription. Hosting Netflix Parties does limit you to the films available on Netflix, but if you have a programming niche or focus (i.e queer representation, forgotten classics, bad films, etc) you could frame a film in this context to offer deeper engagement and get your audiences discussing the film through a specific lens. 

Metastream | Metastream is similar to Netflix Party and works with more streaming platforms, like Twitch and Youtube. It’s also available as a Chrome extension. You can have private (invitation-only) or public sessions. NB Since it’s still in development, it’s fiddly and pretty glitchy; “theatre mode” may hide soft subtitles; attendees require their own subscriptions to Netflix, etc.

Two Seven | Works with Netflix, Vimeo, YouTube and private videos. An additional subscription fee is needed for some of the streaming services (e.g. Disney+), though the paid features have been lowered in response to the coronavirus outbreak.​ Supports video/audio chat. NB Attendees require their own subscriptions to Netflix, etc.

Twitch | Free and paid options to stream videos, usually used by gamers to stream gameplay but exhibitors like Spectacle Theatre are using the platform to screen a film once a week.

Vimeo | Vimeo is a video streaming platform, with free and paid-for options depending on what you need, and no ads. Deptford Cinema are currently screening shorts and features by local filmmakers on Vimeo, with a £2 pay-all or free if you email them. Glasgow Short Film Festival also use Vimeo for the embedded shorts on their website.

Live/ Recorded Introductions and Q+As 

Film screenings aren’t the only things we can take online – there are a number of platforms that can facilitate live or pre-recorded activity.

Zoom | You’ll be forgiven for never having heard of Zoom before the past few weeks. It’s like Skype only a bit better, allowing you to video chat with multiple people, whilst also having typed chat and document sharing. This can be useful if you’re wanting to run post-screening discussions with audiences or live Q&As. You just download it onto your laptop/device or you can use the website, then set-up an account to set-up meetings or access them. NB optimise your settings and apply best practice to avoid unwelcome intrusion from randoms.

Facebook Live / Youtube Live | Facebook Live is useful if you’re hosting a watch-along or a set-time screening and would like to provide the audience a live introduction. This can be posted on your main page or in the event page for whatever event you’re doing, if you have created one. Cinemaattic have been using Facebook Live, via Zoom, to host their Sunday evening chats / Q&A sessions.

Instagram Live | This is a function on the Instagram app which allows you to do live introduction videos from your phone to Instagram followers. If it’s good enough for Jean-Luc Godard…

Periscope TV | Periscope is a free streaming app that you can use on your mobile to go ‘live’ on the Periscope platform and on Twitter. Useful if you’re doing a live film introduction or give live updates about your organisations or some informal chats.

Hashtags | Using a dedicated hashtag (such as #WatchingWithMatchbox or #FemspectivesAtHome) across all social media sites can connect your audiences, whether it be for a watch party, post-screening discussion or just to offer a unified thread for film-related chat tied into your organisation.

Articles/ Film Writing | Film screenings aren’t the only things we can do online to stay engaged with our audiences. It’s a good time to research and develop ideas and especially to write on some film-related topics for your own website or blog or even just social media.

Quizzes | Online quizzes are proving an easy and popular way for organisations to continue to engage audiences, creating a sense of community and something fun to do together. These can be hosted on Facebook Live (like The Skinny) or via Zoom (like Screen Queenz) with interactive Google forms as quiz sheets or simply a downloadable document people can type into.


Scalarama Glasgow’s monthly roundtables continue online (for now). Follow Scalarama Glasgow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date.

The next monthly roundtable takes place on Sunday 26th April, on Zoom. Details at the Facebook event page, here.

Scalarama in Scotland is supported by Film Hub Scotland, part of the BFI’s Film Audience Network, and funded by Screen Scotland and Lottery funding from the BFI. 

Interview: John Paizs on Crime Wave

Brian Beadie interviewed director John Paizs on his cult classic debut Crime Wave, on the occasion of the tour we organised for Scalarama 2018

One of the absolute highlights of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival was Crime Wave, an unduly neglected Canadian comedy from 1985 which, despite being over 30 years old, emerged as one of the freshest and one of the funniest films to be shown at the festival. The film was programmed by Sean Welsh of Matchbox Cineclub who, after its rapturous reception at the festival, is bringing the film back for a limited engagement for Scalarama.

Crime Wave is as visually inventive and playfully pomo as an early Coen Brothers or Sam Raimi film (no, it’s not the film they collaborated on), but its director, John Paizs, would never make it big, despite being part of the innovative Winnipeg Film Group, whose other alumni include Guy Maddin. I would go so far to say that I prefer his dark comedy on the perils of scriptwriting to the Coens’ take on the same subject, Barton Fink – it’s far less pretentious, and has far more charm.

To give you an idea of the hectic invention of the film, here’s Paizs describing the film’s genesis:

“You could say it was a slight exercise in making lemonade from lemons. I was feeling pressured because I’d just written two feature length screenplays I wasn’t happy with, one of them called Crime Wave — a completely different story — and the other, Crazy Casey. Then one night at this time, sitting at my kitchen table, in front of a blank page, I just started writing ‘THE TOP!,’ and wrote out the rest of what would become the opening narration to this second go at Crime Wave. In a jokey way, it was expressing exactly my big secret dream for myself at this time with this new movie — which was to be a big success with it, bursting onto the scene — FROM THE NORTH! Ha — OK — scene one. Then, what next? Well, often when you hit the ground running like that in a story, it turns out that that opening bit was a dream, or something staged in the story, or just otherwise not ‘real’.”

John Paizs as Steven Penny in Crime Wave

“And so I thought — well, it could have been the opening scene to a movie that someone had written — like me. OK, so what next? OK — now, in Crazy Casey, I had a guy staying in an apartment over this family’s garage, and the family included a daughter, Casey, late teens, and the guy, who’s a freshman in college, has a thing for her — and next thing, that got reversed, she has a thing for him, she’s now ten, her name is Kim, and he’s a wannabe filmmaker — Steven Penny — who’s just capable of writing fun crap like we’d just seen opening this new Crime Wave. OK, so she comes on in scene two, she’s just finishing reading what we’d just seen in scene one, which is the beginning to one of Steven’s discarded screenplays, all of them called Crime Wave, and, breaking the fourth wall, she tells us about it. OK, so then what? Well, how about then she starts reading the ending to this same discarded Crime Wave, and we jump to that? More fun crap. And then — and this may have been my best idea in all of this new Crime Wave — we come back to her, in scene four, and she says that Steven’s problem is he can’t write middles! Boom. Writer’s block comedy. At that point I knew what it was I was writing. I didn’t know it until then. That’s when I found it out. And that’s what I went ahead and wrote.”

What Paizs wrote was a wildly unpredictable comedy with a shockingly high gag rate, taking potshots at everything from film form to current fads of the eighties – you can almost feel his delight in coming up with more outlandish scenarios, throwing in everything from self-help to the death of Sid Vicious into the mix.

“I never had a method for writing screenplays in those days beyond start with the title, then just jump right into it, no outline, no treatment, just make it up as I go along. And sometimes it would turn out more like a traditional dramatic narrative, and sometimes it wouldn’t, like Crime Wave. But I was never conscious of it being one way or the other at any point. I never thought hardly at all about what I was doing. I just did it. And then, when I got to the end of each script, that was it. No second draft, no revisions pretty much. I’d just apply for grant money to make the movie and that was that. So I guess it’s no wonder Crime Wave turned out the way it did, from a story standpoint. I just did what I liked, wrote scenes that I thought were original and funny, and didn’t think hardly at all about whether they advanced the plot or anything like that. Though actually there was one idea I brought to that script that I hadn’t brought to the others before it: and that was to keep the scenes short, and to keep cycling through the same like four or five types of them — a narrated scene, followed by an action scene, followed by a music scene, followed by a dialogue scene, then back to a narrated scene — that kind of thing, over and over, in a loop. I tried my best to make it that way, to keep things hopping like that, to keep the film hopefully jumping off the screen. I was determined not to repeat my huge mistake of my film just previous to Crime Wave, which was practically nonstop dialogue. Crime Wave was supposed to have learned from that one and be fun and alive.”

Indeed, most of the biggest laughs in the film come from pure sight gags, disrupting the film’s lush but highly controlled visual style, a reflection of Paizs’ background as a graphic artist.

“Because I (almost) never move the camera in the movie, it’s like a series of tableaus, or fixed comic strip panels. And I also lit it with hard light, to give it this ‘50s Technicolor look — high contrast and bright saturated colours — which was going directly counter to the prevailing look of movies at this time. So yeah, its visual aesthetic was one of the big things I was selling with it and that was going to be new and exciting about it. Out with the old, in with the new (old), kind of thing.”

Classic slapstick comedy is definitely another influence in play here – indeed, Paizs plays the lead himself, but mute, as a homage to the master of slapstick, Buster Keaton. “I had Buster’s Great Stone Face in mind for my character. It’s something I thought I could put my own spin on, and give the movie another level of originality at the same time because a non-speaking protagonist forces you to think of alternative — and sometimes very unexpected — ways to get ideas across. And also by doing it, I got to be a lead in a movie, and be good at it, with my extremely limited acting ability were I to speak.”

This device allows the film to be narrated in faux-naif style by his landlord’s daughter, who’s got a giant crush on him (a great performance by Eva Kovacs), which leads to another of the film’s influences – Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. “If Uncle Charlie had murdered prose instead of widows it would have been almost the same movie! I got the whole darkness-in-a-small-town framework from that movie, plus the two Charlies’ relationship has a definite parallel to Steven and Kim’s.”

Eva Kovacs on set as Kim in John Paizs’ Crime Wave

So if Crime Wave is so good – and it really is that good – how come you’ve never heard of it, never mind seen it? Paizs explains the reason for the film’s neglect thus:

“It went down amazingly, actually, at festivals, got amazing reviews — like a few of them almost ridiculously full of praise. But what did it in was a nightmare scenario involving the film’s first distributor. The distribution agreement I’d signed with them had a clause in it saying I’d be paid my guaranteed minimum within eighteen months of the film’s first theatrical release, which they tried not to give it! Instead, they just quickly dumped it onto home video and made some quick pay TV sales, and that they hoped was that, saving them a bundle of dough they’d otherwise be paying in advertising, etcetera, never mind my money. Finally, after taking certain actions, I was able to trigger my payment — like three years later — but by this time it was too late for the film, and I was devastated.”

When I saw the film earlier this year, with Paizs in attendance, he looked slightly nervous about the film’s reception – he needn’t have been. It brought the house down. However, he confesses, “I was so worried about how it would go over in Glasgow, for a million reasons, and was so incredibly relieved and delighted about how well it did go over. But what I hope people can appreciate today, whether they like the film or not, is how new and radical it was back in the day, because it was, then. Time may have eroded the perception of that quite a bit, but it was, what can I say.”

I can attest that Crime Wave stands the test of time very well indeed – its wit and playfulness undimmed – as one of the most inventive cinematic debuts of the eighties, and one that richly deserves a wider audience.

Brian Beadie

Interview: Ela Orleans on Cowards Bend the Knee

In 2017, Ela Orleans debuted a brand-new live score for Guy Maddin’s Cowards Bend The Knee for Matchbox Cineclub. Journalist Brian Beadie, who proposed the project, spoke to Orleans ahead of the performance.

Ela Orleans is best known as an exquisite lo-fi pop miniaturist. She works integrally with images, to the extent that a journalist described her work as ‘movies for ears’, a tagline she has willingly embraced. It’s a cliché to call a musician’s work soundtrack material, but Ela’s work is imbued with a deep love of cinema. When Scalarama asked me earlier in the year if I would like to programme a screening for the festival, my first thought (and best thought) was commissioning a new soundtrack from Ela, and pairing one of my favourite musicians with one of my favourite directors, Guy Maddin.

Growing up in Oświęcim (better known in the west as Auschwitz) during Communism, Ela was exposed both to Western and Communist cinema, Polish cinema going through a golden age during her childhood (she jokes that nothing noteworthy has happened in the country since 1986). The film scores of composers such as Krzystof Komeda are incredibly rich, drawing on a wide variety of musical traditions including jazz. There was a vital underground jazz scene, officially banned by the state although, as Ela notes, the state unbanned it when they recognised that it was the music of the American oppressed.

Oswieicm itself would be a site of much location filming, due to its still having the infamous concentration camp in town, now running as a museum. Ela reminisces about being on the set of a Spielberg film when she was a kid, and that you could tell when a film crew were shooting, because all the town drunks would get their heads shaved to obtain parts as extras.

After a spell in Glasgow playing in Hassle Hound with Tony Swain and Mark Vernon, she moved to Brooklyn to study composition. “My final work for the program was slaughtered by my tutor, who told me to get out of my box. The final word, however, belonged to David Shire [composer of The Taking of Pelham 123, The Conversation and, more recently, Zodiac], who said that he loved my box.”

Her own favourite soundtracks make for an interesting comparison; she equally loves the spare, minimalist soundtracks of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, citing the precision of the sound design on Le Samourai, and the operatic splendour of Morricone’s scores.

While Ela has composed new scores for film by directors such as Carl Dreyer and Frank Borzage (an obsession of Guy Maddin’s) she states, “This is the first time I feel that I am receiving full information on the aesthetic aspect of the score. The suggested inspiration is fantastically familiar, and I feel like my music found home with someone alive for a change and that I have freedom and a sense of direction at the same time.”

One of the reasons I wanted to pair Ela and Maddin was because I think they share a similar aesthetic, haunted by but not burdened by past forms. Ela agrees that, “The musical aesthetic of Guy Maddin is spookily parallel with my own. It’s not mainstream or techno or classical but old-time music which can be played with a rusty needle and it will still bring emotions. He doesn’t ask me to sound Lynchian, which is a bloody relief!”

“His enthusiasm for me scoring it is enormously encouraging, and I am over the moon. I feel like I found long lost family.”

Brian Beadie

Ela Orleans’ live score for Cowards Bend the Knee debuted at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, on Thursday, 21st September, 2017. By way of introduction Guy Maddin offered the following words: “This wild, gorgeous and almost insane new score by Ela Orleans has completely reinvented Cowards. She understood at musical levels the depths of shame, heights of hysteria, and quivering viscous ick I felt while shooting it; she drew out from the film every dark strand of soiled soul unravelling within and hung it in a new moonbeam for all the appalled to see.”

Cowards Bend The Knee with Live Score by Ela Orleans, poster by Marc Baines