Last month, we travelled to New York to screen the original ending of John Paizs’ Crime Wave for the first time in 35 years – from Paizs’ own 16mm print!
In December 2021, we took our Tales from Winnipeg programme to Brooklyn, NYC. We went there at the invitation of Spectacle Theater, the legendary microcinema/”goth bodega” situated in Williamsburg (see the 2020 roundtable we hosted with Caroline Golum, Isaac Hoff & Garrett Linn of Spectacle here). Originally presented online in August 2020 (everywhere except North America), the headliners of our programme are three features – Guy Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee (with Ela Orleans’ re-score), Dave Barber and Kevin Nikkel’s documentary Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group and John Paizs’ seminal Crime Wave, in its 2K restoration. We’ve screened Crime Wave many, many times, and because of that and because we love Spectacle so much, we were keen to do something particularly special. Thankfully, the stars aligned, spectacularly so (pun not intended). John Paizs allowed us to ship the original 16mm print of his film, unprojected since its fateful festival debut in 1985, from Winnipeg to New York. And, crucially, this particular print contained Crime Wave‘s original ending.
The story of Crime Wave‘s premiere – on Friday 13th September, 1985 – has taken on quasi-mythical status. After that “disastrous” first screening, the story often goes, distributors demanded Paizs reshoot the end of his debut feature, which he did, ensuring its status as the Great Canadian Cult Comedy. Truthfully, the version of the film screened then, at Toronto’s Festival of Festivals (precursor to TIFF), is the same one that led critic Jay Scott to proclaim, “If the great Canadian comedy ever gets made, John Paizs might be the one to make it.”
As far as distributor’s demands, John may ultimately have pre-empted them, but he didn’t even sign Crime Wave‘s ill-fated deal until the following year. The “disaster” that night in Toronto was a sound problem that brought the film’s projection to a screeching halt, lighting up the auditorium, just as the third act began. When the film resumed, the belly laughs of the preceding hour were gone, and the audience’s muted response convinced Paizs to do the unthinkable – return to Winnipeg to rewrite and re-shoot the entire final act of his debut feature, having long since exhausted its meagre budget (round about $67,000 Canadian).
The Crime Wave that you may well know and love – the best-known version of the film is still, as far as we’re concerned, criminally underappreciated – has a very distinctive third act. The film ascends into a rattling montage tracing the sharp rise and lonely fall of film-maker Steven Penny (Paizs himself), a frenzied crescendo that fulfils the promise of the first two acts by adrenalising all their wit and invention. Crime Wave goes out on a high, complete with deadpan musical coda as the credits roll. The original ending arrives at something like the same spot, narratively, but detours significantly into darker territory. As Jay Scott noted, esewhere in that oft-quoted review, “the tone switches from mildly nuts and robustly funny to robustly nuts and mildly funny.” At the premiere, the sharpness of that tonal shift coincided perfectly with the 10-20 minute interruption. The comparatively subdued atmosphere in the room afterwards (and a smattering of early departures), alongside some caveated reviews, was enough to convince Paizs he needed to completely rethink the ending.
As the festival buzz dissipated over the next six months, Paizs regrouped in Winnipeg and determinedly reconstructed Crime Wave, his stubborn focus – arguably one of the hallmarks of his hometown cohort – on his own vision and on posterity. Paizs raised a further $10-15,000 and, with the support of his Winnipeg compatriates, who passed the hat around to support the endeavour, delivered the much-loved, “faster and funnier” final cut to premiere in Vancouver on 21st March, 1986. By some estimates, though, that half-year diversion was enough to leave Crime Wave in the wilderness for good. A vaunted distribution deal failed to deliver a theatrical release and, worse, left Paizs’ film in the rights quagmire that it remains in today.
Writer and programmer Geoff Pevere, an early champion of Paizs and Crime Wave responsible for its sight-unseen invite to Toronto, remembered the 16mm print only arriving on the day of the screening, with Paizs. “Later, I heard the director had actually picked up the just-completed print from the lab on the way to catch his plane.” So: struck, screened once and stored for 35 years – that’s the print we showed at Spectacle. When we asked after it, John offered to check some carefully kept 16mm cans, soon confirming some of the heretofore “mystery” reels contained the premiere cut – and not, we hasten to add, the “Director’s Cut”. If one thing’s clear, it’s that John Paizs made the film he wanted to make, though both versions belong on a beautiful boutique blu ray release. Meanwhile, Crime Wave‘s reputation grows, year on year, with every new viewing, hopefully towards the point Paizs’ “lost” classic can find its way home.
Our Crime Wave New York story in pictures
1 | We flew into New York on the evening of Thursday 9th December, and the next morning wandered up to recce the fabled goth bodega and take some jetlagged selfies. We’re big fans of Spectacle’s programming, so figured best to get it out of our system.
2 | Next day, we picked up the print. Our friends at Anthology Film Archives (who screened Crime Wave on 16mm back in 2014) helped us out by taking delivery of John’s print, sent direct from Winnipeg. Anthology’s Jed Rapfogel raised an eyebrow (justifiably) when he heard this was not only the first outing for the original cut in 35 years but quite likely the only extant print, and as-yet unscanned/unpreserved. Off we went to Spectacle to show it to people! #TeamLanglois
3 | Spectacle had hired a 16mm projector for the special event, and with it came projectionist extraordinaire, artist, film-maker and analogue afficionado Ian Burnley. With the requisite care and reverence (not to mention sense of circumstance), Ian unveiled the reel (actually, four reels – John sent the three original reels plus one with the “official” ending, just in case)…
4 | ..and began to prepare them for screening (note John’s careful new notes and the original “MATURE” label). Ian also gave us some great recommendation for cinemas, art shows, galleries and noodles (we were glad to meet Ian).
5 | We sat down with Spectacle’s Caroline Golum to preview the reel ahead of the screening, making sure the set-up worked and John hadn’t pranked us by sending us footage of a Winnipeg family wedding. He hadn’t!
6 | All that was left was to panickedly chalk up the A-board, pose for posterity (that’s Spectacle’s Elias ZX on the left there, Megan in the middle), welcome the sold-out audience and wait for the reviews…
Crime Wave’s 2K restoration screens in Spectacle’s Best of 2021 line-up on Saturday, 8th January at 7:30pm EST and Thursday 27th January at 10pm EST, tickets here. NBthis is not the version with the original ending (just the one we know and love).
Thanks to Elias ZX, Caroline Golum and volunteers at Spectacle Theater, Monica at Winnipeg Film Group, Jed Rapfogel at Anthology Film Archives, Ian Burnley and Herb Shellenberger for helping to facilitate this series. And, of course, to John Paizs.
Naoto Yamakawa’s cult classic The New Morning of Billy the Kid “conjures together a motley crew of Eastern and Western archetypes”. For our online screening, we made a handy primer…
To call Naoto Yamakawa’s The New Morning of Billy The Kid an unconventional Western would be to severely downplay the stramash of archetypes Yamakawa knowingly deploys in his dreamlike film. From the title, combining references to Bob Dylan’s New Morning (1970) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Sam Peckinpah, 1973) which Dylan scored and starred in, the film pulls together multiple threads of cultural references from all directions. We’ve assembed this (incomplete!) primer to aid your viewing of our online programme, which runs 3rd-5th December 2021. Images courtesy of Naoto Yamakawa.
Billy the Kid aka Henry McCarty, William H Bonney(1859-1881) | An orphan at 15, dead at 21, Billy the Kid found fame as a murderous outlaw and gunfighter of the American Old West. A pop culture figure for over 100 years, he’s appeared in numerous books, comics, films, stage shows, songs and video games. Played by Hiroshi Mikami.
Harry Callahan (Created 1971) | Debuting in Don Siegel’s neo-noir Dirty Harry, Inspector Harold Francis Callahan is a fictional character and protagonist of a five-film series concluding with 1988’s The Dead Pool. Played by Yoshio Harada.
Marx-Engels (Karl Marx, 1818-1883; Friedrich Engels, 1820-1895) | German philosophers and co-authors of The Communist Manifesto. Marx’ tomb bears the inscription, “Workers of all lands unite”. The latter’s motto was reportedly, “Take it easy.” Played by Rokkô Toura.
Monument Valley | Monument Valley, located on the Navajo Nation within Arizona and Utah, has been featured in many forms of media since the 1930s, most famously the ten films John Ford made with John Wayne, including Stagecoach (1939), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and The Searchers (1956).
Genichiro Takahashi (1951-) | Novelist and co-writer of The New Morning of Billy the Kid. The film draws upon his written works Sayonara, Gangsters (1982), Over the Rainbow (1984) and John Lennon vs The Martians (1985), among others. His oeuvre draws inspiration equally from low- and high-brow culture. Played by Genichiro Takahashi.
Harimau aka Tani Yutaka (1911-1942) | Yutaka was a bandit known as Harimau (“Tiger” in Malay), attacking Chinese gangs and British officers and giving away what he looted to the poor, making him a local hero in Malaya, now Malaysia. He was also a secret agent for the Imperial Japanese Army, sabotaging the British war effort in the run up to World War II. Played by Junichi Hirata.
Jesus Christ (c 4 BC-30/33) | Son of God. Played by Akifumi Yamaguchi.
Jishu Eiga | Japanese phrase to describe DIY or self-made films, usually with no budget, funded and produced outside of the commercial industry. Prominent directors Sôgo Ishii, Naomi Kawase, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Shinya Tsukamoto cut their teeth with jishu eiga films.
Sasaki Kojirō (1575-1612) | Prominent Japanese swordsman and long-time rival of Miyamoto Musashi, who defeated him in a legendary duel. Played by Makoto Ayukawa.
Mitsuharu Kaneko (1895-1975) | Japanese poet known as an anti-establishment figure, who during the Second World War deliberately made his son ill so he would not be drafted.
Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) | Japanese swordsman, philosopher, strategist, writer and rōnin. Miyamoto became renowned through stories of his unique double-bladed swordsmanship and undefeated record in his 61 duels. Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) drew inspiration from Miyamoto for Seiji Miyaguchi’s character Kyūzō. Played by Takashi Naito.
New Morning (1970) | The 11th studio album by Bob Dylan, of which the original Rolling Stone reviewer said, “I’ve never heard Dylan sounding so outrageously happy before.”
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) | Revisionist Western directed by Sam Peckinpah, starring (in a supporting role as “Alias”) and scored by Bob Dylan. Billy the Kid was played by Kris Kristofferson, who said of his director, “One of Sam Peckinpah’s regular stunt men put it very well. He said, ‘Sam likes to be surrounded by chaos.'”
Tony Rayns (1948-) | A writer, curator, programer and tireless champion of film, one of Mr Rayns’ key specialisations is Asian cinema. Rayns was an early champion of Yamakawa’s films and one of the only writers to celebrate his work from the outset. Rayns was also involved in the creation of the film’s original English subtitles (since lost), in collaboration with Director Yamakawa, and now has very graciously worked on our 2021 subtitles.
Sgt Sanders (Created 1962) | Sgt “Chip” Saunders, played by Vic Morrow, was the co-lead character in Combat!, a US TV show (1962-1967). The show depicted the lives of a US platoon fighting its way across Europe during World War II. Played by Zenpaku Kato.
Popeye & Olive Oyl (Created 1929; 1919) | Characters of Thimble Theatre, later Popeye, comic strips. Olive Oyl was a main character for 10 years before Popeye’s 1929 appearance, sequentially becoming his girlfriend. Both are able to gain superhuman strength from eating spinach. Played by Katsuhiko Hibino and Kyoko Endoh.
Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982) | Soviet politician who led the Soviet Union as General Secretary of the governing Communist Party and as Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. His 18-year term as general secretary was second only to Joseph Stalin’s in duration. Played by Katsumi Asaba.
104 (1953-2015) | Japanese telephone directory enquiries number. Played by Akio Ishii.
177 | Japanese telephone weather service, dial to hear the weather forecast for the upcoming three days. Played by Hozumi Goda.
Charlotte Rampling (1963-) | English actress and model, known for her work in European arthouse films in English, French, and Italian. Played by Kimie Shingyoji.
Bruce Springsteen (1949-) | American singer, songwriter, and musician with over twenty studio albums. Played by Masayuki Shionoya.
Tatum O’Neal (1963-) | American actress who is the youngest person to ever win a competitive Academy Award, winning at age 10 for her performance as Addie Loggins in Paper Moon (Peter Bogdanovich, 1973) opposite her father, Ryan O’Neal. Played by Aura Lani.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5(Published 1969) | A science fiction infused anti-war novel, articulating Vonnegut’s experiences as an American serviceman in World War II through protagonist Billy Pilgrim. Namesake of Master’s bar.
Naoto Yamakawa (1957-) | Film director and professor at the Department of Imaging Art, Tokyo Polytechnic University. Yamakawa began to create his own films after becoming a member of the Cinema Research Society while studying at Waseda University.
Zelda (Active 1979–1996)| One of Japan’s first all-girl bands, playing new wave, punk, pop, post-punk, and later, reggae. Played by band members Sachiho Kojima , Sayoko Takahashi, Tomie Ishihara and Ako Ozawa.
The New Morning of Billy the Kid is presented by Matchbox Cine as part of BFI’s Japan 2021: Over 100 years of Japanese Cinema, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network. bfijapan.co.uk
Matchbox Cine is bringing Naoto Yamakawa’s cult classic The New Morning of Billy the Kid back to western audiences, in a limited online presentation with all-new translated subtitles, December 3rd-5th, 2021.
Matchbox Cine is bringing Naoto Yamakawa’s cult classic The New Morning of Billy the Kid(ビリィ★ザ★キッドの新しい夜明け, 1986) back to western audiences, in a limited online presentation, December 3rd-5th, 2021. The film has not been available anywhere with English subtitles, and hasn’t screened in the west at all, since its original, lauded festival run. This event marks its 35th anniversary with an all-new English translation.
In the film, the titular anti-hero takes a job at the Slaughterhouse Saloon, “an arena of dreams where characters, images and situations from popular culture are transmitted into something entirely new.” (Tony Rayns) There, he encounters dish-washer Marx Engels, femme-fatale Sharlotte Rampling (sic) and a range of cultural figures in new guises, including Harry Callahan, Bruce Springsteen and Jesus.
The programme will screen exclusively on Matchbox Cine’s online platform, powered by Eventive. Rounding out the programme are two Yamakawa shorts based on Haruki Murakami short stories, Attack on a Bakery(1982) and A Girl, She is 100% (1983), also with new English translations.
The entire programme features Descriptive Subtitles/SDH and optional Audio Description, to ensure the films are accessible to as many people as possible. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale, so viewers decide what to pay, based on their means, with reference to a tiered sliding scale guide, Free-£8.
The programme is presented by Matchbox Cine as part of BFI’s Japan 2021: Over 100 years of Japanese Cinema, a UK-wide film season supported by National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network. bfijapan.co.uk
Matchbox return with the never-released, undiscovered final feature film from legendary director Paul Bartel!
We’re back, with our first ever hybrid event! SHELF LIFE (Paul Bartel, 1993) + Pre-recorded Cast Q&A with O-Lan Jones, Andrea Stein, Jim Turner and filmmaker Alex Mechanik is Matchbox’s first screening since January 2020.
We have a very limited capacity physical event at Cube Microplex, Bristol, 7pm on Friday 27/08 and an internationally-available, unlimited-availability online version via Eventive, from 7pm Friday 27/08 – Sunday 29/08. Attendees of the physical event will also get access to the online version, and a copy of our print publication. The programme includes a Paul Bartel trailer reel, new cast introductions and a vintage interview with Paul Bartel. The physical event will be open captioned with our new cast-approved descriptive subtitles and the online programme will have optional descriptive subtitles and brand-new audio description on the film only.
SYNOPSIS: Tina, Pam, and Scotty are taken down into Mom and Dad’s well-stocked bomb shelter when Kennedy is assassinated in 1963…and they never come out. Thirty years later, Mom and Dad are a long-dead ‘bag of bones’ and the now-grown kids have created a life for themselves based on remnants from the ’60s, intermittent output from the TV and their wild imaginations.
BACKGROUND: Shelf Life was conceived and written by O-Lan Jones, Andrea Stein and Jim Turner as a result of their rumination on what must become of people boxed in tiny spaces for long, long periods of time. Director Paul Bartel (Eating Raoul, Death Race 2000, Lust in the Dust) saw the closing night performance of the play in 1992 and within six weeks they had begun shooting the film, complete with a fully fabricated fallout shelter on the stages of CFI in Hollywood. Despite a strong festival run and positive reviews, Shelf Life remained unreleased and never found the audience it deserved. After decades underground, the last remaining 35mm print was uncovered at the film archive of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and digitally restored – this is the UK premiere!
Q&A: This will be recorded in advance, partly to enable us to make it accessible, with quality subtitles. We record on 14/08, and you can pose questions any time between now and then via Slido: bit.ly/ShelfSlido
ZINE: We’re producing a new zine to accompany the event, with new artwork from Calvin Halliday and new responses to Shelf Life from emerging writers, including Logan Kenny. This will be free to all ticket holders and available to purchase separately.
TICKETS: Both physical and online events are priced on a sliding scale: you decide what to pay (£0-£8), with reference to our guide: bit.ly/matchboxscale
ACCESS: The screening will have brand-new, cast-approved descriptive subtitles, created by Matchbox Cinesub. The online version of the event will have optional descriptive subtitles for the entire programme and optional, brand-new audio description for the film. NB Cube Microplex is not wheelchair accessible.
VENUE + SOCIAL DISTANCING: Attendees will be required to wear a mask. We have limited seating to allow for social distancing – two seats between each set and every other row unsold. NB we are adhering to the advice of the UK Government but we also reserve the right to exercise our own judgement, should we feel the event is unsafe to deliver. In the case of cancellation, refunds will be issued automatically. NB Cube Microplex is not wheelchair accessible.
Part of Film Feels Hopeful, a UK-wide cinema season, supported by the National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network. Explore all films and events at filmfeels.co.uk.
We were very sad to hear this week that Winnipeg Film Group‘s legendary Dave Barber has passed away. We never had the chance to meet Dave in real life, but his documentary Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group featured in our Tales from Winnipeg online programme last year and we were delighted to have his participation in the event. His enthusiasm for WFG, the film-makers and their work was evident and we enjoyed and valued the back and forth we had with Dave before the event and afterwards.
We were also delighted when Dave agreed to write an article on WFG and his documentary for our accompanying zine, which we are publishing online for the first time, below. Our post-screening Q&A with Dave and co-director Kevin Nikkel is also embedded after the article.Winnipeg Film Group are accepting donations in efforts to establish a filmmaking fund in Dave’s name. Donations can be made here.
When I started working at the Winnipeg Film Group in 1983, little did I realise what I was getting into. Hired on to organise a film screening programme called the Cinematheque, I had no idea that I would be a front row witness to so much great, subversive original filmmaking. This nonprofit collective of independent filmmakers had just moved from an old historic block called the Bate Building in downtown Winnipeg into a red brick home called the “Kelly House”, first built in the 1880s.
It was bare bones. I had no chair and no lamp, so I brought them from home along with my dad’s typewriter. My office was upstairs on the second floor with a moose head on the wall and an old fridge. It didn’t take me long to realise that many filmmakers were outlaws at heart, completely dedicated to creating films and pushing everything else out of the way. They would stop at nothing to realise their vision. More than once over the years, a filmmaker would ask if they could grab a prop that was hanging on the wall or in the corner of the room. My chair wound up in a science fiction short. My typewriter wound up in John Paizs’s Crime Wave. Somebody borrowed the moose head and we never saw it again. Our newsletter was christened The Moose.
In the next 35 years I witnessed some of the best independent filmmaking in the world, survived endless stormy personality disputes, staff turnovers, a bleeding ulcer (a near nervous breakdown) two basement office floods, a revolution in the technology of making, distributing and exhibition of movies, and now a pandemic. In some ways, it was a miracle the organisation survived…deficits and staff turnover prompted much soul searching and fund raising. But those that took the high road always pulled the organisation out of the fire.
The Winnipeg Film Group was formed in 1974 by a collective of independent filmmakers who had a dream. To create a place where they could get filmmaking equipment to rent for cheap. They received a grant from the national arts funding body the Canada Council and, with this seed money, the organisation grew. They bought more and better 16mm filmmaking equipment. With the rise in filmmaking activity, there were more films on the shelf and an increasingly important distribution department. Many films went on to win awards and accolades at film festivals around the world. John Paizs’s wildly irreverent feature Crime Wave put the organisation on the map. Nobody had ever seen anything like this before.
I spoke to a filmmaker in Chicago so excited by the scene he heard that was happening in Winnipeg that he wanted to move here and make films. Another woman actually did show up but after ten days of thirty-five-below weather she left town and said, “You people are all crazy.” And she’s right. A crazy obsession is what drives filmmakers to create films in Winnipeg – long cold winter nights and a city far from major centres of influence has led to a body of great artistic work that has won awards at film festivals around the world. What is it about Winnipeg? This sleepy prairie town with a population of just over 700,000 is in the middle of nowhere. A strong visual arts scene, progressive arts council funding and endless cold winters all fuel the seeds of creativity.
When the Winnipeg Film Group moved yet again in 1986 into the Artspace Building, this time they had an equipment room much larger than the broom closet at Kelly House and a large empty space which became a studio. (re-named The Black Lodge) Hundreds of films have been shot in that space. If you set up a camera on a pedestal and filmed the room in stop motion over the years you would see a blur of sets being built and dismantled including a locomotive train for Guy Maddin’s Odilon Redon.
New emerging filmmakers walk in the door all the time. Every six years, there are radical changes in what filmmakers are creating. More recently there is a rise of the Indigenous Filmmakers Association and many significant women filmmakers creating great new work nurtured by the Winnipeg Film Group commission program Mosaic Women’s project.
Kevin Nikkel and I faced a challenging task in making this documentary Tales From the Winnipeg Film Group. For years, many filmmakers talked about creating a documentary about the organisation but the idea was too daunting. How do you tell 40 years of history with its endless sea of changes?
What is the story? Is there any archival footage or photographs? Who should you interview? In many ways, the Winnipeg Film Group is like the great Kurosawa movie Rashomon. Everyone sees their own version of the truth. We received an invaluable commissioning grant from TV producer Cam Bennett in the MTS Stories from Home and drew up a list of over 100 filmmakers, former staff and board members. Kevin travelled to Los Angeles, London, England and Washington, DC with his family and, while there, interviewed some filmmakers who had moved away. We drew a graph chart on the wall and listed high points in WFG history. The birth of the group, from discussions at the Film Symposium at the University of Manitoba. The move into the Kelly House at 88 Adelaide Street. The endless wrangling over the direction of the group. The rise of various filmmaking movements. Some people didn’t want to be interviewed and some were just way too busy making films. It was very tough finding archival footage and photographs. A visiting German filmmaker Sissy Schneider made a great short documentary film in the 1990s called Guys without an Attitude and generously allowed us to include a short except. Another German filmmaker, Alexander Bohr, made a documentary on Canadian filmmakers in 1992 and allowed us to use part of a segment on the Winnipeg Film Group shot inside our production offices in the Artspace Building.
Cam generously allowed us an extension on the deadline to do more research and interview more people. But the clock was ticking and we soon realised we had to stop as the funding strand was collapsing. We wrestled hard in the editing room and the tone of the film changed direction several times. But the filmmaking continued. And it always will. Because it is all that matters.
Winnipeg Film Group are accepting donations in efforts to establish a filmmaking fund in Dave’s name. Donations can be made here. You can read WFG’s tribute to Dave here.
We’re teaming up with Glasgow Short Film Festival again to screen a trilogy of incredible shorts from Crime Wave director John Paizs – in one feature length programme, as originally intended
40 years ago, in January 1981, cult Canadian auteur John Paizs debuted his seminal short, Springtime in Greenland. His seventh, it was the opening salvo of an intended trilogy paving the way for Paizs’ crowning achievement, his 1985 feature debut Crime Wave. The loosely connected sequence, completed with Oak, Ivy & Dead Elms (1982) and The International Style (1984) stars writer/director Paizs himself as Nick, the mute protagonist, always deadpan if not strictly impassive, the inscrutable centre of a highly stylised world, inspired equally by Disney and Devo.
Conceived as three pieces of a whole, though rarely screened together, The Three Worlds of Nick developed the style formally established by Paizs with 1980’s The Obsession of Billy Botski. In that short, Paizs placed his titular character amongst the “controlled artificiality” of classical Hollywood, mixing the highly constructed sound design of vintage radio dramas with the knowing, pop punch of New Wave music. Indeed, Paizs wanted his films to be “shorter, snappier, brighter and edgier,” envisaging them as a cinematic counterpart to the music of Devo, The B-52s and Elvis Costello. In The Three Worlds of Nick, Paizs worked towards that goal with the wit and poise later celebrated in the work of Roy Andersson and something of the compromised sincerity of Blue Velvet-era Lynch.
Paizs’ “Silent Man” figure, who would find his apotheosis in Crime Wave’s Steven Penny, was key to that development. While Botski had been merely laconic, Nick is entirely silent, a steadfast counterpoint to his frequently grandiloquent friends and antagonists. The self-casting was expedient, since Paizs’ films were made on a shoestring, with a non-professional cast and crew (the modest budgets primarily went to film stock and processing). It’s also emblematic of the inventiveness permeating the three shorts, which make a distinct virtue of Paizs’ lack of faith in his own oratorical prowess, while allowing him frequent opportunities to flirt, poker-faced, with his camera’s objectifying gaze.
The Three Worlds of Nick followed after my short film The Obsession of Billy Botski. After Botski, I very much wanted to have a go at a feature but was daunted by the scale of it, a challenge I overcame by conceiving of one in three more easily fundable and doable parts. In order to give the three parts unity, I created the silent man Nick character (to be played by me), who would appear in each. The three storylines for the three parts — or worlds — came out very different from one another, going from semi-autobiography in Springtime in Greenland to escapist fantasy in The International Style, with a stop in between at college in Oak, Ivy and other Dead Elms for Nick to possibly learn a thing or three from a charismatic old WASP establishment student on campus and his right wing politics. All in all, The Three Worlds of Nick offered at the time of its completion, in 1983, and still offers today I believe, a completely unique movie watching experience. One that I guarantee still holds something special for every dedicated cineaste.
The Three Worlds of Nick streams live at 20.30 on Saturday 27 March, then is available to view on demand until the GSFF hub closes at midnight on Sunday 28 March.All three films feature brand-new, director-approved descriptive subtitles, produced by Matchbox Cinesub. More information can be found here.
Broadcaster Pauline McLean interviewed Matchbox about our National Lottery Award win, accessible film screenings and cinema under COVID
Towards the end of 2020, we were invited to speak to broadcaster (and Cage-a-rama attendee) Pauline McLean about our recent National Lottery Award, in the Culture & Arts category, for our work producing descriptive subtitles (AKA captions, SDH, HoH) for films during the COVID lockdown, ongoing work which is supported with National Lottery Funds via Film Hub Scotland.
You can listen and download the interview from BBC here. BBC doesn’t currently provide transcripts of its radio shows, so we’ve made one ourselves. Read it below, download a PDF here, or listen along with our subtitled clip.
Presenter: You’re listening to the Good Morning Scotland Weekend Edition podcast. Now, lots of people have found tasks to be done during lockdown, but spare a thought for film enthusiasts Sean Welsh and Megan Mitchell, who spent their lockdown subtitling hundreds of films for Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences. Well, Sean and Megan normally run Matchbox Cineworld, providing cult films for festivals. Cage-a-rama, their celebration of Nicolas Cage, should have taken place this month but they’re confident it will return and perhaps bring the eccentric actor himself to Glasgow. Well, our Arts Correspondent Pauline McLean spoke to them at the tail end of 2020.
Megan Mitchell: Myself and my colleague Sean Welsh are Matchbox Cineclub. We’re currently based in Bristol, having just recently moved but we originally were active predominantly in Glasgow and Scotland. And we’re independent film exhibitors. And all that means is that we screen films, we run film festivals, we work with cinemas to put on film events. Our ethos, in terms of programming and what films we like to screen, we call them the outcasts, orphans and outliers of cinema,
Megan Mitchell: We like to screen films – cult films for cold audiences – but also we place a keen emphasis on accessibility. So, we use a pay-what-you-can-afford sliding scale ticket model, from zero to £8, and we also present all the films with captions, for and Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences.
Pauline McLean: So, this is where the Lottery Award comes in, because a lot of people during lockdown, I guess, kicked back and thought, “Well, there’s not much for me to do.” The two of you actually decided that there was even more to do, in terms of subtitling films and you did, how many? About 250 in that time?
Sean Welsh: The number’s a little elastic. It’s actually still in a sense, it’s still going. It was 150 at the kind of midpoint. And it’s 300 now, I think. So, it’s, day-by-day it increases, because it’s still ongoing, of course. Over the summer, it was certainly about 200.
Pauline McLean: And what does that involve for you? What does the work actually involve?
Sean Welsh: It’s really varied, in fact. I mean, sometimes it’s a case of we have a subtitle file that we just have to adapt, which is to say that it’s an English language file and we need to add SDH or captioned elements, which is sound labels and sound effects and things like that. So, sometimes, it’s relatively straightforward. And other times we have to do the whole thing from scratch, which is that we have to transcribe the English dialogue as well as add these elements for Deaf and Hard of Hearing audiences. And the quality of the films, or rather, the content of the films, is really varied as well and it depends on who we’ve been doing it for. We’ve done a lot of work with the Glasgow Short Film Festival, who were actually one of the first to embrace this, the idea of making their programme as accessible as possible. We worked with them a little bit last year and they’ve been building up their provision year on year, until this year, when, of course, initially, they were supposed to happen earlier in the year, but they had to postpone and then eventually delivered their whole programme online. And their whole programme this year was accessible in terms of captions, which is a huge undertaking for us. And it’s a real big investment and time for them as well. So it was really nice to see that.
Pauline McLean: And this kind of lockdown time gave you that chance to be able to sit down and do this, didn’t it? I mean it, it sounds like quite a dream job, but, in other ways, it also sounds quite laborious. You’re not just sitting watching films, you’re having to basically take them apart and put them back together again, with words anyway.
Sean Welsh: Ah, sure, I mean, if you want to stop enjoying something, you make it work. But, at the same time, we’re really grateful to be able to work like this. I mean, it’s great to have a sense of purpose about it, it’s great to work with films, but, of course, if you are working with films, day-in, day-out, it can become a little onerous. And of course, when you’re working on a film, it’s potentially up to six times as long as the film itself, you’re spending, even more than that, in fact, to produce the subtitles. So, if you imagine a film is an hour, an hour and a half long, you’re talking around a day, a day, maybe a working day, at the very least, usually about two days to do the subtitles, which is a long time to spend with any film.
Pauline McLean: So, Megan, are there particular films that you think, “Never again, I just don’t want to see that one again.”
Megan Mitchell: I think we’re quite lucky, because we’ve been able to work with a variety of festivals and exhibitors, that, every week, there’s something new and something interesting. And I think that, personally, we’ve been exposed to films that are just so varied and so interesting, in terms of their different content and approach and style that, actually, even though it can be quite arduous, I guess, to be doing it day-in, day-out, that there’s still always something fresh and exciting and you’re always reminded how important film as an art form and as a medium is,
Pauline McLean: Tell us a little bit about the original organisation that you set up Matchbox Cineclub. You originally, I guess, had five festivals that you’ve added to that, and you’re looking particularly at cult film. I think the only one that I have been to in the list, and I thought it was fabulous, was Cage-a-rama which is devoted to the films of Nicolas Cage. How did that come about?
Sean Welsh: The potted history of Matchbox is that it was founded by a chap called Tommy McCormick, who is very creative and very active in producing these kinds of organisations and events. And he started Matchbox as a way to screen short films, because, at that time, there wasn’t that many options for seeing short films on the big screen. And I got involved pretty quickly afterwards, because I wanted to get experience as a film programmer and basically took over almost entirely, but Tommy was on to bigger and better things. And then we screened pop-up screenings of cult films, essentially. And then Megan came onboard, and then our shared love of Nicolas Cage begat Cage-a-rama.
Nicolas Cage: Going to detain a blighter for enjoying his whisky?
Cage: Bangers and mash! Bubbles and squeak! Smoked eel pie!
Man: That’s it! Dismount the banister!
Sean Welsh: We decided that it was probably a good idea to spend an inordinate amount of time celebrating Nicolas Cage. And so we’ve done that.
Pauline McLean: Well, I was going to say, you’re not alone. For some reason, there’s a real love for Nicolas Cage in Glasgow.
Megan Mitchell: I think that, one, he’s just the best actor that’s ever lived. I’m actually the world’s leading academic on Valley Girl, which was Nicolas Cage’s first feature film, as “Nicolas Cage”.
VO: Valley Girl.
Cage: She’s out there somewhere.
VO: This is the story of a boy from Hollywood who never dreamed the girl he’d want most was down here.
Megan Mitchell: I think that me and Sean and the audience of Cage-a-rama have this shared sincere interest in Cage as an actor, as a an entity larger than life. And I think that that’s how we came to this idea of Matchbox being cult films for cult audiences, because, of course, programming Matchbox normally, outwith Cage-a-rama and our KeanuCons and things, which are maybe more known films, we’re screening stuff that you can’t see anywhere else – lost films, unknown films, cult in the sense that you really need to dig to find them. So, that unifying thread across our programming is really that cult, in, I guess, a more flexible and fluid sense, but always has that sincerity and joy that you find within these films.
Pauline McLean: But I guess also not taking itself too seriously. I think one of the films that I saw, I think last year, at the second festival was almost like a sort of pantomime audience, you know, people were kind of cheering the, you know, the particular lines that appealed to them, or…
Megan Mitchell: I was just gonna mention an event that we did that, I think, is a really nice example of audience participation in that heightened event. We hosted a funeral for the six-second video platform Vine.
[New Orleans second line funeral music]
Megan Mitchell: Some people might know that have, I guess, cult status, in terms of some of its videos and creators. And we hosted a very elaborate funeral with a mourning band and Puke, who’s a drag question performing this amazing performance with which the audience joined in, completely unprompted, with their phone lights, and had been repeating all of the Vines back to the screen itself.
Megan Mitchell: And I think that we create or we try to create an environment within Matchbox events where all the audience and I think that this is where captions and accessible ticket pricing come in, feel comfortable and feel that they can engage to a level that they’re comfortable with and feel supported to do that in an environment that maybe ordinary cinemas or ordinary film screenings don’t create or haven’t been able to quite grasp yet. And I think that that’s core to the things that we want to continue to do is achieve that environment of… welcomeness, I guess, and feeling that you can be a part of all of this.
Pauline McLean: And, Sean, is the ambition, eventually, to have either Nicolas Cage or Keanu Reeves come to their own festivals?
Sean Welsh: Well, we’re always, since year one of Cage-a-rama, we’ve been in contact with Cage’s agent and we’ve always been heartened by the fact that, in year four of a similar festival in the States, he took part, he came down, he had programmed the films, he came along, he officiated an engagement, I think, and he read some Edgar Allan Poe poems, before sitting and watching his own films with the audience. So, we’ve always been encouraged by the fact that that happened. So far, we haven’t quite been able to tie the knot. It’s always exciting, because he tends to spend his festive period in the UK, he has a house in Bath. And so he is usually around when we, when our festival happens, or, because we do it around about his birthday, which is in early January. And so we always think there’s a possibility is gonna pop in. But we’re kind of like a dog that chases a car. I’m not sure what we’d do, if we got him.
But one day, one day, and the invitation is always open, and we’re always having that kind of communication. Keanu’s a different thing, I think, because I think he’s quite humble, and a wee bit shy, and I think he’d probably be… I’m not sure he’d necessarily be comfortable in that kind of scenario. But we’ll see we’ve, we’ve got a lot of room in our hearts for Keanu, I’m sure everyone else does as well.
Sean Welsh: We thought we’d extend the invitation vice versa. I mean, they’re always welcome to come to any of our events, as is anyone – that’s the idea, open, open to everyone.
Megan Mitchell: Well, we delivered an online festival Tales From Winnipeg, which was actually more of a showcase, I guess, of purest Matchbox programming, so we had a Matchbox favourite John Paizs’ Crime Wave. We had Guy Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, scored by the wonderful Ela Orleans, and the Tales from the Winnipeg Film Group documentary. And that was really interesting, because that was our first foray, I guess, into online programming. And we were even on the local Winnipeggian news chatting about it and that was quite fun.
But I think, for us, we have been really lucky this year in terms of keeping busy, I guess, with captioning and the advocacy work that we’ve been doing around that. And of course, the award, for the captioning work that we’ve been doing, has been really nice and there’s been something really comforting, I guess, for us, being able to be busy during such a uncertain time. But I think moving forward, audiences are always going to want to come together and join in on something really special and I think cinemas and our festivals particularly offer something above and beyond watching films on Netflix or on streaming sites. So, 2021, we’ll see how comfortable we are delivering things to audiences. I also think, as well, that we’re really lucky in being independent film exhibitors, in that we can take the choices that feel right for us and our audiences and not have to take any, I guess, risks based on any economic factors, if we were cinema, for example. So I think, for us, we’re just biding our time, I guess. I don’t think you ever stop programming, there’s always things squirrelled away, you know – a Tik Tok festival might be next.
Sean Welsh: We have, it’s fair to say, lots and lots of ideas. And just like everyone else, it’s a real, a real shame that we’ve had to kind of wipe the board clean this year. But we’ve always said we’d prefer to be best rather than first, so even, there’s all these challenges, like Megan says, in terms of safety and looking after your audiences, because that’s the most important thing to us, and so…and we also have to deal with that thing that a lot of people in groups that are in the same position as us are in because it’s difficult for us to screen mainstream films online, you know, so we couldn’t necessarily present Cage-a-rama online. Obviously, I think we’d prefer to be able to see our audience and experience the films with them in real life. But even a version of it would be tricky for us to deliver online because…just because of the way the industry works. So, there are things we can do and there are things we may do and, like I say, we’re bursting with ideas. But we’ll just have to wait and see.
Pauline McLean: I think, in one of your discussion forums, you were recommending in a sense that for some festivals, the right thing is to do nothing, to kind of step back and not to attempt to push everything online. You were just explaining there why it’s not always possible to put things online. It also doesn’t always have the same feel, there is that balance to be achieved, isn’t there?
Megan Mitchell: Yeah. And I think that, particularly in the early point of lockdown, and going through the pandemic, quite a lot of cinemas and festivals and independent exhibitors, very rightly so, were concerned about their audiences and wanting to stay very actively engaged with them. And I think that when, we, I guess, it was during Scalarama, said that perhaps doing nothing is a better use of time, I think that none of these people in the sector are ever going to be doing nothing, but advocating for taking the time to think about how we can better the sector and improve our own events when we do get back to doing the big in-real-life things that we love. And again, we come back to captioning. Captioning’s a big part of that. And I think we’ve seen a lot of festivals and independent exhibitors who, one, have had maybe more time to think about access in a slightly different way, really engaging with captioning as a process and a real way in for audiences who maybe wouldn’t be able to engage with their events otherwise, online or not. But also cinema might be in a crisis at the moment but it’s also an opportunity and we’re seeing a lot of really exciting, urgent and important issues being discussed, not just access, but across the board in the sector. And I think that actually, that’s a really heartening thing. Even if it’s quite a scary time for cinemas themselves.
Pauline McLean: I was going to say, one of the interesting things has been, aside from Tenet, there hasn’t really been anything blockbuster-wise, this year. So, it’s given any indie films that are out there a little bit more scope than they normally would have. And I presume it also allows for those audiences, and those kind of films to have a bit more of the attention.
Sean Welsh: I think it’s fair to say that, in one sense, like, doing stuff online is great and to be able to embrace it is great. And there’s lots of different elements of online that the in-real-life events can’t offer and one of them is accessibility. But on the other hand, we don’t have the pressures that a venue has, in terms of overheads and staff and continuity of their audience. And one thing that we’re very aware of is that it would be great if more of us this kind of niche content and lesser-exposed films had a chance. But, truthfully, there’s such shifting sands for cinemas, because they have to try to get bums on seats, but they’re also dealing with an ever-changing landscape. And it’s not just about whether or not films will or will not be released, you’ve seen Wonder Woman 1984 is now going to get released day and date streaming and in theatres. That kind of thing disrupts planning for cinemas because, in a normal run of things, they have things booked several months in advance. And they also know that they’re going to be open. So, if you don’t know you’re going to be open from week to week, and you don’t know what studio releases are going to be available to you, it’s incredibly difficult to plan. And so that’s… We’re aware that, in the sector, there’s, like, a real challenge and a real need for venues and cinemas to be supported through this. It would seem that there’s an opportunity to programme these lesser known films. But unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as that.
Pauline McLean: Going back to the subject of access to films and the subtitling work that you’ve done, the reminder in the midst of all of this is that not everyone has broadband, not everyone has internet access. Is there a danger that we may have taken a step back in making film accessible because it’s going to be small, when cinemas do reopen, they’re going to be much, much smaller capacity. So, you know, how do you then cater for the people who felt they’d been left out?
Megan Mitchell: I think that this is a big question for cinemas in terms of access overall, because I don’t think it’s about stepping backwards with access online or the progression of online versus in-venue. I think that these are all deeply interconnected and very hard to untangle issues of barriers to access for audiences. So, digital poverty is playing a big part now, in terms of audiences who maybe would regularly attend cinemas but don’t have the digital technology or the internet to do so. But we’re also seeing a rising awareness I guess, in cinemas, of these issues, so, digital poverty, even when cinemas are able to or do open their doors, we have high-risk audience members, we have audience members who just can’t step over that threshold any more, even from their own home and so I think it’s just about all of these different – as it always has been in cinema – different issues of barriers to access interplaying. But, again, I think cinemas are starting to untangle all of that. And, even though there may be some deeply rooted problems, in terms of access – I’m thinking particularly around the cost of a cinema ticket, and the actual ability to enter these independent cinemas and feel that they’re a space for yourself – that we’re slowly starting to address different issues of access in a way that sets out a really strong model for addressing all of the other issues. And again, captioning being a brilliant example of exhibitors really starting to consciously think about how they can unpick these barriers and be proactive, because, actually, underpinning all of the issues within independent exhibition and independence cinemas is actions that are necessary to bring about change. And I think that we’re seeing a really exciting energy around independence cinemas that want that change and, hopefully, the pandemic has sped up some of the really useful ways of doing that. So, taking things online, thinking differently about access online and hopefully bringing that back into the cinemas.
Pauline McLean: So, rather than taking a step backwards, it could actually be an important reset moment?
Megan Mitchell: Definitely, I think the pandemic’s allowed cinemas to accelerate some of the changes that were already slowly in place, with going online, thinking about access differently online. But it’s also gave cinemas, I guess, a shock in terms of audiences and thinking about their audiences. So now, older audiences are maybe less likely to want to attend cinema screenings, but younger audiences might. And that’s a real question, I guess, for independent cinemas who have previously struggled with young audiences and maybe have rested on their laurels slightly with their access commitments and now is the time, I think, we’re really seeing an urgent need for change, but also the will for that to happen as well.
Sean Welsh: It’s important to note that we didn’t invent access, and we didn’t invent captioning for screenings, but what we were able to do is to show how it was possible to do it and to do it affordably. Because there was a will there, it’s just that we had to kind of… we helped to join up the dots. And we’ve kind of seen a real, real sense of a sea change, even over the course of this year. Because we can see that some of the people we’re working with year on year, the distributors and the film-makers are more likely to have caption files already, because they’re thinking about it. So we can see that there’s a change there that’s kind of coming in. And particularly across Scotland, obviously, we’ve done a lot of work with a lot of festivals, and even the ones that we haven’t had complete coverage, they’re starting maybe one strand, and then next year they’ll look at doing more. And we’re also showing them how to do it internally, to an extent, if they can manage that, so that it’s a bit more sustainable, you know, because it’s not just screenings, of course, it’s, like, trailers and any content they put online – clips, or if they do Q&As, all of these things. And so it’s progress. And I think, on one hand, it’s important to see it as a continuity. And, on the other hand, it’s a really good idea to lose patience with this stuff and to say, “No, it has to happen now.” Because it should happen now, it should have already happened. And, so, the more you kind of kick it into the long grass, if you allow that to happen, that’s what will happen, it’ll be put off and it’ll be put off. And, so, this pandemic, and everything around it has really been horrendous. And so when there’s an opportunity for something positive to come from it, I think it’s really good that we can seize it. And I would add to that also that audiences as a whole, and even specific audiences for cinema are much more comfortable with subtitles. In fact, before the pandemic, when we had committed to having open captioning on all our screenings, which means that subtitles are always on, no matter what, we never had any complaints from audience members. And I think there’s a wee bit of people assume that audiences are going to kick off if they’re presented with a subtitled screening. And I think it happens less than, less than people might expect and I think it’s no longer a viable excuse to not do it. It’s great to see organisations taking it on to the point where they can explain to their audiences, why they’re doing it, and bring audiences with them. Because that’s really what it’s all about.
Pauline McLean: You mentioned that you both relocated to Bristol, but it sounds like you’re still very much able to do what you do and be involved in everything that’s happening in Scotland from there.
Megan Mitchell: Definitely. I think, thanks to Zoom, and the pandemic, we probably could have moved and no-one would have known we weren’t in Glasgow any more, but it’s been really exciting for us to just come to a different context and particularly Bristol, where it has so many wonderful independent exhibitors and the Watershed Cinema that we’re able to, I guess, re-route and continue our activism for captions in a new context and a context that’s also hungry for change and are really proactive in terms of accessibility. But we’re still keeping our hands in Scotland.
Sean Welsh: I think there’s another thing that goes hand in hand with the kind of accessibility that we’ve always, we’ve chased and we’ve tried to bake in, more and more increasingly. Collaboration and cooperation have always been really important to us. We don’t believe in gatekeeping for the industry and we believe in sharing resources, and sharing advice and expertise. And, so, I think that increasingly, there’s a there’s a strong network, and it’s a network based on that kind of collegial atmosphere. And I hope we’ve been able to contribute to that and we certainly have seen there’s other people who have really responded to the fact that we put a lot of import on that. So, I think that’s the kind of thing that is portable. And we would like to stretch across the UK…and beyond!
Pauline McLean: And also, I guess, if you’re in Bristol, you’re just that little bit closer to Nicolas Cage, if he happens to pop in to his house in Bath.
Sean Welsh: If we happen to pop down and wait outside his house?
Nicolas Cage: No, not the bees!
Pauline McLean: One last question for you, which is, you, know… And I ask this of so many people who work in the world of film or cinema, do you still get a joy out of going to the cinema? Can you still switch off and relax and go see a film just for the joy of it?
Megan Mitchell: Oh, absolutely. When we moved to Bristol and managed to get to the Watershed Cinema, which was the first time that I had been to the cinema since February, and the longest time that I hadn’t been inside a cinema for maybe 15 years, It just was joyful. It just felt like you were coming home. And I think that we still retain that passion for cinema in the purest sense, that we understand how transformative and how impactful films and cinema can be for people, because we still feel that. Yeah, I can only agree with that. It makes such a huge difference to have a venue that you can trust to make it safe and make you feel welcome and make you feel looked after. If nothing else, you know, people can get an idea of what a cinema really is. Because it’s not just putting films on. You could put films online and people can see the films – the same amount of people could see the films you screen, but from your website. And that’s not the cinematic experience. That’s not what a cinema is, and I think, if nothing else, again, the pandemic has pulled that into focus.
Presenter: Thanks for listening and don’t forget to tune in to the programme live, at 8:00 every Saturday and Sunday morning.
All of Matchbox Cineclub’s programmed is subtitled for the deaf and hard of hearing. Keep up to date with our events by signing up to our mailing list, here, or find our events on Facebook here. For more information on our subtitling service, read our dedicated page here.
After 10 years of hosting film events all around Glasgow, we’re moving to Bristol
After ten years (and a particularly busy most recent five), Matchbox Cineclub is leaving Glasgow and relocating to Bristol.
For at least the next three years, we’re going to be based in Bristol. We’ll be back every so often (we have at least one Glasgow event planned in 2021), but mostly we’ll be in Bristol, and we don’t yet know what that’ll mean for any IRL events.
This weekend (3rd-6th September, 2020), we should’ve been hosting Weird Weekend III at CCA Glasgow. 2020, cursed year, should’ve seen our cult film festival level up to a much bigger festival. Our plans and even programming for it have been underway since before last year’s festival. Those plans had to be scrapped, rethought, redeveloped, revised and the scrapped again. We accounted for postponement, downscaling, hybrid approaches and completely online versions, but it just wasn’t meant to be this year.
We will be doing more online programming, like our Tales From Winnipeg online-only season, and Weird Weekend will certainly return in some form. But we also want to take some time to rest (we’ve also subtitled 250+ films in the last two months) and regroup, for the first time in several years.
We want to say a very big thank you to everyone who has supported us over the last 10(!) years in Glasgow, particularly CCA Glasgow, The Old Hairdressers, Film Hub Scotland, all our fellow exhibitors, to everyone that’s come to one of our events and, most of all, to those of you who’ve come to several.
It’s very strange to be planning to leave like this. We would’ve loved to host a farewell screening or just had some drinks in a big room, but none of that’s possible. Maybe, with no rooms to set, A/V to prep, bands to soundcheck, bookings to find, tickets to take, guests to entertain, merch to sell, last-minute social media to do, etc, etc, we’d have finally properly prepared an address for the audience, rather than busking some last-minute jibber-jabber. But then probably not. Hands up if you’ve already seen this one.
We love Glasgow and we’ll miss you very much.
Sean + Megan x
This website is full of stuff, interviews, articles, etc, and will become even more active now. You can find our archive of posters and event photographs on Flickr and our trailers and video content on Vimeo and YouTube. Zines, posters and merch are on sale in our shop, matchboxcineclub.bigcartel.com.
It’s with very heavy hearts we have to announce the cancellation of Remakesploitation Fest 2020, our celebration of 1970s and 1980s Turkish fantastic cinema, in collaboration with Iain Robert Smith and Remakesploitation Film Club. Originally planned to run in April 2020, then postponed until October 2020, the festival would’ve featured the 2K restoration of “Turkish Star Wars” aka Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (Çetin İnanç, 1982) as well as the documentary Remake, Remix, Rip-Off (Cem Kaya, 2014) and the remakesploitation classics Fıstık Gibi Maşallah (Hulki Saner, 1964), Turist Ömer Uzay Yolu’nda (Hulki Saner, 1973), Cellat (Memduh Ün, 1975) and Şeytan (Metin Erksan, 1974).
Sadly, it’s become clear that in-person events at CCA Glasgow will not be possible for at least the rest of this year. Having postponed once already, back in March, we won’t consider rescheduling any of our events until we are certain they can go ahead safely, as originally planned.
Pass + ticket holders will be refunded automatically. This can take several days to process, but the process is underway already. If you have any questions, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org. — with Remakesploitation and CCA Glasgow.
Ahead of our Tales from Winnipeg season, which features Guy Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, with Ela Orleans’s new score, Cathy Brennan spoke to the director about the project
In 2017, we commissioned Ela Orleans to write and perform a new score for Guy Maddin’s 2003 film Cowards Bend the Knee. It was a connection suggested by journalist Brian Beadie, a dream project for Ela and, it turned out, a dream come true for Guy. For our first online programme, Tales from Winnipeg, we’re thrilled to present the film with Ela’s studio recording of the score for the first time, and delighted to have Guy’s participation – he’ll introduce the film and joins Ela for an hour-long In Conversation afterwards. Before that, Cathy Brennan spoke to Guy to get his thoughts on the film’s origins.
Cathy Brennan: In your 2002 interview with Robert Enright, you said you thought that Cowards Bend the Knee might be your last film. Given how prolific you’ve been in the years since, how have your feelings about the film evolved?
Guy Maddin: Wow, I don’t remember saying it would be the last film. I tend to be self-pitying and melodramatic, so I probably just say that before every film. What I say now has evolved into “I’m going to make this as if it’s my last film.” In other words I’m going to give it my best shot and hope that it represents what I’ve been trying to do all these years in the best possible way.
I can barely watch any of movies as they age because they represent the work of someone I no longer am. It’s embarrassing, it would be like watching yourself struggling with some things that you’ve long ago since learnt how to do. A lot of people wouldn’t be that comfortable with having non-filmic work put on public display a couple of decades after they’ve made it.
I’ve always viewed my films as inventories of errors rather than an accumulation of accomplishments. There’s a couple of exceptions: I like watching The Green Fog, a movie we made in 2017. We actually watched it with audiences a few times . And I’ve watched Cowards Bend the Knee now maybe five times over the last 18 years and been quite proud of it, actually.
There’s a few things I’d change; the first six-minute chapter gets off to a bit of a slow start, but, then, once it gets going, I’m very proud of it. I remember the feeling I had while I made it. I felt like I was really in a zone, you know, where every time I pointed my camera I found something worth shooting. I made plot connections in my head as I was shooting. It was a real frenzy of creativity and I just made this humble 62-minute long feature. To make it in five very short work days -really just half days-was something I’m very proud of.
Like I say, it just came out in one piece there’s so many autobiographical elements in it I could just assemble my cast of characters and keep them all handy at all times and then start putting them through their uninhibited motions, their disinhibited emotions based on real life events. I dunno, I wish I could make all my films like that.
I followed up by making another silent film that also played with live musical accompaniment Brand Upon The Brain. And that came out in one piece as well but just not quite as insanely. It’s more of an epic and it’s much longer. This one [Cowards] really felt as crazed as I was when I lived the events.
I wanted to ask a bit about your working relationship with Ela. How did it start? What are your thoughts on her score for Cowards, and do you have a favourite section in it?
I love the whole score. Ela may have a different version of this but I think she just asked if she could make a score and I said “yeah” and then she sent me her work as it progressed. I think she just worked through it in order or at least that’s how I got it – Chapters 1 through 10, in script order from her.
I’m very grateful for her opening, the chapter 1 score because I basically just DJ’d the original movie with old classical music chestnuts and the piece of music I had put in there before was so dreary. The opening six minutes felt like 20 minutes and felt like just a list of character names to be memorised for a test, or something like that. She just came up with a piece that brought it to life much more. It didn’t change the visual content, but it sure seemed like it did. It quickened the pace of the cutting. The pure exposition clumsily conveyed by me in that chapter was just made more pleasurable to assimilate, made it seem more part of the story rather than just exposition shovelled down the throats of the viewers. So, I’m most grateful for that.
I love the way she keeps shifting gears and even when she brings vocals in at one point which surprises me and which comes as a really welcome surprise. I don’t think I really thought of a favourite section, but I’ve just kind of marvelled at her sense of pacing and how she changes it up. I often think in baseball metaphors, so I don’t know how useful that is for you over there [in the UK], but just the way a pitcher is more successful if he changes speeds and location and curves each pitch in the idea is to keep the variety coming. So, in Ela’s case, I just like the way she startles the ear every few minutes and it just feels right. She’s got a really strong intuition for it.
I hesitate to use the word, because it sounds so corporate but there’s this great synergy between Ela’s score and your film. I believe you you mentioned in that 2002 conversation about the atmosphere, while filming Cowards, being very mischievous, and I sort of detect that same sense of mischief in her score, particularly with sound effects. I think there’s one bit dressing room and Dr Fusi just smacks one of the players on the butt and there’s a cartoon “thwack” sound.
Some of the sound effects came over from the original soundtrack, but she was smart enough to keep them, another she deleted, and then others she created herself and I think she created that one. I dunno, she’s just she’s just really on the right wavelength, that’s all I know.
I’ve had other alternate scores done for this very movie, actually. It’s been really interesting comparing them, but Ela really comes closest. Not closest, Ela is a true collaborator. I was going to say she comes closest to getting what I’m up to but, no, it’s more than that. A collaborator’s actually supposed to make you look better, and she does do that.
It’s kind of like you know Bernard Herrmann and Hitchcock not that I’m Hitchcock. It’s just you can feel when Bernard Herrmann’s score in Vertigo was actually making the movie way better, and I love that. but I just think of it as a collaboration among all of its makers and you can feel the with Ela in that first chapter. She really gets the movie going off to the start that I failed to supply. I remember an anecdote about Vertigo where Hitchcock handed the reel where Jimmy Stewart is just driving around for 10 minutes in front of rear screen projection. And he [Hitchcock] just handed it to Herrmann and said, “This reel is all yours,” you know, something to that effect. It feels good to make a movie, knowing you can just hand something off to somebody and know they’ll make you look better.
My version of synergy is, every now and then, I come up limping and have to hand it off to Ela and I know she’ll haul me out of the trenches and across no-man’s-land in spite of all the mustard gas and deliver something that looks a lot better than my carcass.
That’s really sweet.
If you don’t mind. I just wanted to shift the little bit to talk about about the Winnipeg Film Group. The documentary Tales From was kind of a whistlestop tour of the history of the group.
I haven’t seen it, you know? It’s strange. I’m in it, I think, but I was scared to watch it. I can’t stand watching myself.
You were in it for about five minutes and come across very well, if I may say so. I just wanted to know a bit more about the role that the film group had on the production of Cowards specifically.
Right. I don’t remember them having much to do with Cowards. Let’s see, I owned the cameras. I had about six Super 8 cameras just in case one broke down, I’d keep five spare Super 8 cameras in the boot of my car and whenever one wound down I’d run out and go get another one. I own the light I think we only used one light most of the time we might have rented a few lights from the film group and as a member I got cheap rates – $10 a light a day or something like that.
Since making Cowards, the film group have taken to distributing it and they’ve been very good about that. But I remember making the film almost secretly. I was in pre-production on another film at the time in 2003 I shot The Saddest Music in the World which was a much bigger budgeted movie. It was $3.5 million then. Still small I guess but the biggest I’ve ever had. and Cowards Bend the Knee was $5,000 to build a few sets and to get the film stock purchased and processed. My producers on Saddest Music in the World would have been very upset to know I was working on another project so during pre-production I would sneak away for the greater part of five days in a row and shot Cowards Bend the Knee. And, so, no-one really knew about it other than the cast members of Cowards and and then some of them later appeared just a few weeks later in Saddest Music in the World.
It was 18 years ago that I shot it in like October or September 2002 so there are snow plows just out of frame all the time. There’s some real hockey ice and a nearby hockey rink that we went to on the very first morning and shot off all the hockey, so slightly out of script order and then went back and shot all the dry land stuff in this snow plow garage. I don’t recall anyone noticing and I would have meetings about Saddest Music in the World that I would have to hop in my car and drive a few blocks over to the other studio to make Cowards and then come back and keep shooting Saddest Music. Of the two, I loved making both those movies , but I really love the outlaw aspects of making a movie on the sly. Normally you think of guerrilla filmmaking you think of hiding from the police and not using permits and and running from one suspicious person to another out on the streets, but I covertly went into the snow plow go up and was hiding from no police officers at all. I even insured the movie shoot in case someone fell to their deaths at the Winnipeg Arena. So it was legitimate that way. I just didn’t want my producers the other film to know so in that way it’s a strange form of guerrilla film-making. Another example of how sketchy and sneaky I am sometimes for no reason when I could have just been straight up and said, “Hey, I’m shooting this thing, please permit me to miss a few hours of work in this other place.” Instead, I had to prop up a dummy that looked like me in my office of this other shoot and set it off so I could make my escape Alcatraz-style.
The secretive nature of the production fits that underworld, psychological aspect of Cowards, like the salon/bordello and the secret wax museum.
I think everything everything fitted but that just repressed the whole endeavour and seemed to make it even more urgent and more explosively powerful when I did let spill on some really humiliating confessions. because the movie is nothing if it’s not a big ejaculation of shameful reminiscences and ejaculations were far better for being shot illicitly.
I just want to picture it back to the Film Group. This is a bit of a selfish question, but when I was watching the documentary I found myself making a list of films and film-makers to watch. Are there any young filmmakers working at the group now whose work you’re excited by?
Yeah, I haven’t seen much lately, but I know Matthew Rankin has made a feature recently called The Twentieth Century, which a lot of people loved. I’ve seen the shorts made leading up to it and I really like them and so I would say that one’s worth a look among the new ones.
I also like Mike Merinec. He might be working just outside the film group. You know what film co-ops are like:people fall in love with each other and then there’s inevitably some kind of falling out. So Mike’s working may well have been made after a falling out or something. There’s often a board that’s at odds with the film-makers and all sorts of inner intrigue. Or people start sleeping with each other accidentally and grudges start to form and all sorts of stuff. That’s just sort of inevitable. It’s sort of like a rock band in that way.
One last question: your film films often hark back to the past. How do you think the meaning of that backward-looking perspective changes depending on how a viewer engages with the film? For example, if it was shown in a cinema or through an online screening like Matchbox are doing with Cowards Bend the Knee, where people may be watching on their phones or tablets.
Yeah, it’s beyond me, in a way. I kind of just made it the way I did. I started off in 16mm and always assumed I would move graduate to 35mm and then, God knows, maybe even 70mm Cinerama. Y’know, big budget Hollywood films. But I quickly stalled after getting a chance to make a film in 35mm in the late ’90s, a film I didn’t like at all, and so I wandered around in a desert for a few years.
Then one of my students, a guy named Decko Dawson, with whom I made a short film called Heart of the World which is shot in both 16 and Super 8. This student of mine had this film that just looked so cool and I just realised that 35mm and all the corporate sophistication that I was just starting to get whiffs of could be just ignored utterly. If I made a plunge back into the more primitive gauges of Super 8 where green and shadow, the tendency towards high-contrast imagery because it has an auto aperture on it, would just plunge me more into a kind of a mythic past.
Since the subject matter that interested me most was the dawn of my memory and even my prehistory, sort of a mythological figuring out of my earliest years or my earliest attempts at being sexual or ethical. Just those early primitive attempts at doing the right thing seemed almost Euripidean in their flaws and murkiness and timelessness somehow. I seem to be making exactly the same mistakes as characters in 2,500-year-old Euripedes plays and I seem to be making them with some atavistic connection to the darkest roots of such mistakes.
It just seemed like the lower the gauge, the deeper I punished myself into the very Earth, the depths of my most murky thought processes. The kind I guess when you’re just beginning and you’re just forming your lips into a hungry circle in the hopes you’ll be fed, to the slightly more sophisticated point where you’re lying to a friend to seduce his girlfriend.
It just all seemed to line up: the black and white, the wordlessness. I guess silent film is just one step closer to cave painting than talking pictures. They’re just images saying things. Now I do have intertitles with plenty of text and I’ve even thought recently about replacing all those with bright, crisp, new digital ones. But I like the way I shot the intertitles in that movie with the same kind of reckless spirit with which I shot all the humans acting things. It turns out they’re all out of focus, but I decided to keep them anyway because I felt this should come out in one piece. And so it did.
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An edited/alternative version of this interview appears in our Tales from Winnipeg zine (free for weekend pass holders, available to purchase separately here).
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