News

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

Interview: Guy Maddin on Cowards Bend the Knee

Brian Beadie interviewed director Guy Maddin ahead of our 2017 event, premiering Ela Orleans’ live score for Maddin’s 2003 film Cowards Bend the Knee

Guy Maddin is one of the most intriguing film directors currently working, with one of the most distinctive styles in contemporary cinema, earning him an international cult reputation. He has worked with the style and imagery of the transitional period between late silent and early sound cinema to produce some of the most disorientating – and flat-out funny – films of the last 30 years. He is far more than a mere hipster pasticheur, however; his films interrogate the very codes of cinema itself, produced in a unique artisanal style that is perhaps closer to the artist’s film than mainstream cinema. Indeed, what many (including myself) regard as his best film, Cowards Bend the Knee, was originally produced as an art installation, and consequently is one of his least-seen works.

When Matchbox Cineclub, which is dedicated to uncovering rare and underseen films, asked me to programme something for this year’s Scalarama, a celebration of underground cinema, and Ela Orleans told me her dream was to score a film by Guy Maddin, the choice was obvious – have Ela score Cowards Bend the Knee. Both Guy and Ela’s aesthetic seem to uncannily match each other’s, both producing work that is haunted by traces of the past but not burdened by it, both producing work that is beautiful and dreamlike.

Here’s an interview I carried out with Guy ahead of the screening.

BRIAN BEADIE: Firstly, I’d like to thank you for being so helpful with this screening for Scalarama. Essentially, we’re producing an alternative version of your film. What do you think of multiple versions of films – perhaps in reference to Seances or The Forbidden Room?

GUY MADDIN: Well, I’m extremely honoured to have this new score, especially since it’s composed by Ela Orleans. She’s a magnificent talent. Wow! Ever since I first stepped into an editing room over 30 years ago, and started moving the component parts of movies around, their shots, their sound effects, etc, I’ve been amazed by how music affects the image. I know it’s not literally true, but it might as well be, I swear different pieces of music can make a shot darker or lighter, long or shorter. The right music cue can make a shot unforgettable, the wrong piece can make a shot disappear completely – it’ll pass by without anyone noticing. I swear music can even slightly improve, completely repair or even destroy actors’ performances. With this in mind I’ve always wanted to have different versions of my movies kicking around. Seances (2016), an internet interactive project I worked on with my new collaborators, Evan and Galen Johnson, featured countless alternate versions of our film adaptations of long lost films – some versions had alternate colour palettes, others had different edits, different plots even, and different video textures, but most important of all, each had multiple scores. This project was one big roiling Kuleshov Effect, with so many variables rolling around like a bushel of ball bearings set loose on the deck of a ship. It was mind-boggling to me, and when we finished I was saddened to think I probably wouldn’t soon get a chance to play with such variables. But now there is this chance, with Cowards and the wondrous Ela! Cowards will now be a completely new film. I wish I could insert this new version into my filmography as a 2017 addition – I would seem much more hardworking than I am!

Mark McKinney and Isabella Rossellini in The Saddest Music In The World (Guy Maddin, 2003)

I understand that Cowards Bend the Knee was shot on the set of another film – The Saddest Music in the World, almost like an underground version of that film, or that film’s dark subconscious. Do you think more filmmakers should do this – the best precedent I can think of is maybe Pere Portabella’s Vampir-Cuadecuc?

You just mentioned one of my favourite films of all time. I don’t know the exact story behind Portabella’s presence on Jesus Franco’s set of Count Dracula (1970). I wonder if he was hired to shoot a behind–the-scenes making-of, or if he had something more sophisticated up his sleeve all along, but what he did has eventually come to represent the creative freedom we can deploy in the way we make accounts of things now, 47 years later. He simply shot his own version of Franco’s Dracula. Franco shot in conventional theatrical release sync sound 35mm colour, Portabella in 16mm hi-con B&W, with a timelessly avant garde sound design. The Dracula story is familiar enough to all viewers, so Portabella was free to add gloss upon gloss in a personal vein to the Franco. Every now and then he catches Franco’s crew, the big camera, the make-up and props people, even visitors to the set show up, but then it’s back to the story, which, it turns out rhymes nicely with the dictatorship of Generalissimo Franco back home in Spain. It’s so dreamy, so sneaky – way, way sneakier than Bunuel’s L’Age d’Or. So this Vampir is among the titans. Evan, Galen and I went to Jordan a couple of years ago to shoot a movie behind-the-scenes of a Canadian war film called Hyena Road. Evan had, without prior knowledge, come up with the idea that galvanized Portabella, simply to steal all of our host picture’s production values, at no cost. Hyena Road had a budget of $12million, and we had $60k, so getting to use all the wardrobed extras, the enormous village set built for the other film, and the explosive effects, this was a tremendous saving, and enabled us to put something together with incredible visual impact, with our cameras literally beside the host film’s. We sat cheek-by-jowl with the DOP for the host. We were like tick birds on a rhino. The host film’s director was incredibly generous to allow this. But feelings later soured between us when he felt we had betrayed him in spirit, and we probably had. We had no dictator to poniard, but we had a few things to say about war films in general, and way came off as extremely ungrateful to our hosts, who had even paid for our film!

Cowards Bend the Knee was shot during pre-production on The Saddest Music in the World, while the sets were being built. The latter film had an enormous budget compared to Cowards, maybe $3.5million compared to $12,000 for Cowards. But, boy, did I feel mischievous making the lower budget work. It seemed like I was shooting tests, getting ready for the bigger days of shooting ahead, but instead I was discovering a new way of shooting. I said goodbye to the tripod to which I had been enslaved during previous work and, for the sake of haste and storytelling efficiency, went completely handheld. The script of Cowards would be shot in highly-improvised camera movements. The story has about seven or more – I can’t remember – characters that needed to be connected by camera movement. I didn’t have time to storyboard the film, so I would arrive on set, call action, and just start drawing connections among all these characters, their faces and their hands – the movie has a hand “thing” – and soon I discovered the power in swish pan connections, collisions, conjunctions. I was writing sentences with my camera, automatically, following impulses that seemed right, the way Jack Kerouac wrote his sentences in the seconds after waking. Not all films can be shot this way, but there was something about this one, maybe its autobiographical nature, that made this approach feel right.  It certainly feels alive, like an alert memory and neurology were behind the camerawork.  I say memory because, while I wrote the script, I never once consulted it during the shoot. I was simply retelling an episode from my life as I remembered it, or as I remembered dreaming it over and over.  The whole thing was shot in a fever hotter than a pepper sprout, for five easy days. It came out in one honest-seeming piece! And by honest, I mean emotionally honest. It’s not literally honest, my life was never as literally shadowy, grainy or soft focus as this film, and I’ve never once had my hands surgically removed.

Cowards Bend the Knee was originally shown as a peephole installation. Would you like to speak about the role of voyeurism in the film, and generally in your work?

The film was originally commissioned by The Power Plant Gallery. The curator there gave me a chance to enter the gallery world with an installation. I had no idea what to do, but after long discussions with the curator – for I truly wanted to make something honest and apt for him – we decided we would concentrate on some guilty feelings I’d been carrying with me since early adolescence, when I had drilled some peepholes in walls in an attempt to watch naked people. What a creepy little sociopathic kid I was, though I suppose you could say I possessed a “healthy curiosity” about sex. Still, I would not want to hang around this younger version of myself now. Anyway, to atone somewhat, however spuriously, I decided to make the most luridly confessional movie I could dream up, and then make it available for viewing through peepholes drilled in the walls of The Power Plant. The public could see me at my worst and maybe some karmic accounting would balance the great ledgers in Heaven. Also, thanks to a quirk in the Power Plant’s air conditioning, a strong eyeball-dehydrating breeze shot out of each peephole, blasting drywall fragments into the eyes of gallery visitors. Few got to see my confessions all the way through; many considered suing me, suing the gallery. Everyone was extremely angry with me, some because of what I confessed, others simply because their eyeballs now looked like throbbing red snooker balls.

Gretchen Krich in Brand Upon The Brain! (Guy Maddin, 2006)

The film forms part of an autobiographical trilogy – I confess I haven’t seen Brand Upon the Brain! How did you approach this, and how important do you think it is for a filmmaker to create a mythology around themselves?

I’ve read in places that I’m a narcissist. It’s probably true, though I never once suspected I was one while making this film. I come off so horribly in the movies – I thought I was presenting myself to the film word as its most puerile self-flagellant, maybe the most puerile and self-pitying since Jerry Lewis. I loved operating from this position, and turning literal facts into their fairy tale euphemistic substitutes, to carry on the gospel of Werner Herzog, who has long preached the superiority of “ecstatic truth” over mere fact. Since their invention, motion pictures have been the most powerful tool of mythologisation – like any artist, I just wanted my share of immortality, the budget-discount immortality film offers, maybe 20-50 years of immortality at most. This seemed so typical of the bargain-crazed cheapskates that live in Winnipeg, this seemed like the best way to be honest about why I made films while also achieving my goals. I truly felt that self-lacerating autobiography was the way to go. It works to masterful perfection for John Cheever in his truly great Journals, maybe the best diaries ever published. I thought, let’s go for this. But there is a thin line between self-hatred and self-pity. I never knew how close I was to treading over into Jerry Lewis tonal territory. I’m not the one to say, but I think I just danced back and forth over that deadly border, especially in Brand Upon the Brain!, where more than one critic has accused me of indulging myself in pity for my childhood. But Cowards is more pure, and while no one can say if they ever possess any self-knowledge at all, I truly felt I was finding out things about myself while making this movie. I felt I was unpeeling revelation after revelation. You might ask why I thought anyone would care about me, why any viewer would want to submit his or her eye to all those drywall bits, but, inspired by Cheever, I felt I just might be able to delight, surprise and astound the way the great artists do. You can’t do any of those things unless you try!

Again, I understand the film was financed and exhibited by the art world, rather than the film world. How important do you think galleries are in providing alternatives to commercial cinema?

I love working in galleries and museums. I wish the financing of the film world permitted more of such cross-pollination. I always believed that the arts existed on a continuum, that someone interested in creating paintings or sculpture would also want to write about it, that movies and cave paintings were more related than most regular movie-goers suspected. I guess I was too quixotic for my own good, but I felt that movies belonged in the art world too, especially movies since they synthesise all the other arts, and that even as financially compromised and corrupted as the art world is, so bring in the movies to the museums, I say! Especially their very making! So, when I got a chance to shoot Seances and The Forbidden Room in public, in the foyers of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Centre PHI in Montreal, I leapt at it. I wanted the museum habitués to see, ant farm-style, how a film was assembled from the little scraps of nothing that typically make up the worlds I shoot. The transformations of utter garbage into the almighty Word of Truth is worth a peek, I thought. I still believe it. But maybe I just like all the glamorous people that show up at gallery openings.

Your work has always focused on a certain period of film history from the late 20s to the early 30s. What fascinates you about this period?

I’m finally leaving the old days, those most oneiric days of the haunted screen, behind. I’ve spent more time in those two decades than the decades themselves did! That’s just wrong. So I’m modernising, and switching to new forms of expression, but I can probably never match the feelings I had while working out the old musty vocabularies. Film, in its industrial haste, was always discarding vocabulary units still in perfect working order. No one else seemed interested in these old, sometimes still shiny parts of speech, so I felt my biggest advantage was simply retracing the route taken by cinema during its short life here on earth, backtracking down the road and reclaiming these unwanted tropes and tones, brushing them off and sticking them into my new projects to see how they worked as repurposed moving parts in new mechanisms. Why not, there was no law against it, and it struck me that wasn’t mildew I smelled, it was excitement. A lot of these old things were good as new, and since no one alive had encountered them before, they struck me as downright revolutionary.   If they ever seemed to reek of pastiche or something corny, that’s probably because of my penchant for framing everything in story structures that were basically fairy tales or melodramas. But that’s another story. My favourite tales are from the Old Testament and from the Greek tragedy days of Euripides. There is something both over-familiar and fresh in those things too. Days of Heaven is a good example of how the Old Testament can be made influentially modern! In my most pathologically optimistic and narcissistic days I wanted to make movies as fresh as a Malick take on the Old Testament.

Darcy Fehr and Melissa Dionisio in Cowards Bend The Knee (Guy Maddin, 2003)

I see this period as being one when certain grammars of film were being discovered and laid down, which you can then use to disrupt conventional ‘realism’, which is why I find your films genuinely radical. Would you go along with that?

Yes, I forbid my students to use the word “realistic.” It has no meaning in a discussion of art. Psychologically plausible, that’s another matter, but realistic doesn’t mean a thing to me. I suppose I rationalised my methods to fit this immutable position of mine, but so be it.

Similarly, your films disrupt and interrogate traditional representations of masculinity, such as the hilarious shower scene in Cowards Bend the Knee. What interests you about this?

Masculine, ugh, I don’t like many men who are truly masculine in the old sense of the word. The sooner we chuck all those taxonomies, including alpha males, the sooner the world will get comfy. The sooner the alpha dogs feel the humiliation they long to inflict on the world, the more wonderful the buttercups will smell!

Although a film like Cowards Bend the Knee captures the look of late silent cinema perfectly, it’s editing strategies are totally avant-garde, and could only have been produced with the aid of digital. How and why did you arrive at this editing style?

My editor John Gurdebeke and I chanced on this style while fast-forwarding through all the footage because beginning to cut. We felt the footage was tremendously improved when his Final Cut skipped over certain parts, came to a rest on others, and seemed to rock itself into one moment, fetishising it, whenever we took a closer, less rushed look at anything.  We felt this was a new way of representing memory on film, a more neurological way. Think of your first kiss, say, you want to approach it with enough pre-roll to recreate your anticipation from long ago, then you want to skip over all the boring parts, or you have to skip over some parts because they’re long forgotten; then when you get to the kiss, you want to sow your memory down, even replay certain parts of it, till all the flavour is sucked out of it. When you’re finally satisfied with your memory you go racing off to the next succulent recollection. We found we could euphemise this type of recollection using the scrolling – that’s what it’s called, technically – that results when one fast-forwards digitally. I see David Lynch used a bit of it in an early episode of Twin Peaks: The Return. It still works. It’s not for every story, but for a nervous memory film I love the way it works.

In my blurb for the film’s advertising, I called the film ‘perhaps the most authentically surrealist film of the 21st century.” How important is surrealism to you?

Surrealism is everywhere now, has been for a long time, especially in advertising, where it works the best. It’s hard to make a feature film purely surrealist now without it becoming tiresome, but there are still ways. I’m glad to have tried my best to keep the movement alive somehow, to present it as it was originally presented, as a transgressive genre off by itself, but I do have more classical interests. Mind you, so did Bunuel. BTW, may I make a recommendation of Hebdomeros, the surrealist novel by Giorgio de Chirico. John Ashbery called it by far the best of the surrealist novels and I agree with him. What a dream! The reader forgets each drop-dead gorgeous sentence as soon as he or she reads it, so rhythmically dreamy is the next sentence, and the next and so on! Never have I been so submerged in dream than when marching through that book’s pages. I read it 25 years ago and shall never forget the experience, even though I can’t remember a single word from it – never could!

Most filmmakers go to Hollywood, or somewhere else, but you’ve stayed in Winnipeg and mythologised it. How important is the city, and the Winnipeg Film Group to you?

Man, talk about sucking the flavour out of something. I have had my grave back-hoed open here, it’s ready for me, but I wish I could live long enough to enjoy another city for a while. It helps that I started teaching at Harvard a few years ago so I split my time between Cambridge and home, but the drivers there are such assholes, not the gentle farmers who slowly careen about the dusty streets of Winnipeg. I truly hate the drivers of Boston. I love the people I know, but then, Dawn of the Dead-style, they become something else, asshole zombies, whenever they climb into a car! I wonder if I can ever escape the comfy temperaments of the town that hosts my grave.

Finally, since this is a live scoring event, how important is music in films to you?

Music is everything to me. EVERYTHING. Film is music! The perfect film for me is one that operates like music, takes music’s shortcut to the heart, is structured like music. Uses the same narcotic effects as music. So even if music is literally present in the film or not, its presence must be felt somehow, even if only in the writing of the script. Hitchcock’s The Birds has no music, but the story works like a symphony! But I prefer my music in my soundtrack, up front and loud. There it can distract from the papier-maché cheapness of my sets!

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

COVID-19/Coronavirus announcement

Glasgow Short Film Festival have taken the sad and difficult decision, which we fully support, to postpone this year’s festival. Unfortunately, that includes our event, Girl in the Picture: The Youth Films of Nobuhiko Ôbayashi + House and the Scalarama March Meet-up. You can read GSFF’s statement, which includes details on refunds, here: glasgowshort.org/visiting-the-festival/gsff20-postponement

We’ve subsequently taken the decision to postpone the debut of our Arrow Video Night screening series (including opener Why Don’t You Just Die! and the April event, scheduled for 10/04) and the connected CineWriters group meetings (ta-da, that’s a thing/will be a thing!).

NB Remakesploitation Fest 2020 (25-26/04) and KeanuCon 2020 (19-21/06) are still currently going ahead as planned. We will continue to monitor the recommendations of the Scottish Government, the NHS and our partner venue, CCA Glasgow. We hope to relaunch the Arrow Video Night on Saturday 30th May.

We’ll be in touch with ticket holders for Why Don’t You Just Die! directly, and generally appreciate your patience and forbearance with this whole thing, which is obviously still unfolding and that we’re trying to navigate with the greater good in mind.

We have to balance our own decisions as a small, independent operation (with currently no guaranteed funding support) against taking an abundance of caution. While events at CCA (theatre capacity 150, cinema capacity 74) fall below the threshold of 500 for proscribed gatherings, and our first instinct is the show must go on, we need to take responsibility and prioritise public health and safety and truthfully, it doesn’t feel right to be going ahead with events while this whole thing is expanding and still unfolding.

This missive from our friend and respected fellow programmer Herb Shellenberger has informed our decision: 

repcinemas.substack.com/p/canceleverything

On a related note, we rely on funding support, ticket sales and the revenue we make from subtitling for film events to keep going. With all of those things currently unsure, it’s going to be a tricky time for us. If you’d like to support us in another way, we have t-shirts, posters/prints, books and zines on sale in our online shop: matchboxcineclub.bigcartel.com/category/merch.

If you have any questions regarding upcoming Matchbox Cineclub events please feel free to email us at info@matchboxcineclub.com.

Subtitled screenings March-April 2020

We’ve produced brand-new SDH/captions for D/deaf audiences for three upcoming events in Scotland, for a total of 53 films(!)

19-22/03 Glasgow Short Film Festival 2020
Fri 27/03 Arrow Video Night: Why Don’t You Just Die!
25-26/04 Remakesploitation Fest

For the second year, we’ve worked with Glasgow Short Film Festival, this time expanding coverage to nine feature-length programmes of shorts, including the entirety of their Scotttish Competition and our own Girl in the Picture: The Youth Films of Nobuhiko Obayashi programme. The latter celebrates the early, experimental work of the House director and includes films subtitled in English for the first time. We’ve worked with translator Moe Shoji to produce SDH for these films, and they represent the start of a bigger project we’re very excited about – watch this space!

Find all the captioned films screening at GSFF20 here.

Why Don’t You Just Die! (Kirill Sokolov, 2020) is the first in our new, monthly screening series Arrow Video Night, in collaboration with Arrow Video. Arrow produces SDH for all their home releases, but we’ll guarantee them either way, since some of the programme will be sneak previews and descriptive subtitles may not be ready in time for our screenings. Why Don’t You Just Die! is a prime slice of Russian splatterpunk comedy, lots of fun and an advance screening ahead of its Blu-ray release in April.

More information and tickets here.

Remakesploitation Fest is our collaboration with Iain Robert Smith (King’s College London/Remakesploitation Film Club) and the result of a long, long infatuation with the weird world of Turkish fantastic cinema – particularly the era which featured countless unauthorised remakes of Hollywood films. Following our sold-out premiere screening of the 2K restoration of Turkish Star Wars (Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam) last year, we’re bringing a whole day of Turkish remakes to CCA Glasgow, all with exclusive, brand-new translations, screening for the first time in the world with English SDH. Thanks to King’s College London and Film Hub Scotland for making this possible!

More information and tickets here.


If you are interested in commissioning subtitles for a screening, event, festival or release, or would simply like to know how it works, get in touch: info@matchboxcineclub.com.

Turkish Remakesploitation

This April, we’ll be screening restored and newly-subtitled classics of Turkish fantastic cinema for the first time. Ahead of Remakesploitation Fest 2020, read our primer on the weirdest film scene in world cinema, originally published in 2011…

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam AKA The Man Who Saved The World (Çetin Inanç, 1982) doesn’t make it too far past the endearingly handmade titles before it demonstrates the elements that gave it its better-known title, “Turkish Star Wars”. Edited into new Turkish scenes are newsreel clips of NASA rocket launches, instantly recognisable shots from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (chopped from a print in a different aspect ratio from the rest of the Inanç‘s film – making the Death Star an odd shape), and identifiable footage from Sodom and Gomorrah (Robert Aldrich,1962) and The Seven Curses of Lodac (Bert I Gordon, 1962). The roguish leads, Cüneyt Arkin (Murat) and Aytekin Akkaya (Ali) are shown in space battle, their commitment to their performance overriding the viewer’s disbelief as projected footage from Star Wars cuts haphazardly between scenes behind them. Nobody in Lucas’ Rebellion ever had to deal with their spaceship appearing and disappearing around them, and even Luke Skywalker probably wouldn’t have dared flying backwards down the trench in the Death Star, even if it was oblong. But then daredevil Ali reckons the enemy are too sour-faced and he’d prefer “if some chicks with mini-skirts were coming”.

Cüneyt Arkin’s spaceship manifests from one frame to the next in “Turkish Star Wars”, Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (Çetin Inanç, 1982)

While the provenance of the visual effects is immediately and jarringly obvious, the soundtrack is equally dubious. The music not sourced from library stock is bastardised from an impressive array of high-profile soundtracks, including John William’s score for Raiders of the Lost Ark (The Raiders March and Chase Suite), Giorgio Moroder’s disco cover of the Battlestar Galactica theme, Ennio Morricone’s theme for the TV mini-series Moses the Lawgiver (Gianfranco De Bosio & James H Hill, 1974), music from Planet of the Apes, Moonraker and Silent Running, and then Queen’s score for Flash Gordon – a film which also provides key sound effects. Even JS Bach’s Toccata gets a showing. Such audacious theft cannot help but overshadow the homemade costumes, mannered stunt work (particularly Arkin’s trademark trampolining) and lunatic storytelling that the film otherwise consists of, but Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam is still more entertaining than The Phantom Menace.

Such pithy comparisons have revived international interest in a peculiar sub-section of Turkish film that thrived domestically in the late 1970s and early 1980s, of which Turkish Star Wars is only one among many. There are now countless blogs and webpages dedicated to lists of bizarre and poorly-made foreign versions, some official, some not, of Hollywood films. Usually light on context and high on derision, these articles have nevertheless brought to light a whole spectacular genre that may be described as Turkish Remakesploitation.

Most of these films were made during a particularly tumultuous period for the Republic of Turkey that saw the country experience the third coup d’etat since its formation in 1923. The 1980 military coup followed coups in 1960 and 1971 and brought a temporary end to violence but also ongoing political instability that has continued to the present day, with the country engaged in a long struggle towards multi-party democracy. Contrary to some reports, there was no general ban on American films in Turkey, even during the period of the military coup (from September 1980 to November 1983) beyond the individual bans on Midnight Express (Alan Parker, 1978) and A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1973). The more serious censorship affected domestic films and directors, most famously Yılmaz Güney who, in the middle of this period, orchestrated the production of Yol AKA The Way (Serif Gören, 1982) from a Turkish prison cell. One of the biggest movie stars in Turkey (of a rough and roguish type similar to Arkin), Güney was also one of the most politicised, first jailed in 1961 (for publishing an allegedly ‘communist’ novel) then again in 1972 and 1974. Escaping prison in 1981, he completed Yol in Switzerland and it went on to win the Palme D’Or at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival. Exiled in Paris, Güney died of cancer in 1984 and he is now internationally renowned as a key figure in modern Turkish cultural history.

Yılmaz Güney (middle) at the Cannes Film Festival, 1982

However, the kind of low budget oddities that decades later would become known as Turkish Jaws, Turkish Dirty Harry or Turkish Exorcist, among many others, belong in a world parallel to the politically and socially conscious filmmaking of the likes of Yılmaz Güney. Even filmmakers sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Güney took part in the Remakesploitation trend. Memduh Ün, who garnered early international notice for his film Kırık Çanaklar (The Broken Pots, 1960), also directed the Turkish James Bond rip off Altin Çocuk (Golden Boy, 1966) and, much later, Turkish Death Wish AKA Cellat (The Executioner, 1975). With the spotlight on the highly entertaining, low-budget escapism of Turkish Star Wars, it’s easy to overlook that Turkey, even in such adverse conditions, had no shortage of “respectable” films and, after a wilderness period from the early 1980s through into the 1990s, has resumed producing world-class films.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam is probably the most famous of the Turkish Remakesploitation films, by dint of having Star Wars as its template and because it so blatantly ripped off whole special effects shots and sequences. Truth be told, even though it cribs some broad ideas along with a bucket-load of special effects, it tells a distinctly different story than Star Wars and it is not even close to being the most thorough Rip-Off in this genre. Nor is Süpermen Dönüyor, even though Kunt Tulgar’s movie makes liberal use of stolen music cues and copyrighted characters. There are far more explicit offenders in this category, films that are practically shot-for-shot remakes of the originals. Crucially, none of them are authorised adaptations of the source material, distinguishing them from the standard and continuous back-and-forth nature of movie remaking across national borders.

Films belonging to the genre take a variety of forms, from those shot-for-shot remakes (Sevimli Frankeştayn AKA Turkish Young Frankenstein (Nejat Saydam, 1975)), to straight retellings adapted for a Turkish audience (Süpermen Dönüyor, Kunt Tulgar, 1979), to films that took elements of foreign films and incorporated them into ‘reimagined’ versions of the originals (Dünyayi Kurtaran Adam). All three types regularly feature in Top Ten Terrible Foreign Rip-Offs lists, their puny budgets, brazen appropriation and lunatic energy frequently compared ironically to their muscular Hollywood forebears. The common links between them are the international fame and success of their source material and a focus on any combination of action, sex, adventure and violence – the key constituents of any so-called B-movie and bread and butter for their contemporary domestic audience. The films were broad, easy to comprehend and entertaining to a fault – so no Turkish Chinatown, but Turkish Young Frankenstein was a no-brainer.

The films that can be described as part of the classic wave of Turkish Remakesploitation also belong to a larger genre of Turkish Fantastic Cinema. This term encompasses many kinds of genre films, from horror and science fiction to the hugely popular masked hero film. B-movies by any description and obscure to say the least, these films are not widely available even in Turkey, where the original prints have long since been sold off to television stations or simply disappeared entirely. Often the best sources for viewing them are VHS copies of pre-digital Turkish television broadcasts and/or German rental copies, ripped for the internet. Luckily and somewhat miraculously, a decade ago MTV Turkey began screening many of these films, previously believed to be lost altogether, in a weekly Fantastic Cinema slot. Otherwise, tiny independent companies like Onar Films, based in Greece, distributed DVD versions sourced from original prints. While these were lovingly packaged, carefully cleaned and prepared for release and much better quality than YouTube uploads, they were hampered by the extremely poor quality of the existing prints, which had never been high priorities for preservation or digital remastering.

“Turkish ET” waves goodbye in Badi (Zafer Par, 1983)

From a modern, western perspective, cataloguing and delineating these films is a nightmare, due to a number of factors. First and foremost, the lack of an international audience even at the time means that the films and filmmakers have very little status in the west. Awareness of them now is really due to some hard work by fans of the genre(s) and a whole lot of wry internet ‘appreciation’. Even now, the documentation and availability of these films is very limited, automatically granting canonical status to a handful of high-visibility Rip-Offs – Turkish Star Wars, Turkish Superman and Turkish ET (Badi, Zafer Par, 1983) among them. The films that are available, one way or another, often have sub-standard English subtitles (with no disrespect to the efforts made, for which we have to be very thankful) and most have no English subtitles at all. Additionally, there seems to be very little behind-the-scenes information available and attempts to frame these films in any kind of context are very rare. Bill Barounis of Onar Films produced a helpful Turkish Fantastic Cinema Guide and while there are surely more scholarly tomes on the history of Turkish cinema, Fantastic or otherwise, they are, by and large, written in Turkish and in any case not widely available.

Fortunately, as the films of particular interest here have benefited from the widest modern audience, it’s still possible to discuss them in context and to trace their origins somewhat. While the key period for these films is the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s, their roots go much further back. Prior to World War II, the Turkish film industry was dominated by a handful of companies importing foreign product into the major cities of Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. After 1948, when the municipal tax on exhibition was reduced from 75% to 25% (leaving the tax on imported films at 70%), there was an explosion in domestically produced Turkish cinema. By the mid 1960s, Turkish cinema had expanded rapidly to become one of the biggest film making economies in the world, centred around Yesilçam (literally ‘Green Pine’ and named for a street in Istanbul that housed many production companies), which became a by-word for Turkish cinema in the same sense Hollywood is for classic American film.

However, while there were over 1,000 cinemas in Turkey at the peak of this wave, Hollywood product was still limited to theatres in the major cities and the coasts, leaving the huge Anatolian population in the south at a disadvantage – which is to say, there was a huge demand for the kind of westernised product epitomised in the Western and Action genres which was not being fully catered for. Starting around 1962, the Turkish Western became a hugely popular genre with 15 films a year being produced at the peak of the genre’s popularity in the 1970s and an audience happy to consume up to three films a day. In this period, the power of the regional distributors was paramount as they could and would demand films to their own specification, according to the discriminations of their local audiences. Unfortunately, due in part to the decentralisation of the system (with hundreds of companies making films), the general tilt was towards private enterprise, meaning that profits from films were not directed back into future film production, but removed for private gain. This was essentially a cash-flow business, with the success of one film providing the budget for the next, and one that could not sustain itself under any adversity. Eventually, Yesilçam’s output became dominated by soft-core porn productions.The encroachment of television and VHS meant that cinema revenue took a dive in the late 1970s and 1980s, which, in combination with that still thirsty-for-action Southern audience, created the perfect environment for Turkish Remakesploitation to thrive, albeit briefly.

Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam speaks to the audacity of some Turkish filmmakers, but the copyright situation in Turkey then is extremely vague from a modern perspective and it seems clear that there was no pertinent law of any kind in Turkey at that point. Indeed, there was a similar approach taken to the recording of foreign songs, at least up until the 1990s. At any rate, most of the films to be made in this golden age were well under Hollywood’s radar, probably more so than even Tarzan Istanbul’da (which had attracted the attention of Hollywood lawyers), and catered to an audience that had very little access to Hollywood product. Up until this point, it was standard practice in Yesilcam to freely adapt English-language novels, scripts and movie serials. There had been numerous Turkish bootlegs of Hollywood properties like The Lone Ranger, Zorro and Flash Gordon as well as oddities like Tosun and Yosun, the Turkish Laurel and Hardy clones, and innumerable Turkish Westerns. The spirit of the classic Turkish Remakesploitation can be traced in some of those Westerns, in their enthusiastic appropriation of American Western tropes and types (in similar fashion to the Italian Spaghetti Westerns), and their giddy disregard for international copyright concerns.

Graham Humphreys’ poster for “Turkish Star Wars”

Una Pistola Per Ringo (Duccio Tessari, 1965), the now-classic Spaghetti Western, spawned many unauthorised spin-offs and unofficial sequels (as indeed it did in homeland of Italy). Similarly, Django (Sergio Corbucci, 1966) soon inspired the likes of Cango Olum Suvarisi (Django Rider Of Death, Remzi Conturk, 1967). Then came Çeko (Çetin Inanç, 1970), featuring a Turkish analogue of the Spaghetti Western anti-hero. Çeko opens with music stolen from Ennio Morricone’s score for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) and goes on to utilise his Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968) score and Riz Ortolani’s music for Day Of Anger (Tonino Valerii, 1967). Even with the relatively low budget director Inanç had at his disposal, and the hasty production schedule – which would rapidly earn him the sobriquet “Regisör Jet”, the Jet Director – it was yet more economical to plagiarise pre-existing music. There were, of course, composers at work at the industry, but they would have cost too much, even in the form of the library music that they were most frequently employed to produce. With the materials at hand in the form of worn American prints and with impatient theatre owners on the phone, representing a waiting audience, directors like Inanç could churn out cheap copies quickly and to demand.

All of which begs the uncomfortable question of why filmmakers did not simply manufacture and distribute bootleg prints. The answer is in the question, and it is because these were filmmakers and not criminals. It seems clear that these films could not exist without a certain level of raw enthusiasm for the source material, the genres they represent and the filmmaking process itself. In any case, such blatant theft could easily be considered too likely to provoke the attention of litigious Hollywood studios that, after all, were still screening their product in the major cities, though they would not have a presence in the country as distributors until the 1990s. Equally probable is that the audience responded more enthusiastically to representations of these stories through a Turkish prism, which the filmmakers were only too eager to provide. It’s presumptuous and perhaps condescending to consider that the language barrier when screening original American films was an important element, but it likely would play a part. What is more than likely is that the significant delay between the initial American release and the widespread distribution of American films – even to the extent that they reached – provided a window ripe for exploitation.

Serdar Kebapçilar, “Turkish Rambo”, in Korkusuz (Çetin Inanç, 1986)

Inanç is the most prominent behind-the-scenes character in the story of Turkish Remakesploitation. Weaned on the same comic books and serials that inspired his contemporaries Lucas and Spielberg, his first notable work was writing the screenplay for Kilink Istanbul’da (Yilmaz Atadeniz, 1967), a rip-off of Italian comic strip Killing, itself a rip-off of another called Kriminal, which was again a rip-off of Diabolik – making Kilink Istanbul’da a kind of bastard cousin to Danger: Diabolik (Mario Bava, 1968). His first film as director, Çelik Bilek (1967), was a Rip-Off of another Italian comic series, this time Il Grande Blek. After Çeko, he churned out carbon copies of Bonnie and Clyde, Dirty Harry, Mad Max, Jaws, First Blood, Rocky and Rambo II, making him by far the most prolific of the Remakesploitation directors. Those films, however, are only a sampling of the 136 films he made before moving into television in the mid 1980s. His transition then was emblematic of the general refocusing of the industry around television and its revenues in the 1980s and 1990s.

The key to understanding the films of Turkish Remakesploitation is to see them in context, not as part of a bungling criminal enterprise, but as the work of inventive, cash-strapped pragmatists. They were opportunists, certainly, but no more than Roger Corman or, indeed, any other Hollywood producer. The films were, after all, made for and enjoyed by an audience that could be described as undiscerning, but is more properly seen as enthusiastic, extremely receptive and, ultimately, forgiving, if the entertainment was worth the price of admission. There are comparisons to be drawn between Turkish Remakesplotiation and some Blaxsploitation (eg “The Black Exorcist” – Abby, William Girdler, 1974) in the way that mainstream (white, American) content is recreated but transformed to reflect the appearance and cultural specificity of the ‘niche’ audience. They’re also a worthy example of the hijacking and détournement of the Hollywood juggernaut to produce films for local consumption and, to a very limited extent, local profit. It’s hardly Robin Hood and it doesn’t beat a genuinely creative original and non-derivative industry, but it’s a lot more attractive, culturally, than simply swallowing what America doles out wholesale.

But their worth is not merely academic. And it’s not simply found in their superficial comic value, or even in their oddball energy, strange logic and generally singular approach to genre filmmaking. It’s in the spirit they were made in, the sheer will to make films overwhelming the paucity of available resources. It’s about making films of a certain kind when logic perhaps should tell you that you are not able to and not being constrained by your material limitations – certainly not when there is the prospect of expanding your material wealth. Fundamentally, Turkish Remakesploitation survives because it’s still doing what it was created to do – entertaining, even if that enjoyment sometimes takes the shape of snarky, ill-informed criticism.

Comparing the intent of Çetin Inanç and his contemporaries to their Hollywood counterparts is perhaps the most instructive measure. The cultural influences they share, taking for granted the international success of American comics and movie serials of the 1930s and 40s, seem as important as their distinct national identities. How different would the original Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies look if they were made with a fraction of the budget, talent pool, shooting schedule and basic infrastructure that they found in Hollywood? And though posterity has not been kind to the films of Turkish Remakesploitation, the smiles they engender and the basic thrills they offer are undiminished. As Kunt Tulgar has said, “Action and adventure never die in our culture.”

Sean Welsh

Remakesploitation Fest 2020 takes place 25-26/04/2020 at Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. Tickets available from our online shop here. Keep up-to-date with the Facebook event page here.


NB This article was originally published in 2011 at physicalimpossibility.com. Thanks to Gokay Gelgec of the Sinematik website and the sadly departed Bill Barounis of Onar Films for invaluable background information on these films and the culture they were made in. Wherever possible, we’ve referred to the best-presented and ‘official’ versions of these films available.