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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
The dream of the ’90s is alive in psychotronic rave fable VIBRATIONS. We spoke to writer/director Mike Paseornek about his “strange little movie”
“Emerging rock star, TJ CRAY, (JAMES MARSHALL), early twenties, has it all, incredible talent, a beautiful girlfriend (PAIGE TURCO), and now, a shot at the big time. He and his band are about to play the gig of their lives – an audition for the A&R man at Boston’s hottest night spot. And then…”
As President of Motion Picture Production for Lionsgate, Mike Paseornek has overseen a multi-million dollar blockbuster slate for decades – from the SAW series to the Hunger Games franchise to the John Wick films. The lauded films he’s “known for” on IMDb, like La La Land or American Psycho, have screeds and screeds of writing devoted to them. But the story of Vibrations, the 1995 “techno music love story” near the very beginning of his résumé, remains largely untold. “You never set out to make what someone would call a bad film or a limited film,” says the man with production credits on everything from Monster’s Ball to Mortdecai, “but they sometimes turn out that way.”
By all accounts, Vibrations is a wild film. It has the best virtues of a certain kind of cult movie – extraordinary, beyond-taste elements welded to a boilerplate morality tale; extremely period trappings that play to nostalgia as much as they provoke warm incredulity in fresher-faced audiences; earnest performances wrestling with a less-so script. It’s camp in the truest sense, of art that reaches beyond its grasp. And, whatever you may think of it, Vibrations is the one and only film that hinges on a thwarted garage band guitarist-cum-homeless-wino who replaces his amputated hands with robot ones, the better to become the toast of the techno rave underground.
Paseornek began his career as a writer, first as a humour columnist for Greenwich Village weekly The Villager then for television and, before too long, movies. All of Paseornek’s writing credits have a certain je ne sais quoi: Stitches; Meatballs III: Summer Job (“The ghost of a dead porn star comes to Earth to help a nerd with his sex life.”); Loose Ends AKA Screwball Academy; Snake Eater; Snake Eater II: The Drug Buster (“Together with a street-wise hustler from the ghetto they’re going after the TRAFFICKERS”); Downhill Willie AKA Ski Hard. He even wrote a TV drama about teen stress that’s still taught in American schools (Has Anybody Seen Phil?). But to date, he’s only directed one film, and Vibrations leapfrogs all of those (and most others) to the very top of the must-watch list.
Released in 1995 – straight from the “electronic underground,” as the posters have it – Vibrations is a rags-to-riches tale of Gen X rave redemption. It charts the rise of Cyberstorm, a techno musician who exclusively performs in a cybernetic bodysuit, and his romance with self-named t-shirt designer/scenester Anamika. Paseornek cast James Marshall (Twin Peaks, A Few Good Men) and Christina Applegate (Married With Children, Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead) at the peak of their young careers, gifting them leading roles dealing with meaty themes of alcoholism, disability and workplace misogny, in a ripped-from-the-headlines milieu of cutting edge technology and incipient EDM culture. The official synopsis:
Emerging rock star TJ Cray (JAMES MARSHALL) is en route to his first major concert when a confrontation with a carload of thugs turns violent. His car is crushed and his hands severed. Despondent, he becomes an alcoholic, and bums the streets of New York City. Cold and drunk, TJ breaks into an abandoned warehouse, and passes out. He’s awoken by pounding music, multi-coloured lights and swarms of young faces. He’s in the midst of an all-night dance party. Dazed, he’s rescued by Anamika (CHRISTINA APPLEGATE), a regular, who brings him to the walk-up apartment building she shares with three friends – a sculptor, a computer/electronics wiz, and a techno DJ. Gradually, he develops a romantic relationship with Anamika, overcomes his alcoholism, and with the help of her friends, develops programmable metal hands that allow him to play the keyboards once again. Shielding his identity in a sculptured metallic suit, he re-emerges on the scene as Cyberstorm, becoming a music legend.
The writer-director-producer of this “strange little movie,” is fully cognisant of its current status. “People have called it so-bad-that-it’s-good,” Paseornek reflects today, from his office in sunny Los Angeles, “but we actually set out to make something that was so weird that it would be good. We didn’t think of it as bad. We thought of it as different and strange and bizarre and weird, while we were doing it.” Vibrations was never intended to be a sober consideration of an emerging subculture, more “a fable which would take licence,” Paseornek concludes, “and we thought there is no better place to do that than in the rave world.”
Shot on location in New York City in 1993, the year CERN made the Web source code public domain, the year before Friends debuted, Paseornek’s film was truly riding the zeitgeist. By the time Vibrations was released, though, the ne plus ultra standard for ragtag groups of twentysomething New Yorkers had been irrevocably set, while Hackers, Johnny Mnemonic and The Net had instructed a whole generation on the credible depiction of computer science. On the other hand, Paseornek’s lens had caught the sense of a milieu, the New York rave underground, that had been practically evaporating in front of him. And Vibrations had at least one other, seemingly inexplicable USP, in the shape of a hand-me-down Stan Winston cyborg suit. But what – bearing in mind Daft Punk wouldn’t debut their famous robot personas publicly until 2001 – brought Paseornek to combine these elements? Where does a movie as singular as Vibrations actually come from? “The origin of this film,” confirms Paseornek, “was not typical.”
Vibrations was co-produced by John Dunning (1927-2011) a giant of Canadian film, who shepherded early films by David Cronenberg (Shivers, Rabid) and Ivan Reitman (Meatballs) alongside future cult classics like My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone. According to Paseornek, Dunning was a showman. “Not personally – he was a behind the scenes guy – but he liked showman-style projects that had a gimmick to them. He was a good friend.”
It was Dunning who had given Paseornek his start in motion pictures, hiring him, alongside his writing partner Michel Choquette, directly from National Lampoon. The two re-wrote Stitches for Dunning, then developed a sequel to Meatballs before their partnership broke up. Then a chance meeting with Dunning in a New York street led to his flying Paseornek solo to Canada and putting him on the Cinépix payroll. “John and I had a creative affinity for one another,” Paseornek has explained. “Everyone would sit around and come up with ideas. And that’s the way we made movies.”
In 1986, Dunning had made a film for Fox called The Vindicator, originally titled The Frankenstein Factor and a modern-day retelling of the classic horror story. “A very small movie,” says Paseornek, “but there was a very big-time special effects make up person on that movie, named Stan Winston.” Winston was Oscar-nominated for Heartbeeps, renowned for his work with Rob Bottin on The Thing, but had become truly iconic through his collaborations with James Cameron on The Terminator and Aliens. Dunning still had the suit Winston had designed for The Vindicator (“It had been gathering dust in my basement for years,” he later wrote), and ever since that film had failed to recoup its $4 million budget, he’d been keen to recycle it. “The suit probably cost more than the whole movie did,” says Paseornek, “so we were talking about, what could we do with this suit? And techno music was really beginning to get hot in the early ’90s.”
Based now in Los Angeles, sojourns in Canada aside, Paseornek lived in New York for over 30 years. “I think the first rave in New York was probably 1991,” he recalls. “All these little raves were popping up. I would get these notices of a rave in a warehouse and they always had interesting graphics and I thought, ‘This is an interesting world.'” Indeed, though rave culture had been bubbling under in the US for a few years while it exploded in the UK, the first of Frankie Bones’ landmark Storm Raves took place in Brooklyn on May 11th, 1991.
Described by Michaelangelo Matos, author of The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, “Rave was America’s last great outlaw musical subculture, created by kids, for kids, designed to be impenetrable to adults.” And its proliferation across the US, according to Matos, was inextricably linked with the rise of the internet, first with message boards and mailing lists, later with new electronic audio formats like RealAudio and mp3. In May 1992, ageing alt-culture godhead Timothy Leary told ABC News, “What was once psychedelic is now cybernetic.” In the same segment, which went “undercover” in LA’s rave scene, described techno as “a kind of heavy metal disco.” All of which is to say it’s not a huge leap to get from rave to “robot DJ”.
“So John and I got together,” Paseornek recalls, “We were trying to talk about what we could do, you know, that would reflect this generation of people and new music and the suit. And, we thought, ‘Well, in this world, a DJ could programme his hands just like you programme a keyboard. What would the story be about that?’ And we came up with this crazy story because we had a suit and we had a setting we wanted to put it in, which was the rave world, where we thought it would really fit and what would it be like if a guy turned up with no hands in this world and they had to create hands for him, what could he do if he was a musician? Well, he could play techno music and he could be a DJ at raves.”
“And, so, it really did come together that way.” Next, they needed to enhance their Stan suit with those programmeable hands, which came courtesy of a veteran of RoboCop, eager to work on a Winston. Meanwhile, Vibrations co-producer and music supervisor Dan Lieberstein (later of Sex and the City fame) began searching for representative acts (“We really took the music seriously,” says Paseornek), ultimately providing an entrée to all the musicians who would cameo in the film – Utah Saints (whose performance was cut for the US release), Moses on Acid (a popular group otherwise largely undocumented), Fierce Ruling Diva et al. (The score – including Simeon’s infamous techno demonstration and all of TJ’s music, from his garage band to his Cyberstorm sets – was written and performed by Bob Christianson). Perhaps most importantly, though, Paseornek had to flesh out his script with some lived experience.
“Researching the movie,” says the filmmaker, “The thing that struck me was that the whole rave world was like a fable. I mean, people were in these heightened worlds, there was a vibe going on.” Paseornek’s wife, an artist, suggested they should “go and see what these things are,” and they began to attend warehouse raves, stepping together “into this whole other world.” At one party, Paseornek noted a group of people standing between two enormous speakers, just to feel the vibrations through their bodies. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is a whole new world – these people are in their own world.’ It was just a different universe that was being created, and we tried to reflect that when we did the movie, recreate as much as was possible, which made for a very weird film.”
“Yes, part of it was the ecstasy and all that, but most of it, to me, was that it was like a lifestyle in the rave world. To the point where there would be sometimes an adventure to get to a rave – they would send you to one place and they’ll send you to another place and yet everyone would find these raves.” For the record, Paseornek confirms, “I never liked ecstasy. It wasn’t my thing, but it wasn’t like I was going [there] to do drugs. Nothing against anyone who did, but I am a martini guy. To me, it was one of the downfalls of the rave scene that the drugs kind of took over and it got a really bad reputation. Most of the people involved with raves really had big hearts and just want to feel something different.”
“I even met with Moby,” Paseornek says, “although I’m sure Moby will never remember this. Moby was just starting to do raves around the world and, through a mutual friend, I sat down with him and he told me about the rave world.” Alas, during filming, Moby was on tour and unavailable. “I tried to convince him. I have a feeling if he was around, he would have stopped in and done something.” Indeed, Moby’s music features heavily in a pre-production promotional video made by Cinépix, which also features a specially-shot Cyberstorm performance, with an alternative cast (and, sadly, the only appearance of his unnamed cyborg backing band).
Script complete, they set about casting the film which was still titled, and would be all throughout production, Cyberstorm. Christina Applegate was 22 and best known for portraying Kelly Bundy on the long-running sitcom Married With Children. Paseornek knew that Applegate was getting offered plenty of mainstream Hollywood, coming-of-age projects but was eager to try something different (or, as the New York Post claimed, in July ’93, “looking to shed her TV bimbo image”), so he passed her manager the script. Applegate liked the project too, but stipulated she would only sign on if James Marshall was hired for the lead. In his memoir, Dunning explained, “He wasn’t our first choice, but we agreed. And he did, after all, have the reputation of being a hot up-and-comer as a result of his work on the hit Twin Peaks TV series.”
First Watergate, now Christina Applegate. The blond star from “Married With Children” passed up highly visible comedic roles in “Wayne’s World 2” and “The Coneheads” and opted instead for a more serious role in the low-budget film “Cyberstorm”. Applegate was overheard saying at Ciccio & Tony’s that she’s going to dye her hair black for the part of the woman who takes in a rocker who loses the use of his hands before the “big concert”. Don’t worry, he’s later outfitted with a computerized suit and “programmeable hands.”
New York Daily News, Tuesday, July 6, 1993
Happily, though, Paseornek wanted someone “Where you sort of go, ‘Well, there’s kind of something more going on in that guy’s head.'” Marshall had played brooding biker James Hurley on both series of Twin Peaks, which had only recently been a true cultural phenomenon. “I thought it would be good to have someone who wouldn’t come off as corny intrinsically… James is a heavy dude.” Luckily, Marshall liked the script and wanted to do it, and so Paseornek had his star-crossed lovers. Ultimately, though, Marshall would share credit for some of Vibrations’ most memorable moments. “For the more adventurous dancing, there was a dancer, her name was Zu Zu,” Paseornek recalls. “James was in there for a lot of it, but then we enhanced it.”
Paseornek insists that you can see Vibrations in “a whole different way” if you do picture it as a fable, and “not like somebody trying to show life as it really is,” but, even so, there’s a genuine verisimilitude in the production. “If you stepped back in 1991, into the rave world,” Paseornek suggests, “the characters and the environment itself was a lot like that.” Vibrations was filmed in July 1993 (“One of the hottest summers I could ever remember in New York”), over a month of six-day weeks. It was Cinépix’ first production in the city, and, according to Dunning, “We were pumped.” The production recruited rave organisers to decorate the same Brooklyn warehouses where their parties were held, and hired their regular lighting crews.
Embed from Getty ImagesChristina Applegate, Bubba (Moses on Acid) & Neville Wells at Mr Fuji’s Tropicana, New York, 1993.
There was no air-conditioning in the warehouses they shot in, and sold-out crowds were conjured via radio annoucements of DJ appearances. The climactic scenes were shot at New York’s Webster Hall, where contemporaneous press noted the dancing extras didn’t get paid. (“On the contrary,” reported The New York Post, “The club charged their customary $15 admission fee.”). If there was any ill will directed towards the production, though, it certainly wasn’t aimed at the stars. According to Lieberstein, “While we were filming on the streets of Brooklyn, the local residents would crowd around calling’s Christina’s name, throwing flowers and sending small gifts over to her through the production assistants. No matter where we shot, it was impossible to feel threatened in the midst of so much genuine affection.”
“The difference between shooting John Wick in New York and shooting Vibrations, if you watch John Wick and you see Times Square or Chinatown, those are all our people. All our cars, all our rain. All our everything. On Vibrations, I was stealing shots.” Meaning that while they might have had a permit to grab a shot or two in, say, Times Square, Paseornek would surreptitiously sneak his actors in front of the cameras. “The reason that a real person put a dollar in James Marshall’s cup when he is sitting on the ground there is because there were real people walking through the shot, along with our people, so, they felt sorry for him. He actually made some money during the scene.” (The Vibrations press kit assures us that “proceeds went towards the purchase of sandwiches for some of the neighbourhood’s homeless”)
But the producers weren’t focused on the bottom line. In John Dunning’s memoir, You’re Not Dead Until You’re Forgotten, Paseornek recalled his perfectionist friend and mentor forcing him to re-shoot a scene. Dunning had noticed you could see under the neck of the Cyberstorm costume from one angle. “And I thought, ‘No-one but John Dunning is ever going to notice that.’ But it drove him crazy. He was ready to pay for it out of his own pocket to re-shoot something only he would see.”
Sadly, Vibrations’ box office performance didn’t reward its creators’ attention to detail. Dunning had an idea to emulate the major studios’ saturation strategy – where they book a film into thousands of movie theatres simultaneously and spend millions marketing it nationally – but instead focus on just one area of the US. “The people in that region wouldn’t know that it wasn’t a national release because we would match the majors in media exposure.”
However, Dunning would’ve had to convince US partners on the plan, and, as he later reflected, “it wasn’t my forte”. Instead, his experiment took place in one region of Canada and, unfortunately, “It didn’t work. Quebec wasn’t ready for a film about raves, so off it went to video.” Vibrations was quietly released to US video rental in late August, 1995. The sales campaign aimed at video store managers boldly asserted the film had, “trailered theatrically with The Crow, generating powerful consumer impressions.”
Vibrations was not widely reviewed (Entertainment Weekly said the film “deserves a long video life as the most unintentionally funny craze comedy since Roller Boogie“), though the dry synopsis accompanying the little press coverage it did receive goes a way to explaining its lack of impact. Under the banner of “Romance”, the Baltimore Sun’s listing was typical: “A dance-club manager befriends and then falls in love with an aspiring musician who has become an alcoholic after an attack that left him without the use of his hands.” No Utah Saints, no Vindicator suit, no programmeable hands – no suggestion at all of an irrepressible, rave-dancing cyborg DJ.
There’s a sense too, strengthened by a glance at a selection of abandoned poster concepts (see above), that they struggled figuring out how to sell the film – as a harrowing tale of amputation and alcoholism, as a Gen X drama in the mould of Reality Bites or as some kind of vague Terminator derivative? But perhaps Vibrations simply missed its moment. “Sometimes films are discovered the day they open,” offers Paseornek, “and sometimes they are discovered later.”
“I was once standing in line with Mary Harron, after we’d made American Psycho…and there were these people who had just discovered it. We were standing waiting to buy our food and this one woman says to this other woman, ‘Have you ever seen that film American Psycho? What kind of disgusting people would make that film?’ That is what you’re vulnerable to, period, in our business is, you know, not everybody is going to love everything you do. So I’m always nervous whenanything comes out that I’ve been involved with.”
Vibrations had been a co-production between Paseornek’s Tanglewood Films and Dunning’s Cinépix. In the few years that followed, Paseornek established the US distribution arm of Cinépix in New York City. Then, when Lionsgate took over Cinépix/CFP in 1997, just two years after Vibrations debuted, Paseornek became president of the company’s film arm, overseeing development and production.
So after all this time, how does Paseornek feel about Vibrations? “I will say this, if I had to do it over again, at this point, I would probably have looked at the motivation more for why things happen, like why did those guys attack him. Back then, it was good enough to have bad guys just be bad guys often, you know? Today, we want to know why they are bad guys. So, I probably would put a lot more thought into that, but, again, we thought of it as a fable.”
“I think what it might have helped inform me on as a producer is not to feel limited by money and, you know, the whole idea of putting the movie together in the city with no money and just not hearing the word no.” And, of course, Vibrations’ whole budget wouldn’t cover the squib bill on any given John Wick production. “I would probably not have gone for some of the effects I went for with no money, because sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t, that’s the thing. And you don’t have any room for error on a low-budget film.” But, even so, Paseornek refuses to make excuses for his debut film, claiming that, even with with same budget, he’d do things differently if he made it now. Producing Vibrations helped Paseornek figure out “how to deal with everything that you deal with in a movie, without much, if any, resources. It was a great experience in that way.”
A quarter of a century later, with 86 production credits to his name, Paseornek is assured about his record. “I’ve been involved with films that have had terrible reviews and I’ve been involved with films that have had great reviews and not been that successful. Our company, we’ve had 130 Oscar nominations. I’ve seen the best of it and I’ve seen the worst of it and I’ve seen the most bizarre of it and I’m proud of everything we’ve ever done.” And so, while it’s a little scary for his film to resurface these days (“because you never know how it’s going to be received”), he’s still fond of it. “It’s a strange little movie,” says Paseornek. “I hope that people like it.”
Sean Welsh (with very special thanks to Mike Paseornek, Greg Dunning and Cinépix)
Vibrationsis currently unavailable in the UK, streaming or otherwise, but you can purchase a Region 1 DVD here.
John Dunning’s memoir, You’re Not Dead Until You’re Forgotten, can be purchased directly from Cinépix here.
In 2019, we produced three festivals (one of which gained international viral fame), screened 43 feature-length films and 31 short films, hosted 13 guests, 4 drag performers, 2 live bands, co-programmed 14 collaborative screenings, embraced the sliding scale ticketing system, started open-captioning all our screenings, launched a subtitling arm providing HOH subtitles for several festivals and other exhibitors and co-ordinated a month-long season of films across Glasgow and Scotland. Through it all, we had the best audiences and an amazing support network of colleagues, collaborators and peers. Particularly, the support and enthusiasm from our friends at Film Hub Scotland set us up to deliver what is beyond a doubt our busiest programme yet. Here’s our ridiculous year in pictures, month-by-month.
Cage-a-rama 2: Cage Uncaged | We started the year with our second annual Nicolas Cage film festival, opening with Mandy and a Q&A with Cheddar Goblin creators Casper Kelly and Shane Morton. Mom & Dad director Brian Taylor joined us via Skype on Saturday evening and we closed the weekend with the UK premiere of the truly special Between Worlds, a still-unsung and underrated entry in the Cage canon. Despite being described in some quarters as “the new The Room“, it was thoroughly enjoyable and a good time was had by all.
Auld Lang Vine #RIPVine | In mourning of everyone’s favourite six-second video platform, we hosted a fitting funeral, including drag homage by Puke, live music by Joyce Delaney and 500+ Vines curated by Pilot Light TV Festival. This was an event of firsts, including our first use of the sliding scale ticket price and our first ever spontaneous modern-day lighter waving. Part of the #BFIComedy season.
Two Weirds Is Too Weird @GSFF19 | In March, we joined forces with Glasgow Short Film Festival to curate a night of short films made by Alice Lowe & Jacqueline Wright under the Jackal Films banner, featuring feline erotica, courtly necrophilia and bird women. Jacqueline, who’s now based in the US, very kindly recorded us a special introduction for the event. This was also our first collaboration with fantastic photographer Ingrid Mur, who documented our events for the rest of 2019.
Shogun Assassin with Venom Mob Film Club | This was Venom Mob Film Club’s first screening, and the first of our 2019 co-screenings supported by Film Hub Scotland. Johnny and Chuck programmed one of our favourites and served it up with a special menu of vegan ramen. Venom Mob have since done a bunch more screenings themselves, and they’ve all been great.
KeanuCon | Megan: Viral fame unexpectantly struck us this year as the internet caught wind of the world’s first Keanu Reeves film festival (less than a week before the already sold-out festival), yet we remain humble.
Megan: The festival was wyld regardless of the coverage, we had contributions from Alex Winter, Bill & Ted writer Ed Solomon, Man of Tai Chi star Tiger Chen, authors Kitty Curran & Karissa Zageris and My Own Private Idaho aficianado Claire Biddles. The weekened climaxed with a live performance from Wyld Stallyns, a Glasgow supergroup who absolutely nailed it. And, of course, we had lots of Keanu films, 11 in total, including his first appearance on film, in a National Film Board of Canada short. The weekend was full of Keanu love and great energy from the audience, we can’t wait to do it again in 2020!
Under the Cherry Moon with Backseat Bingo | Our next team-up of the year was with the brilliant Backseat Bingo, returning from a long absence. It was only fitting that programmer Casci Ritchie, who is also an academic expert on His Royal Badness, present this lesser known Prince classic on his birthday. Casci introduced the film with an illustrated talk on Prince’s fashion, from erotic sportswear to the classic trench coat.
Cage-a-rama 3D @ EIFF | What could be better than Cage? Cage in 3D! Senior programmer Niall Grieg Fulton invited us to collaborate on this special event at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival. After Cage-a-rama 2 (and our 2018 pop-up, The World’s Greatest 3D Film Club at Nice N Sleazy), Cage-a-rama 3D was the logical next step. EIFF’s team sourced beautiful 3D prints and footed the bill for an incredible top-of-the-range 3D system (the glasses need re-charged after every screening). Drive Angry and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance have never looked better – and we got to commission another incredible illustration from Vero Navarro!
Der Fan with Sad Girl Cinema | As part of BFI’s Film Feels: Obsession season, we co-programmed ’80s thirsty cult slasher Der Fan, along with a topical panel on obsession, thirst and fandom, featuring Bethany Rose Lamont (Sad Girl Cinema), Liz Murphy (artist), Jamie Dunn (The Skinny) and chaired by Claire Biddles (Sad Girl Cinema).
#SubtitledCinema | This was the year we committed to switching on the subtitles for every screening we do. We believe in accessibility and inclusion and though there’s lots of things we can’t do because we don’t have the budget or the time (there’s still just the two of us running Matchox), we realised if we could do it, we should. The other side of the coin is that since we aim to screen films that you can’t see elsewhere and often it’s the first, the first in a very long time, or somehow the only time you’ll be able to see these films, particularly on the big screen, we want to make sure as many people can see them as possible. Underpinning all that is the fact that we’re also professional subtitlers, with over a decade experience in subtitling for D/deaf audiences, so this year we put two and two together and started a subtitling arm to Matchbox. Since we started, alongside our own programming, we’ve produced subtitle files for festivals (GSFF, GFF, Take One Action, Document), film industry events (Film Hub Scotland’s EIFF Industry Days and This Way Up), new films (Super November, Her Century, Women Make Film) and creators (Ctrl Shift Face’s ongoing series of deepfake clips).
Sing-along SAW with Pity Party Film Club | In 2018, we launched the Scalarama Scotland programme with Polyester in Odorama, a scratch ‘n’ sniff event that also featured live drag performers and a very special ring girl in Puke, who, in lieu of on-screen prompts, let everyone know when to rub ‘n’ snort the special Odorama cards. We wanted to top it this year, so we teamed up with our pals Pity Party Film Club to come up with Sing-along SAW – a screening of the classic modern horror, interpolated with live drag acts inspired by key scenes. Highlights included Billy circling the audience on a People Make Glasgow bike and Frans Gender’s out-on-a-limb rendition of Kenny Loggins’ Footloose.
Nothing Lasts Forever on 35mm | Tom Schiller’s Nothing Lasts Forever has been on our list since we started showing films. Never released on VHS, DVD, VOD or streaming, since its scarce first screenings, it’s only been seen via TV broadcast once in a blue moon (not in the UK since Alex Cox introduced it on Moviedrome in 1994). When we realised Park Circus could authorise a 35mm screening, we knew we had to make it happen, and it was the perfect opening film for Weird Weekend. And though it was challenging (the only way to see the theatrical cut, and therefore prepare, is with the 35mm print), we even figured out how to screen it with subtitles.
Weird Weekend | One of our proudest moments this year, our second annual cult film festival was the first festival we’ve done with the sliding scale ticketing scheme, the first fully subtitled and we also had a 50/50 F-rated programme, meaning half the films were directed by women. Besides all of that, Weird Weekend represents our core programming: outcasts, orphans and outliers – the oddball and often lost classics that deserve to be better seen. Programming, producing, promoting and delivering it this year was thrilling and challenging and exhausting and rewarding. Highlights for us were hosting deepfake auteur Ctrl Shift Face (who came to take part in our Weird World of Deepfakes panel, debuted a brand-new clip and provided his back catalogue for a feature-length retrospective); screening Věra Chytilová’s rarely-seen Vlci Bouda; bringing the mighty Vibrations to a Glasgow audience; and, of course, hosting a Skype Q&A with the one and only Joe Dante, who also allowed us to screen the workprint of The ‘Burbs, complete with alternative ending, extended and missing scenes and even more Morricone needle drops. Subtitling/captioning most of the programme from scratch was another proud moment, if exhausting, and we can’t wait to do it all bigger and better again in 2020.
Scalarama 2019 | This year, we took a new approach to coordinating the monthly Scalarama meetings leading up to the full DIY season in September. We wanted to make the meetings more practically useful for people looking to start screening films, as well as for people with a little more experience. Every month from March, we invited two guest speakers to present on different aspects of putting on films, and then make an opportunity for attendees to ask questions and share their own perspectives. When our programme was launched in August, we had our busiest ever programme in Glasgow, as well as more and more activity in Edinburgh, the Highlands and Islands and all across Scotland.
Kaleidoscopic Realms | Megan: This was probably my favourite screening of the year, if I’m allowed to say that? Our programme was a mix of Toshio Matsumoto and Nobuhiro Aihara shorts sourced from the Post War Japan Moving Image Archive and two shorts by Naoto Yamakawa, supplied us to by the director. This was a mini-time capsule of experimental shorts of the ’70s & ’80s, and just the beginning of our experimental Japanese programming, which you’ll see more of in 2020.
Seahorse with Freddy McConnell | Our first co-screening with Queer Classics brought Jeanie Finlay’s then brand-new documentary Seahorse to Glasgow. Seahorse intimately explores Freddy McConnell’s pregnancy journey as a trans man. Freddy even came along to chat with the audience about his experiences, and got confused when asked about his ‘wean’!
Gregg Araki’s Teen Apocalypse Trilogy with Diet Soda Cineclub | For the first time ever, we didn’t attend our own event, a co-screening triple bill of Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere. We had been invited to curate a panel on #SubtitledCinema at one of Independent Cinema Office’s regular Screening Days events, so while we prepared well (including producing all-new subtitles for all three films), we had to be at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema when the event started in Glasgow. We left delivery of the event in the very capable hands of our co-programmer, Sarah Nisbet of Diet Soda Cineclub. Gregg Araki’s specially recorded introduction (filmed during a burger joint reunion with the cast of Kaboom) arrived practically at the last second, but it was worth the wait.
Best of Final Girls Berlin | Ain’t no horror like women-made horror, and Final Girls Berlin have the best of it. We brought the frights, anxiety and terror of FGBFF right to Glasgow with a showcase of the best short horror films from their festival, made by women from around the world. And if you liked this team-up, keep an eye out for their festival programme announcement in January 2020 😉
City of Lost Souls with Sgàire Wood | As part of BFI Musicals season, we brought a bit more of Berlin to Glasgow via ’80s trans punk musical City of Lost Souls. As if this film didn’t have it all already we also comissioned Sgàire Wood to produce a new performance to introduce the screening. We love this film, which challenges expected representation of queer communites, and is just a great odd-ball film all round.
Dial Code: Santa Claus & Secret Santa Party with Backseat Bingo | Our 43rd film of 2019, and our last, is another team up with Backseat Bingo. We wanted to celebrate Christmas with our audiences and our film exhibiton pals so what better than an ’80s action horror featuring a 9-year-old with a mullet and a super creepy Santa? Plus Secret Santa in aid of Refuweegee, and an additional surprise festive screening to finish!
Keep up to date with our 2020 events by signing up to our mailing list, here, or find our events on Facebook here.
Cage-a-rama 2020 takes place 3rd, 4th and 4th January 2020 at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow. Buy tickets here.
Matchbox Cineclub are pleased to announce Marco Kyris, Nicolas Cage’s official stand-in for over ten years, will attend our third annual Cage-a-rama film festival at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts on 3rd, 4th & 5th January 2020 and afterwards embark on a UK-wide Cage-a-rama: Uncaged tour.
Marco, who worked with Cage on almost 20 films between 1994-2005, will join Lindsay Gibb, Toronto-based author of National Treasure: Nicolas Cage and world-leading Nicolas Cage expert, for an in-conversation event and a screening of Uncaged: A Stand-in Story at CCA Glasgow on Saturday 4th January. Kyris will also introduce several of Cage-a-rama 2020’s films across the festival weekend: Leaving Las Vegas (for which Cage won an Academy Award® for Best Actor), the first of the fan-favourite National Treasure films, and Martin Scorsese’s urban horror Bringing Out the Dead, the latter of which he will introduce alongside journalist Josh Slater-Williams (Sight & Sound, Little White Lies).
Kyris has also guest-programmed a special opening night screening of one of his favourite collaborations with Cage, Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes, followed by a Q&A. Throughout the festival, Marco will be open to any questions about his “Cage Wage” years, and share genuine call-sheets and other Cage memorabilia from his archive – and might be persuaded to part with them if audience members pose good enough questions. Cage-a-rama’s opening night is sponsored by Drygate.
Directors Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) and Stephen Campanelli (Grand Isle) will introduce their films via specially recorded videos. Joining them are Nicolas Cage aficionados from across the globe, including Timon Singh of Bristol Bad Film Club, Torïo Garcia of the Spanish NicCagepedia, and Mike Manzi & Joey Lewandowski, the New Jersey-based hosts of the much-loved #CageClub: The Nicolas Cage Podcast.
The subsequent Cage-a-rama 2020 UK Tour will feature a 35mm screening of Con Air at the Genesis Cinema in London on Thursday 9th January, and a 20th-anniversary screening of Gone in 60 Seconds in collaboration with Bristol Bad Film Club at Bristol Improv Theatre on Saturday 11th January. Both screenings will be accompanied by Marco Kyris’s short film, Uncaged: A Stand-In Story, and a post-screening Q&A.
Cage-a-rama 2020 highlights Cage’s relationship with directors: from big guns to young guns, from huge budgets to low ones, from his career’s early days to now. The festival features 10 films over three days, closing with the UK premiere of brand-new Nicolas Cage film Primal (2019), to be released by Lionsgate in February 2020. Sunday 5th January also sees the UK premiere of Grand Isle, which pairs Cage with Kelsey Grammer, set to be released by 101 Films. The rest of the programme features Cage classics from some of his earliest roles, in Francis Ford Coppola’s Peggy Sue Got Married and Top Gun “homage” Fire Birds, to blockbuster sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets and a midnight screening of Zandalee, his erotic thriller co-starring Judge Reinhold.
Cage-a-rama 2020 Weekend and Day Passes and individual tickets are on sale via Matchbox Cineclub’s online shop. Tickets for Con Air in London are available via Genesis Cinema’s website (genesiscinema.co.uk) and tickets for Gone in 60 Seconds can be purchased via Bristol Improv Theatre (improvtheatre.co.uk).
For the first time, the entire Glasgow Cage-a-rama programme will be open-captioned for D/deaf audiences, and tickets for each film are priced on a sliding scale, £0-8, with reference to our three-tiered guide, so audience members decide what to pay.
It’s the best Soviet-era Estonian sci-fi detective story you’ve never seen – The Reptile House on why you should book some time at “Hukkunud Alpinisti” hotell
There was a time when aliens weren’t cult.
Before the greatest show on earth (The X-Files), aliens were a personal invasion of mortal safety. They signified everything wrong with the universe we inhabited and implicated a mortal terror of the unknown we barely perceived as anything other than an “it’s fine, we’ll be fine” sipped through denied lips. As metaphors, sure, as physical entities, no fucking thanks.
Estonian folklore leans a lot into the idea of host-taking and shapeshifting. The Kratt for instance, is a creature borne of hay and tools, brought to life by blood to work for its master. A Sentient used to dig, run chores, exist as a slave. Imitating human life, but being only a homunculus to the will of whoever would deal with the devil to will it into existence. Pitchforks and sinew, trowels and skulls, bread and ladder. A hollow being desperate to work, pretending its existence isn’t an abomination of magic, thirsty for work or else it would turn on its owner. For some, the Kratt was a helper, turned into a nightmare. Given tasks so dangerous that the owner would actively seek to give it work that would knowingly kill it to save themselves the agony of its hand in death. A bite too much of Satan’s hand.
Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (“Hukkunud Alpinisti” hotell, Grigori Kromanov, 1979) leans hard into its native folklore stories of host-taking but gives it a newly found sci-fi bent, mimicking Soviet-era ideas of internal invasion, gender non-conformity and country (if not world) changing ideas of appropriation and accidental exposure to life beyond comprehension.
In the snow-capped high-altitude nowheresville of mountainous Europe, Inspector Glebsky (Uldis Pūcītis) is anonymously called in to investigate a murder pertaining to a mountaineer and his dog. His location is that of a gorgeously nestled wooden hotel on what feels like the crown of earth and its inhabitants. They’re odd, one sentence sideways, unhelpful and too helpful. As labyrinthine as the hotel itself, which is itself questionable in its intent. An oblique, neo-noir Bauhaus building left to percolate and evolve on its own, becoming puzzling and obsidian. An impenetrable tableau for a mystery that the physical world can’t comprehend: aliens exist.
As an audience, we’re given the exact same amount of work that the inspector is given but with extra detail once he’s left the room. Making us more equipped to exact ourselves on what’s happening but also, somehow, feeling even more confused with what’s happening and who these people are. Why were we shown that extra eyeline? Who is whispering? What is GOING on in these mountains?
The soviet “alien” and “robots” idea is less hammy western ideals of spooky wee guys from beyond but more ideas of assimilation and folklore-bred notions of humans not as humans. Robots aren’t mechanic techno-menaces but rather fleshy familiar. The aliens are shapeshifters making us feel accidentally comfortable while they find safe passage. Their gender and sexuality are fluid, almost androgynous, to the point that their misunderstanding of the concept of biology and sexuality are critiquing our own confusingly rigid viewpoints on both.
In the hotel, it feels like tenants are both arguing with each other and harmoniously disrupting your work at decoding, so that when the reveal hits, you feel astounded at its meaning. Especially with how the film chooses to frame its core end message: if aliens exist on earth, what would it mean to the integrity of human life? And if you kill one, what kind of corruption would that cause to the human soul knowing you killed possibly the greatest discovery of Man’s existence? Is it duty of fear?
It’s extremely hard to spoil Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel, because almost everything in its filmmaking relies on your experience of its atmosphere and pace. Glacial, soothing, weird, quixotic. The first time I ever watched it, I knew it was my favourite foreign film. How could I not? Written by the legendary sci-fi math-brains Strugatsky brothers who (in the same year) had their novel Roadside Picnic turned into cult classic Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky and later Hard To Be A God adapted twice into messianic epics, Grigori Kromanov-directed Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel has their heady, huge themes built into it, but it’s minimalistic and restrained. Enjoying every second, it teases you into each gentle unzip. Don’t ask, don’t tell, just watch.
There’s a weird essence about the whole thing that feels like it was a sci-fi noir film made for aliens BY aliens and their secret existence on Earth, but we just accidentally found it. A true, bonafide classic.
Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel screens in association with The Reptile House at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday, 01/09/2019 at CCA, Glasgow
The Reptile House is a cult movie/music/art/weerd/oddball zine full of articles, film comparisons, poems, short stories and other lost and found miscellaneous junk. Everyone is welcome, because everyone belongs. Its print it out on shitty work printers at 6am when no one is in because I want it to be affordable for everyone! Any money made goes directly to local charities. Please do not tap the glass.
Scotland’s cult film festival returns to CCA Glasgow this month, with three days of strange and unseen cinema from around the world.
Weird Weekend, Scotland’s cult film festival returns to CCA Glasgow this month with three days of strange and unseen cinema from around the world, beginning Friday 30th August and ending Sunday 1st September.
Weird Weekend2019 features extremely rare screenings of lost masterpieces, brand-new restorations and UK premieres of future classics. 13 films and events over three days include a 35th anniversary, 35mm screening of the long unavailable Bill Murray sci-fi comedy Nothing Lost Forever(Tom Schiller, 1984), a rare outing for Tilda Swinton’s quadruple-role tour-de-force Teknolust (2002) and a 30th anniversary outing for the workprint cut of The ’Burbs (Joe Dante, 1989), with extended scenes and an alternative ending. Joe Dante will join the audience via Skype for a post-screening Q&A.
The film programme also includes: Brand-new 2K preservations of I Was A Teenage Serial Killer (1993) and Mary Jane’s Not A Virgin Anymore (1997) from the sadly departed “Queen of Underground Film” Sarah Jacobson, in association with Pity Party Film Club; Vibrations (Mike Paseornek, 1996); Freak Orlando (Ulrike Ottinger, 1981) in association with Scottish Queer International Film Festival; The UK premiere of AGFA and Bleeding Skull’s The Neon Slime Mixtape; Jane Arden and Jack Bond’s Anti-Clock (1979); Věra Chytilová’s Wolf’s Hole (1987); Dead Mountaineer’s Hotel (Grigori Kromanov, 1979) in association with The Reptile House; and the 2K-restored, extended cut of Chris Shaw’s Split (1989).
Matchbox Cineclub also welcome prominent Deepfake creator Ctrl Shift Face in person for the panel event, Weird World of Deepfakes in association with Trasho Biblio. A specially-curated feature length programme of Deepfakes will play on a loop in CCA’s cinema throughout the festival weekend. Finally, The Arrow Video Cult Film Quiz returns for the second year, with much swag up for grabs.
All films screen with open captions for the deaf and hard of hearing, and tickets are priced on a sliding scale, from £0-8. You judge for yourself what you should pay, with reference to our sliding scale guide.
You can browse the full Weird Weekend programme on Issuu, and all tickets and passes are on sale exclusively in our online shop.
The Crazy Family, Sogo Ishii’s provocative, oddball satire, hasn’t screened in Scotland for 30 years
Having just relocated to a comfortable new home in suburbia, the Kobayashi family – Katsuhiko, his wife, Saeko, and their two children, Masaki and Erika – appear to be the picture of middle-class success. But the family’s comfortable bourgeois veneer begins disintegrating when grandfather Yasukuni and white ants infest their home, eating away at the woodwork. As the Kobayashis’ house begins to crumble, so does the sanity of its inhabitants. Katsuhiko takes it upon himself to keep them from the asylum…at any cost.
The Crazy Family (逆噴射家族, Gyakufunsha Kazoku) Sogo Ishii’s provocative, oddball satire, hasn’t screened in Scotland for at least 30 years. Born Toshihiro Ishii, now known as Gakuryū Ishii, the avant garde filmmaker spearheaded the Japanese New Wave with his early punk features Panic In High School (1978), Crazy Thunder Road (1980) and Burst City (1982). Ishii’s reputation arguably rests on these early films, although he’s still active and his influence can been seen in the filmmakers whose international success has surpassed his own.
Described as “one of the most genuinely demented movies to ever emerge from Japan,” The Crazy Family‘s original title (literally “The Back-Jet Family”) was a reference to an incident at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in the early 1980s. The pilot of a short, internal flight fired the plane’s back-jet just before landing, crashing the plane and killing many of its passengers. Pressure of work was blamed for the pilot’s action. “With Crazy Family,” Ishii later claimed, “I wanted to show the Japanese family as I saw it.” Co-writer and manga artist Yoshinori Kobayashi, now a controversial, conservative figure in Japan, told Monthly Film Bulletin in 1986:
Kramer vs Kramer, Ordinary People and The Family Game are all admirable films dealing with family problems. They are serious films, much praised by critics, and some people regard them as masterpieces. But some of us think differently. We consider them timid films, more or less like the TV family dramas made for middle-aged audiences, and the critics like them more than we do. And so Sogo Ishii and I decided to make a more radical film on the same subject. We wanted film about the family that would be filled with fun and poison… There are four things that traditionally frighten the Japanese: earthquakes, thunder, fire and fathers. This list is as valid now as it ever was.
Though it didn’t lose money, The Crazy Family was, perhaps unsurprisingly, not hugely popular domestically. “Everyone in Japan just complained that they didn’t understand my films,” Ishii later reflected. Though the film made a bigger impact abroad, according to writer David Cairns, “Most western critics found it wearisome and baffling”. As related by Shock Cinema’s Steven Puchalski, “its New York City engagement consisted of a one-week run at an upscale arthouse theatre, and a sparse, thoroughly confused audience of blue-haired Upper West Siders.”
In the UK, however, critic Tony Rayns saw its value immediately, noting “a major step forward for Sogo Ishii”. Writing in early 1986, Rayns observed that The Crazy Family “is a live action comic strip, each sequence shattered into component images like panels on a page and edited to rock rhythms.” Rayns continued:
The stylistic attack is matched, blow by blow, by the ruthlessness and cruelty of the humour: satire, slapstick, pain and black comedy are primary elements, but the film goes beyond them all into an area harder and more vicious than anything seen on screen since the early days of Monty Python. Its triumph is that it is (a) consistently funny, and (b) sustained as a narrative, rather than collapsing into a series of sketches.
if…. director Lindsay Anderson was also a fan. As recorded in Michael Palin’s diaries, Anderson preferred it to the then-recent A Room With A View, An Englishman Abroad, and even the Python’s own Private Function. Ishii’s film was the only one he’d liked recently, Anderson told Palin, since “the violence is so productive!”
Though it’s never been released on DVD in the UK, The Crazy Family is a landmark in Ishii’s ouevre and Japanese cinema. It was his first commercial work, following the trio of dystopian punk films that made his name, but was immediately followed by an almost 10-year gap before his next feature, the thriller Angel Dust (1994). Thwarted from making the films he wanted to make, Ishii concentrated on experimental short films, music documentaries (notably Half Human, with Einstuerzende Neubauten) and TV movies. The next phase of his work would be his self-proclaimed psychedelic years, before a slight return to his roots with Electric Dragon 80.000 V (2000). In 2010, he announced his “artistic rebirth”, Bowie-style, as Gakuryū Ishii, before returning to features once more with 2012’s Isn’t Anyone Alive? With his latest,Punk Samurai Slash Down, due this year, it’s the perfect time to (re)discover his weirdest.
The Crazy Family screens at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday 3rd June. Tickets from £5, day and weekend passes are available. All tickets available from CCA’s box office, 0141 352 4900, or online: bit.ly/weirdweekend.