Crime Wave | Weird Weekend

John Paizs’ unsung deadpan masterpiece screens from fully-restored 2K DCP.

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Crime Wave 2“If the great Canadian comedy ever gets made, John Paizs might be the one to make it.”

Jay Scott, Globe and Mail, 1985

In 1986, a cult film named Crimewave was released. Though it bombed, critically and commercially, it was a notable stepping stone in the careers of a many of its key players, who, despite its ignominious failure, went on to have glittering careers that left it only a curious blip in their CVs.  In this case, the term “cult” applies only in the sense that completist fans of the Coen Brothers (writers), Sam Raimi (director) and Bruce Campbell (producer, star) will keep its faint flame burning for a good while longer than it demands on its own merits. Meanwhile in Canada, another film, similarly-titled, received blazing reviews on its festival debut then all but disappeared without trace.

John Paizs’ Crime Wave was the culmination of themes and style developed by Paizs in a series of shorts starring the director himself as a ‘silent man’ character, Nick, the predecessor of Stephen Penny, mute protagonist of Crime Wave. Penny is an aspiring screenwriter, afflicted with a peculiar kind of writer’s block – he can only write beginnings and endings for the “colour crime pictures” he aspires to make, and no middles. When he takes a room above a suburban family’s garage, his landlord’s daughter, Kim (Eva Kovacs), discovers his abandoned script pages in the trash and takes it upon herself to help him realise his potential.

The synopsis, however, barely sketches the experience of Crime Wave. Paizs painstakingly shot and styled his film to mimic the Technicolor of classical Hollywood. He also re-recorded all dialogue in post-production, inspired equally by the highly-controlled sound design of radio dramas. The tone, meanwhile, is deadpan absurd, the construction post-modern. Paizs interpolates Penny’s travails and Kim’s enterprise with sequences realising the opening and closing scenes from Stephen’s script fragments. When Kim introduces him to a mysterious Dr Jolly, who promises a solution to Stephen’s dire straits, the film accelerates towards a manic and hilarious climactic montage.

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John Paizs as Stephen Penny in Crime Wave

Crime Wave debuted at the 1985 Festival of Festivals (later to become the Toronto International Film Festival). The screening was also, according to Paizs, essentially a test screening. Writing and producing his own work, he’d gotten used to unusual creative freedom. “I used to just get to the end and I would not show the script to anybody and I would not do another draft, I just applied to the Arts Council for the money and they were less concerned about, ‘Does it have a coherent story?’ They were more into, ‘Well, is it kind of different?’” Crime Wave, like its creator, was certainly different. Following the (successful) festival screening, Paizs was dissatisfied enough to entirely rewrite, re-shoot and re-cut the film’s final 20 minutes.

Justifiably, though unjustly, it remains the high water mark in Paizs’ filmmaking career. “After Crime Wave, expectations were quite high for me,” explains Paizs. “According to the Globe and Mail reviewer, I had to make the great Canadian comedy, and, I’ll tell you, that was the best thing that someone could possibly say to any film-maker, right, but also the worst. And because I decided not to do the ‘silent man’ thing anymore after Crime Wave, not only did I have to come up with something new that I could invest myself in passionately, but it also had to be great and, you know, that in a nutshell is why there was no follow-up to Crime Wave.” Which is a genuine tragedy for cinema, especially since the Globe and Mail review was based on the first, unrefined cut of Paizs’ masterpiece.

Crime Wave could only have been made in Canada, in Winnipeg and by John Paizs, though it’s so much more than just a great Canadian film. Though its theatrical release was thwarted by an ill-advised distribution deal (which complicates its home-viewing release to this day), Crime Wave’s timeless originality,  meticulously-crafted aesthetic and the singular voice of its creator stake a claim for it in film history, exclusively on its on terms.


This article originally appeared in Physical Impossibility #4: Guide to World Cinema.

Crime Wave 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. #makeitweird

The Astrologer pins hopes on lucky stars

A 1976 UPI article by Vernon Scott on Craig Denney’s The Astrologer, as it appeared in The Ottawa Journal (14/01/1976)

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If you are Aquarian with Uranus in the third house, the sun in Capricorn, bestride Scorpio with Virgo ascending and the moon over Miami, you are probably in deep trouble or at least about to meet a tall dark stranger. Devotees of the zodiac will be hit with that sort of thing in The Astrologer, a new movie starring Craig Denny [sic] who also directed the film. Until now, astrology has been ignored by moviemakers. But Denny, 31, is founder of Moonhouse International, a computerized horoscope service which, for a price, whips out detailed astrological forecasts for individuals and corporations.

Astrology has made Denny a rich man. He says Moonhouse grossed $31 million last year with corporations paying as much as $20,000 for the service. “There’s never been a movie based on astrology,” said Denny, a handsome and intelligent man who is steeped in the lore of the zodiac. “Surprising, isn’t it? Especially when you consider there are 33 million individuals in the United States alone who are interested in astrology and buy astrological books, magazines and horoscopes.”

“So there is a huge audience waiting to see a picture based on astrology. The concept has been ignored all these years because it was new and different and didn’t follow any trends or patterns. Our story is about a gypsy fortune teller – me – and what happens to him as he predicts the future. We don’t preach astrology in the movie. There are five different story lines and plots. There’s a great deal of fantasy. The picture is visual. Even though it includes some heavy knowledge about astrology, the film is entertaining. We aren’t trying to make converts. This is a contemporary story with a great many optical special effects. I’m sure the picture has a basic appeal for everyone, including non-believers.”

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Webster’s defines astrology as: “A pseudo science claiming to foretell the future by studying the supposed Influence of the relative positions of the moon, sun and stars on human affairs. Primitive astronomy.” Denny, of course, views astrology as the mother of all sciences. “It is 5,000 years old,” he said. “I’ve been involved in astrology for 10 years. I don’t try to influence skeptics. Either you believe in it or you don’t. I have all the proof in the world that astrology is a true science.”

Denny embarked on a discourse of dates, planets and stars in a terminology which defies analysis by laymen. He holds theories which would shock other astrologers. His eyes gleam with teal. One is well advised not to take issue with him on the subject. A former radio broadcaster, Denny began The Astrologer in 1972 with a budget of $1.5 million. Three years later and at a total cost of $10 million, the picture was completed.

“Astrology has had a tough time with radio and television,” be said. “The government has a law that all astrological information must have a disclaimer before and after any programs dealing with the subject. It can’t be promoted on the air. The National Association of Broadcasters and the Federal Communications Commission have ruled that astrology is not a true science.” Denny’s disdain for the patented foolhardiness of the NAB and FCC was clearly reflected in the expression on his face. The Astrologer will open in prime American cities’ theatres Jan. 14, a date not selected at random. “The astrological aspects for the picture’s release were considered,” Denny admitted. According to the stars, the timing couldn’t be better.

Vernon Scott


The Astrologer screens at Matchbox Cineclub’s Weird Weekend on Sunday 03/06/18. Tickets from CCA’s box office, 0141 352 4900, or online here.

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Newspaper ad images: Temple of Schlock.

Weird Weekend 2018 on sale now

Matchbox Cineclub announce Scotland’s first cult film festival

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Matchbox Cineclub presents Weird Weekend, a whole weekend of strange and unseen cinema from around the world. Scotland’s cult film festival brings orphans, outcasts and outliers from across time and space to the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, on Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd June, 2018. Weird Weekend presents long-lost cult classics alongside premieres of future favourites, with a host of special guests, Q&As and events.

Among the highlights, Bill & Ted star Alex Winter will take part in a Skype Q&A after a screening of his directorial debut Freaked (1993); Glaswegian director Bryan M Ferguson will attend a Q&A following Anatomical Gunk, a retrospective of his short films; a 40th anniversary screening of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s midnight movie classic The Holy Mountain (1973); Sogo Ishii’s The Crazy Family (1984), unseen on UK screens for over 30 years; and an extremely rare screening of the long-lost, now fully restored cult classic The Astrologer (Craig Denney, 1975).

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Matchbox Cineclub programmer Sean Welsh says: “Although we have many, many film events, Scotland is long-overdue a dedicated cult film festival. With Matchbox Cineclub, we’ve always aimed to screen films you can’t see anywhere else, so Weird Weekend is a logical extension of all of that. We’re very proud of the programme we’ve put together, which uncovers lost gems, debuts new versions of classics and presents some of the wildest brand-new films in the world today.”


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. #makeitweird

Keep up-to-date on Facebook here.

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