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’.”
“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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.
Reptilian aliens, shoegaze and the end of the world. Diet Soda Cineclub’s Teri Williams sets up our upcoming co-screening of Gregg Araki’s Teen Apocalypse Trilogy
Is Gregg Araki the patron saint of the alienated teen? His work, which now spans over three decades, has helmed a wave of new queer cinema that began with radical low budget films like The Living End and is now cutting through the abundant noise of shiny teen TV drama with the excellent Now Apocalypse, a hark to the trilogy that arguably started this whole beautiful mess: the Teen Apocalypse Trilogy. So pucker up, light up, and read on to find out more about how the godfather of rebellious youth framed a generation in neon rainbow colours that remains ever so relevant in this strange, doom-laden landscape we’re living in right now.
Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation and Nowhere were made and released in the mid-90s, when tie-dye and inflatable furniture was in, and Gen Z queer icons Amandla Stenberg, Chloe Grace Moretz and Hunter Schafer were mere twinkles in their parents’ eyes. It’s arguable to say that these three films, and Gregg’s subsequent features like Mysterious Skin and Kaboom! paved the way for a plethora of queer and teen-centric media today. He’s even had a guest director spot on a few episodes of 13 Reasons Why, one of the most talked about teen TV shows of recent times.
The Teen Apocalypse Trilogy was never seen as a critical success. Maybe because most of the film reviewers assessing them at the time were deliberately far removed from the worlds shown on screen – there’s nothing a middle-aged white man hates more than teen disenchantment, disengagement, disaffection. Not to mention all of that ambiguous sexuality, questions of gender identity and complete disregard for populist politics and society. Gregg’s films depict utter doom in the purest sense, where teens find themselves facing alienation and actual aliens, out to pull them free from the crazy world they’re struggling to fit into.
The first film in the trilogy, aptly titled Totally Fucked Up, stars Araki-darling James Duval, who we see throughout a large number of Gregg’s work. His inky black eyes, pouty mouth and Keanu-hair make him an instant pin up in the franchise, but what makes James stand out is his flat, carefree valleyboy accent, often used as narration, particularly in his starring role in Nowhere. He is part of a group of six young gay teenagers who have come together as a family of misfits. Largely filmed with a handheld video camera, the movie has a grainy, homemade quality to it reminiscent to the early work of the great John Waters, and as intimate as the talking head portions of modern reality TV.
The Doom Generation, which is a roadtrip movie, stars Rose McGowan and her iconic Mia Wallace haircut, hurtling through the desolate landscape of nighttime LA with boyfriend Jordan (James Duval) and new arrival X (Jonathon Schaech). Their blossoming triage-ship is wrought with jealousy, confusion, and terrifying encounters throughout the way,
The third film, Nowhere, showcases Gregg’s obsession with alienation in a comically literal sense. Its bisexual hero, again played by James Duval, is on a manic search for the alien race who is taking over his community and friends, stalking him as he navigates his failing relationship with girlfriend Mel and falling for new town arrival Montgomery.
So there you have it. Three films – a portrait movie, a roadtrip movie, and a sci-fi fantasy – each exploring themes of existential doom and teenage heartbreak that, each with their own rad, acidic soundtrack and palette of blindingly neon colours, paved the way for a multitude of queer cinema that celebrates the weird and subversive, an aloof middle finger to the mainstream. And maybe that’s what we need to celebrate right now.
Gregg Araki’s Teen Apocalypse Trilogy screens at the CCA Glasgow as part of Scalamara Glasgow on Thursday 26th September, 2019. Buy tickets here.
Read Helen Wright of Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF)’s presentation on making your film screenings and events accessible to everyone
At the July Scalarama Glasgow meet-up, Helen Wright (Scottish Queer International Film Festival) gave a presentation and led a discussion on accessibility for film screenings. Helen covered basic principles, and practical access measures for screenings and for marketing film events.
Helen has very kindly allowed us to host the PowerPoint (above), which formed the basis of her presentation. Material from all of 2019’s Scalarama meetings/workshops in Glasgow, including guides to licensing, venues, tech set-up and social media, here.
Scalarama Glasgow is running monthly meetings in the lead-up to September’s season of DIY film programming. They’re aimed at helping exhibitors brand-new and experienced alike to put on films, and each month has two invited experts on different aspects of film exhibition. They’re free and open to all, full details here.
Basic principles, dos and don’ts and tips for promoting your film screenings online
This is intended to provide basic principles and practical tips for making the best use of social media, as an independent film exhibitor. It’s not intended to be definitive, or a magic wand to conjure likes, shares and follows. Different things will work for different exhibitors and different events. If you have any tips or advice to add, please let us know!
Basic Social Media Dos
Have a clear identity for your page
Have a clear idea who you want to appeal to
Be concise – keep it short and economical
Be as visual as possible
Be discoverable – use hashtags (appropriately)
Be responsive – if people engage with your posts, engage with them – and reply to queries ASAP.
Be a real person – e.g. post a picture of you putting up a poster, rather than the poster itself
Use active language and calls-to-arms (Buy, try, “get tickets”, “check this out”)
Post regularly (keeping in mind the requirements of each platform)
Tailor/adapt your content and tone for different platforms
Pay attention to what works well for you, your page and your events
Research – see what other exhibitors, venues, platforms are doing that works and suits you
Experiment – most platforms share information with you so you can easily find what works and what doesn’t
Develop a strategy based on all of the above
Plan and schedule posts
Ask people or accounts to share your content and share theirs
Basic Social Media Don’ts
Post/talk only about yourself/your event(s)
Panic cluster-post at the last minute
Tag random (or friendly but not immediately relevant) people or accounts in tweets and/or pictures
Re-use (i.e. steal) content without attribution
Overuse hashtags, especially “comedy” hashtags
Content | Always ask the distributor if they have marketing material available. This can include stills, posters, trailers, press releases which you can draw quotes and/or additional information from, and also any guidance to follow, especially if it’s a new or recent release – much better to adhere to their release campaign strategy, if there is one. If it’s an older film, you should still ask if there’s material available. There are also various resources online. Look for the website of the marketing team company, if there is one, which often will host marketing materials for download. For posters in particular, try wrongsideoftheart.com, impawards.com or cinematerial.com (the latter requires a small subscription fee). Don’t use images or material from other people’s screenings, at least without permission.
Presentation | You can optimise your images for presentation on the various platforms (i.e. a portrait-oriented poster won’t display fully on Twitter). Twitter now offers automatic cropping of your images in three styles on its new desktop version. Otherwise, you can make reference to the Always Up-To-Date spreadsheet for social media image sizes, which will give you the right sizes for various uses across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube and Tumblr. There’s also a free-to-use online re-sizing tool, Landscape, which you can instruct to automatically resize and download images you upload to whatever specifications you need. Sprout Social have produced guides on presentation for images (here) and videos (here).
Any links you use, you can trim so that they don’t display all the unnecessary detail and they will still work. E.g. “https:// matchboxcineclub.com/weird-weekend” can become “matchboxcineclub.com/weird-weekend” and still work as a hot link on all social media platforms. Better yet, you can sign up for a free bitly.com account and, if they’re not already taken, create shortened links, with customised back-halfs, for free. E.g. bit.ly/WEIRDWEEKEND. On Facebook, you can also tag your events in posts the way you would a person, typing @ followed with the event name to find it.
Finally, you know how sometimes a link from another website won’t present properly, i.e. with no image, or the wrong image? That’s often because it’s never been shared before, and you can get around that by testing the link with Facebook’s debugger or Twitter’s card validator.
Timing/frequency | To boil it right down – post once or twice a day on Facebook, a similar frequency for Instagram and as often as you like on Twitter. Facebook in particular would like to encourage you to pay to boost posts or create sponsored posts, so it’s designed to discourage a wide audience for anything you share that involves a ticket link or an event page. You’re less restricted in posting Stories. Likewise, you have freer rein when posting in Facebook event pages – and it’s a good way to keep people interested between announcing your event and it happening. Beware over-posting, though, because non-stop notifications for attendees can be a drag. Getting the best from Twitter requires investment of your time above all else. A tweet has a half-life of about 30 minutes and to get people to engage with your posts, you also need to engage with theirs. In all cases, its good to share content that isn’t about you or (directly) about your event.
You can also use some statistical information to guide when to get the best response from your posts – Sprout Social (NB otherwise a subscription service) offers some insights for the various platforms. Read their “Best times to post on Social Media for 2019” post here.
Subtitles/Captions | Providing these is necessary to make your posts accessible. It’s also a very basic way to increase engagement, since videos are automatically muted on most platforms. Subtitles draw people in. Facebook and YouTube will auto-generate subtitles which you can then edit, or you can upload them as a separate file. There are also ways to create subtitle files separately and burn them into the video. For more advice on any of that, email email@example.com. Free subtitling software includes: Aegisub, Amara, Belle Nuit Subtitler and Subtitle Edit (Windows only).
NB “Subtitles” describe what’s spoken, while “Captions” also include sound and music labels and speech identifiers, etc.
Alt-text for images | This is a very straightforward way to make your posts accessible for the visually impaired – you add text separately describing the images (but not GIFs or videos) you post. On Twitter, you have to enable the feature via Settings and Privacy > Accessibility. On Facebook, it’s a universal feature, although the alt-text is extremely limited in terms of character count. Read Twitter’s guide here. Read Facebook’s guide here. Read Instagram’s guide here.
How alt-text works on Facebook, preparing to post an image:
How alt-text works on Facebook, after you’ve posted an image:
How alt-text works on Twitter (NB you can’t edit after posting):
Sponsored posts | These can be extremely effective compared to print marketing, especially for independent exhibitors who can’t rely on the same reach, footfall or press attention as venues, festivals or bigger exhibitors. Facebook and Twitter are both very good at targeting to specific people, whether it’s people who already follow your page (and may miss your posts due to the algorithm or the speed of constantly unravelling newsfeeds), or a particular demographic, e.g. people who live near your event, young people, or people who like horror films. Facebook is a lot more user friendly than Twitter, though both require experimentation and attention to get the best results. Some reluctance to engage with this aspect of social media is understandable, but keep in mind, if you’re doing it right, you’re showing people something they want to see.
NB If you’re participating in Scalarama Glasgow/West, Edinburgh/East, or Highlands and Islands, and you’re making Facebook events for September, please make your local Scalarama page a co-host. You can also add something along the lines of “Screening as part of Scalarama 2019” to your event description, and make sure to tag Scalarama in your relevant posts, tweets, etc, using the hashtag #Scalarama or #Scalarama2019.
This guide was made for Scalarama Glasgow’s July 2019 meeting, presented by Sean Welsh. Sean is responsible for Matchbox Cineclub and Scalarama Glasgow’s social media. He also planned and operated social media for Document International Human Rights Film Festival as Production Coordinator in 2016 and 2017.