THE BITCH-GODDESS "SUCCESS" ELUDES ONE OF THE GREATEST, MOST INFLUENTIAL CULT FILMS OF THE 80s.
THOSE WHO "KNOW", KNOW. THOSE WHO DON'T, WILL.
By Greg Klymkiw
CRIME WAVE is the best cult film you've never seen.
Before you read my review, it might be interesting for you to peruse the following history as to why you might have never seen this masterpiece.
After its triumphant 1985 world premiere at TIFF, a Canadian film distribution company called Norstar Releasing signed the film for world wide sales. The deal came with a $100,000 guarantee which would be payable no later than 18 months after the first date of the film's theatrical release. This was just the impetus director John Paizs needed to redress something that was nagging at him. In spite of the accolades, he didn't like the ending and knowing $100K would eventually be paid, he rewrote, reshot and recut the entire final 20 minutes and fashioned the film into what we all know and love today.
Months, then years, passed by. Norstar Releasing was making money on the film in the home video market via a poorly transferred, retitled VHS American version, as well as substantial pay-TV and free-TV broadcast sales. NO theatrical release was forthcoming. As it turned out, there was no specific clause in the contract which guaranteed ANY theatrical release.
There was NO LEGAL NEED for Norstar Releasing to pay the $100K to Paizs until a theatrical release would trigger the said payment.
This, in spite of the fact that the company lured the filmmaker with verbal promises of a 400-screen theatrical release, as noted in this archival news clip (the tape quality is a bit grotty, but you'll get the idea) from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:
In my then-capacity as Director of Distribution and Marketing for the Winnipeg Film Group, I poured over the deal made long before my tenure there began. I engaged in the aggressive move to visit the Norstar offices in Toronto and examine their books. Sadly, all was on the up and up - save for the scumbag deal its filmmaker signed in good faith. Even if it hadn't, neither Paizs nor the non-profit arts group The Winnipeg Film Group were well-heeled enough to mount expensive forensic audits and/or legal challenges against a company as huge and powerful as Norstar Releasing was at the time.
In the early years of home video, this was still long before the days of VOD, digital downloads and many of the current platforms industry and audiences are aware of today. As such, if you signed a distribution deal, you automatically assumed there would be a theatrical release. At this point, I aggressively lobbied an independent movie theatre in Winnipeg, where the film was made, to secure a theatrical playdate. Even then, Norstar tried to dissuade the movie theatre from showing the film, but luckily, perseverance won the day and the film was slated for release - in ONE THEATRE.
18 months passed. The trigger to pay had come and gone. Though the money was due, Norstar was still not coughing up. I called the Toronto office of Telefilm Canada, the Federal Government's film financing agency which, at the time had a distribution program that actually funded Canadian distributors to offer guarantees to Canadian films. The head of distribution at Telefilm at the time was Ted East, a film distributor and producer who provided a very sympathetic ear when I explained how a Canadian company fucked over John Paizs. Mr. East poured over his agency's policy and discovered he could put money into Norstar's pocket to pay the filmmaker who was deeply in debt for a film that many loved, but that many more had not seen.
The money was finally paid. The debts were erased.
Still, the film languished. Norstar eventually sold all its titles to Alliance Films. When Alliance Films became Alliance-Atlantis, the library simply moved over. When the "Atlantis" portion went the way of the dodo, Alliance Releasing continued to maintain the library.
At one point in the 90s, Fantomas, a very tiny boutique indie home video company in the United States, known for its small, but very cool catalogue of cult items, contacted Paizs directly They wanted to release a super-deluxe DVD version of Crime Wave. They were even offering a decent advance. When Paizs contacted Alliance, he was given the run-around.
The company fucked the dog on the generous Fantomas offer until eventually, they rejected it. Alliance, it seems, was planning to dump huge swaths of its catalogue into a package deal with some dubious entity in the United States. Sadly, the Fantomas deal was not the only offer made to handle Crime Wave over the years to both Norstar and Alliance.
All offers were rejected by the indifferent Canadian conglomerate.
Eventually, Alliance was swallowed up by eOne Entertainment. which is where Crime Wave currently languishes. Thankfully, Steve Gravestock from the Toronto International Film Festival was able to provide funding for an all-new 2K digital restoration of Crime Wave and it is now being premiered at TIFF 2014 in conjunction with the launch of Jonathan Ball's new scholarly book about the film.
This is great news! Still, something was nagging at me. Given the film's reputation, would it still be sitting in the vaults? I sent a note to President of E1 Films Canada, Bryan Gliserman, and asked the following questions:
1. As your company inherited the rights to this film, what are e-One's plans to redress the wrongs perpetrated upon this masterpiece of Canadian Cinema by the previous companies holding the rights?
2. What are your feelings about the recent TIFF-initiated-and-funded 2K restoration?
3. Will there be a proper theatrical platform re-release in Canada?
4. Are there any discussions about a deluxe, extras-packed commemorative Blu-Ray?
He has yet to respond. He's a busy man.
Here's the bottom line:
Companies all over the world have tried to cut a deal with the right-holders prior to eOne, but continually hit brick walls as those Canadian conglomerates sat on it. The irony is that the Canadian taxpayers, via the aforementioned kind and magnanimous gesture on the part of Ted East when he was an official with Telefilm Canada, contributed a whack of dough to pay the filmmaker a guarantee that the original company tried to screw Paizs out of. If this hadn't have happened, Paizs would still be on the hook for finishing funds rightly owed to him.
Bryan Gliserman is a mensch.
I doubt, HE, as the president of a company as powerful as e-One, and the Canadian branch, no less, would ever think about screwing over a masterpiece of Canadian Cinema. He's one of the true pioneers of distribution in Canada and it might be the best thing in the world for this picture that it's found a home with someone like him. He's the real thing. I personally never put faith in any government or corporate entity, but from time to time, INDIVIDUALS within them step up to the plate - like Ted East when he was at Telefilm, programmer/critic Geoff Pevere when he first supported Paizs in the early years of TIFF and Steve Gravestock in TIFF's current era - there have always been human beings who all had faith in this film.
So too, I believe, will Bryan Gliserman. I have faith that he'll do something about the woeful state of affairs that's beleaguered this film for three decades. Crime Wave, with a mensch like Gliserman manning the control panel, will no doubt soar to the heights it deserves.
In the meantime, feel free to read my review. I've never written about Crime Wave before and frankly, I doubt anyone will be able to top Geoff Pevere's brilliant piece (pictured above) that he originally wrote many years ago in Cinema Canada, but for what it's worth, here's my take.
Your script doctor wishes to SODOMIZE and MURDER you
and in so doing, he will teach you
the real MEANING of the word,
Dir. John Paizs
Starring: Eva Kovacs, John Paizs, Neil Lawrie, Darrell Baran, Jeffrey Owen Madden, Tea Andrea Tanner, Bob Cloutier, Donna Fullingham, Mitch Funk, Angela Heck, Mark Yuill, C. Roscoe Handford
Review By Greg Klymkiw
In 1985, Jay Scott, the late, great Toronto Globe and Mail film critic, renowned and beloved the world over, wrote in his review of Crime Wave after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (then called the Festival of Festivals):
"...if the great Canadian comedy ever gets made, John Paizs might be the one to make it.”
We're one year shy of thirty years later and nobody has yet made the "great Canadian comedy", though writer-director-star John Paizs gave it a damn fine run for the money with his drawer-filling, knee-slapping, near-heart-attack-inducing, Campbell Scott-starring 1999 satire of 1950s science fiction Top of the Food Chain (aka Invasion!, languishing for a time in the Lions' Gate DVD catalogue).
Scott never did review Paizs's 1986 version of Crime Wave. Still, taking mild criticism in Scott's review to heart, Paizs completely rewrote, reshot and recut the entire last half hour of the film. If Jay Scott had been given the chance to review this version, if the film had actually been released, I suspect Scott's line would have been: "John Paizs has made the great Canadian comedy!"
There's no doubt about it.
|Some Quiet Men are Nice!|
Others are INSANE!
Even more, perhaps?
Whatever the final tally actually is, and it is way up there, the fact remains that each and every time I see the film, I'm not only howling with laughter as hard as I did when I first saw it, but absolutely floored by how astoundingly brilliant and original it is.
This is a movie that has not dated and will probably never date.
It's a film that has inspired filmmakers all over the world and not only is it the crown jewel in the "prairie post-modernist" crown - coined and bestowed upon it by film critic Geoff Pevere - but it's a film that paved the way for Guy Maddin, Bruce McDonald, Reg Harkema, Lynne Stopkewich, Don McKellar, Astron-6 and virtually any other Canadian filmmaker who went on to blow the world away with their unique, indigenous cinematic visions of a world that could only have been borne upon celluloid from a country as insanely staid and repressed as Canada.
I'll go further and suggest even this: I think it was more than mere "zeitgeist" which bore the fruit that was/is David Lynch's Blue Velvet. Now, not to take anything away from Lynch's mad classic of the dark side lingering under the surface of a sun-dappled small-town America, BUT, if one does a tiny bit of simple math on the following, there's no question Paizs influenced David Lynch:
1. In the mid-80s, a wonderful, but now (sadly) defunct film festival in Edmonton, Alberta screened the "new" re-edited version of Crime Wave in addition to Paizs' unique shorts. This was a festival devoted to indigenous, independent (or indie-flavoured) films which told stories about far-flung places which were as much a character in the films as their human counterparts.
The name of the festival was "Local Heroes", named after the 1983 Bill Forsyth classic Local Hero with Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert. That film embodied everything the festival was about. Most importantly, a special guest of the festival was also in the audience for Paizs's shorts and Crime Wave. The guest was none other than the producer of Local Hero, David Puttnam.
2. From 1986 to 1988, David Puttnam was the CEO of Columbia Pictures. His term was short-lived. In spite of the fact that he was hired to bring his magic touch to the studio, they really weren't keen on what he wanted and did indeed green-light. He had requested and was armed with a clutch of John Paizs' short films and Crime Wave on VHS.
3. With the Paizs films floating about the studio, Puttnam green-lit a now obscure feature at Columbia called Zelly and Me. The star was Isabella Rossellini, the eventual female lead of Blue Velvet. Acting in a supporting role was none other than David Lynch himself who was also a mentor to the film's director Tina Rathbone (she eventually directed episodes of Twin Peaks).
4. In the fall of 1988, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, a film which shares a tone, colour scheme, thematic similarities and shots which are slight variations of those appearing in Paizs' films.
Here's yet another time-worn archival CBC video which delivers even more clips from all of Paizs's sun-dappled darkness:
Borrowing from all his favourite childhood films - sleazy, garish crime pictures, technicolor science fiction and horror epics, weird-ass training/educational films, Roger Corman, Terence Fisher, Kenneth Anger, the Kuchar Brothers, Elia Kazan, Orson Welles, Walt Disney, Frank Tashlin, film noir, Douglas Sirk, John Ford (!!!) and yes, even National Film Board of Canada documentaries - John Paizs made one of the most sought after, coveted and beloved cult movies of the past thirty years.
Taking on the lead role of Steven Penny, Paizs created a character who is hell-bent upon writing the greatest "colour crime movie" of all time. He boards in the attic above a garage owned by a family of psychotically normal Winnipeg suburbanites whose little girl Kim (Eva Kovacs) befriends the reclusive young man.
He has the worst writer's block of all - he can write great beginnings, great endings, but NO middles.
Every morning, she rifles through the garbage where Penny has disposed of his writings and as she reads them, we get to see the gloriously lurid snippets of celluloid from the fevered brain of this young writer. These sequences are scored with gusto, dappled with colours bordering on the fluorescent and narrated with searing Walter Winchell-like stabs of verbal blade thrusts. Via Kim's gentle, non-colour-crime-movie narration, Steven is innocently described by her like all those serial killers who people say after their capture, "Gee whiz, he was a really nice guy."
Indeed, Steven Penny inhabits Kim's words like a glove:
FEW MEN REACH IT!!!
As the film progresses, we see more and more of the film Steven is trying to write, but his creative blockages become dire. He even locks himself up for weeks, his room becoming so foul and fetid that rats are even scurrying upon his immobile depression-infused carcass. Kim must take the bull by the horns and indeed finds salvation in the back of a magazine ad in "Colour Crime Quarterly". It seems that one Dr. Jolly (Neil Lawrie), a script doctor, exists in Sails, Kansas.
He, Kim insists, is what Steven needs. Dr. Jolly himself provides comfort to burgeoning young screenwriters that what they really need are the one important thing he can provide:
Unbeknownst to anyone, Dr. Jolly is a serial killer who lures young screenwriters into his den of depravity to sodomize and murder them. Dr. Jolly's goal is to truly show young men the meaning of the word:
As a filmmaker, Paizs leads us on an even more insane journey than we've been on and the final twenty minutes of the film delivers one of the most brilliant, hallucinogenic and piss-your-pants funny extended montages you'll ever experience. John Paizs then teaches us the meaning of the word:
Twists indeed, You'll see nothing like them in any film. Crime Wave is one of the most dazzlingly original films ever made. If you haven't seen it, you must. If you have seen it, see the picture again.
And again, and again and yet, again.
That's why they call them cult films.
THE FILM CORNER RATING:
Crime Wave, not to be confused with the Coen Brothers/Sam Raimi debacle with the same title from the same year has been lovingly restored in a 2K digital transfer courtesy of Steve Gravestock and the Toronto International Film Festival. You can see it at Tiff 2014, For tickets, date and time, visit the TIFF website by clicking HERE.
A Few Added Notes On CRIME WAVE:
If you are desperate to see it AND want to own what will be a COLLECTOR'S ITEM, feel free to order the VHS tape still available at AMAZON. This is the "new version" of Paizs's film with the title changed to THE BIG CRIMEWAVE. It's a standard one-light transfer to VHS from the original One-Inch tape that was originally broadcast on CBC-TV and TMN way back in the early 90s. If you click this link directly and order it, you'll ALSO be assisting with the ongoing maintenance of The Film Corner:
In USA and the rest of the WORLD - BUY The Big Crimewave (aka CRIME WAVE) on VHS - HERE!
Hopefully, if a proper home entertainment deluxe Blu-Ray is ever made, the "original" 1985 Crime Wave will be included on it. I love that version for very different reasons. It's perverse, extremely DARK and most delightfully of all, it features backwoods inbreds bearing the names "Ol' Mum" and "Ethan".
The original version also has a much better shot of the young, hogtied screenwriter in Dr. Jolly's motel room. The scene is meant to be a taste of what's in store for Steven Penny when he meets up with the sodomy-loving script doctor. The actor in the original version, Jon Coutts, one of Paizs's best friends and part of the production team, has such a beautiful, pert ass and baby-flesh skin that many people thought Jolly had a very young, teenage boy hogtied and ready for Hershey-pronging.
Mostly, it was the idiot distributor Norstar (that screwed Paizs over in the first place) that objected the most strenuously to this. The "new" version, alas, replaces the sweet, silky, lithe young NAKED body of Mr. Coutts with only his bare back and a pair of jeans.
I know what I preferred. You? (And if you ever see Paizs' personal 16mm archival print of the film, you WILL see the pert ass cheeks.)
Finally, SHAME on the TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL for not doing a major profile in conjunction with this special TIFF initiative. If only to honour the late Jay Scott, this could have been an amazing opportunity for it to provide the kind of content any important newspaper of record would be pleased to report on.
FULL DISCLOSURE: I produced John Paizs's early short films. I also appear in Crime Wave as a Dog Breeder with the great line of dialogue: "I come a hundred miles to breed this here bitch!" as I mistakenly point to my wife instead of the dog. Enjoy!
C. Roscoe Handford
& Greg Klymkiw
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's January 2014 New Music Festival, in collaboration with Spur and the Winnipeg Film Group Cinematheque presented a major series of new musical works and a film retrospective entitled "Forgotten Winnipeg". The 70s and 80s NYC film scene experienced by Jim Jarmusch (presenting his new opera-in-progress on Nikola Tesla in the aforementioned series) is captured beautifully in the documentary Blank City and resembles the very cool explosion in indie underground cinema that I and many colleagues and friends were involved with as it spawned around the same time during those halcyon days in Winnipeg. This period, coined by film critic Geoff Pevere as Prairie Post-Modernism included the works of John Paizs, Guy Maddin, Greg Hanec and many others.
Greg Hanec's extraordinary Downtime which has the distinction of being a parallel cinematic universe to Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise is a case in point. Both films were made at the same time in two completely different cities and scenes and both Hanec and Jarmusch premiered their films at the same time at the Berlin Film Festival. One's famous, the other isn't - but now that the "lost" and "found" Downtime has been remastered from original elements to DVD, it can now be purchased directly online.
|Order DOWNTIME directly|
from the film's new website
by clicking HERE
Perhaps the greatest Canadian independent underground filmmaker of all-time is Winnipeg's John Paizs. It's virtually impossible to secure copies of his astounding work which, frankly, is responsible for influencing the work of Guy Maddin, David Lynch, Bruce McDonald and an endless number of great indie filmmakers the world over. Paizs' great short film Springtime in Greenland is available for purchase in a beautiful remastered edition from a fan website, the inimitable Frank Norman. Norman has Paizs' blessing to provide copies of the film, so feel free to directly make your request to Mr. Norman by clicking HERE.
|Visit Frank Norman's CRIME WAVE fan site by clicking HERE|
by John Paizs
& The Editor
is the IDEAL
Film Festival (TIFF 2014)
Too bad nobody thought
of scheduling them
in the same venue.
See Crime Wave on
Friday, Sept. 12 @ 9pm
in TIFF Bell Lightbox #4,
then see The Editor
on Saturday, Sept. 13
@ 6:15pm in Scotiabank #4
you watched them
back to back.
Read my review of
Crime Wave HERE
and my review of
The Editor HERE
and go see BOTH
great films from God,
the Father of Prairie
and His only