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A young director intent on making "the greatest color crime movie ever" can't seem to finish his script--he has a beginning and an end, but he can't quite figure out the middle. The daughter of his landlord, excited to have a real "movie person" living nearby, tries to help by putting him in touch with a man who wants to collaborate on a script--the strange "Dr. Jolly". Written by
There was often no more than three crew members on set, and sometimes only John Paizs himself. See more »
Next, Steven showed me a tape-recording of a speeding car that lost control and smashed a camera he borrowed from the National Film Board of Canada. He lost $2000, and when his movie came out almost nobody liked it.
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Most importantly for a comedy, Crime Wave is very funny. It's a masterpiece of black humor, with one twisted laugh out loud sight gag after another (I have too many favorites: the kid with the empty birdcage, the morgue tags, Ronnie up against the telephone pole, Steven's costume for the Halloween party, the drooping penis plant painting on a background wall, etc.). It's a comedy, but like Lynch's Blue Velvet, it also takes a retro 50s "normalcy" and reveals how bizarre, threatening, and, in the episode with Dr. Jolly, how downright creepy events can become within it. Paiz also shares Lynch's ability to make regular objects like street lamps feel stranger than they are. So, Paiz can't avoid comparisons as a sort of Lynch-lite. But he's also a grand surrealist who concocts layers of realities within realities.
Budding screenwriter Steven Penny writes the starts and endings of scripts but can't seem to fill in the middles (layer 1). We are shown "clips" of what Steven has written as though they had been filmed (layer 2). While the scripts lie in limbo waiting to be finished, their characters "come alive" and hang out in Steven's room and fight with each other (layer 3). Steven doesn't narrate his own story, in fact he doesn't talk at all, and the film is seen and narrated through the viewpoint of Kim (wonderfully played by Eva Kovacs), the young teen daughter of Steven's landlords, who comes to admire and help Steven. Meeting one odd character after another in one strange event after another, Kim's blaze, take-whatever-comes attitude anchors the film in yet another reality (layer 4). And, she speaks directly to the camera, the "objective" film, to us, the audience (layer 5).
Eventually Steven writes a script about Steven who is a screenwriter who made it big with the scripts we saw before. He opens a Disney-like theme park based on his work featuring those characters. Still, he feels at a personal loss until he meets and is redeemed by no one less than Jesus. At this point so many subjective viewpoints have converged that I can't tell you at what layer number we're on (6? 7? 8?) but what I can tell you is that we're in front of some epic inner-connected complex at the level of Borges or Philip K. Dick. As cool, objective, and deadpan in tone & presentation as Crime Wave is, it throws in everything including the kitchen sink (police chases, serial killers, rat infestations, chemical disasters, and so forth). Still, I don't want to give people the wrong impression here. Crime Wave is not a puzzle, nor is it at all confusing or hard to get, it has a straight-forward plot that simply involves a lot of episodes with differing sketch material that, as a whole, ends up covering a lot of ground. If the film has any sort of theme beyond the fun, Crime Wave is ironic about & mocks the lengths people will go through to become successful.
Consciously or unconsciously, many have borrowed from Paiz: Lynch in Mulholland Drive, Maddin in Dracula (his "From the East" a direct crib of Paiz's "From the North"), The Coen Brothers in Barton Fink, and Abel Ferrera in Bad Lieutenant (whose main character is also redeemed meeting Jesus). And yet, Paiz, the funniest & most imaginative filmmaker to come out of Canada next to Maddin and Norman McLaren, is but a minor cult figure. Why such injustice? Both he and his great Canadian cult film comedy deserve a much wider audience & recognition.
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