Sunday, November 20, 2011


And hey, check this out! Yesterday's post about the Dragnet finger puppets actually made it to the front page of the popular website Buzzfeed, which links to cool and interesting stuff on the Internet. Did it generate any traffic to this site? No, not really. But it's an honor just to be nominated. Here's a screenshot to prove it happened:

But enough of that! Today, I want to talk to you about Canada's greatest director. Ivan Reitman? Nope. James Cameron? He wishes! Atom Egoyan? Try again. I'm thinking of... JOHN PAIZS!

"Who's John Paizs?" you say.

This is John Paizs right over here.

Born in 1957 in Winnipeg, John Paizs is the writer, director, and star of the darkly surreal meta-comedy Crime Wave, a.k.a. The Big Crime Wave (1985), a film I'd probably count as my favorite of the 1980s and a serious contender for my favorite of all time. Describing this movie is an probably an impossible task, but I'll try it anyway. Paizs plays Steven Penny, a struggling young filmmaker whose last, government-backed movie bombed and who now wants to break into the glamorous world of "color crime moviemaking." Apparently broke, he rents a room over a garage from a suburban family, the Browns, and starts to work on his next script -- a "color crime" epic to be titled Crime Wave. Trouble is, he can think of beginnings and endings for Crime Wave but not middles. ("Middles are hard to think of, as every scriptwriter knows," says one song on the soundtrack.) Time and again, Steven seems on the verge of collapse, but the Browns' young daughter Kim (Eva Kovacs) becomes Steven's #1 fan and cheering section and encourages him to keep going. Through Kim's well-meaning interference, Steven comes into contact with the sinister Dr. Jolly (Neil Lawrie), a supposed "script doctor" (and medical doctor) who is also a homicidal maniac.

Those are the broad outlines of the plot, but they barely begin to describe Crime Wave, a movie which seems composed of equal parts Blue Velvet and Sesame Street. The movie is narrated by -- and mainly told from the perspective of -- young Kim Brown, and there are plenty of dream and fantasy sequences along the way, including supposed deleted scenes from the many, many unfinished versions of Crime Wave. Here, for instance, is the film's opening sequence. At this point in its development, Steven Penny's Crime Wave is going to be about the seedy underbelly of celebrity impersonation:

Later, after many script revisions, Crime Wave is about the seedy underbelly of direct home sales:

And so it goes.

Crime Wave should have been the first of many, many features for John Paizs, but he only made two more full-length films, the 1999 sci-fi comedy Invasion and a 2005 made for TV movie called Marker. Paizs did some TV directing for Canadian series like Maniac Mansion and The Kids in the Hall before winding up as a Director in Residence at the Canadian Film Centre. Sadly, Crime Wave is tied up in rights issues and is not currently available on DVD. But on the bright side, some of Paizs' early short films have been posted to You Tube and are well worth watching.

The International Style (excerpt) (1983)

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