John Paizs' 'Crime Wave' Review
John Paizs’ Crime Wave is a stellar example of lost cinema - with rare VHS copies only available at the hidden corners of the internet and that DVD copies are becoming finite, the hidden gem has been consistently unavailable in the UK since release. Matchbox Cineclub digs up this lost treasure, a bizarre Canadian cult-comedy, with more to dissect than you could ever expect. Crime Wave is a celebration of ‘50s television montage, vintage style commercialism, with a bold comic book influence and the kookiness we cherish from the B-movie sphere.
The movie is narrated by Kim, a young girl who becomes fascinated by “colour crime movie” writer Steven Penny - her parents’ lodger who rents out their garage. She collects all of Steven’s discarded scripts, viewing him as a celebrity and a tortured, failed screenwriter in the same breath. They become friends as she tries to pull him out of his own self-doubt and crippling writers block, believing that he is destined for success. While Steven becomes consumed by the characters he has written, ranging from: a struggling Elvis-impersonator, a Bonnie and Clyde style door-to-door sales couple, and a masochistic self-help guru; Kim organises a meeting for Steven through an advertisement for a writing collaboration, with Dr Jolly, a sadistic serial killer.
Crime Wave is a film that is primarily written through an amplified disarray of hyperbolic styles. It manages to adopt the cheesiness of B-movie thrillers, the farcicality of advertisement and game show culture, the informative undertones of educational video, and the comic-book style segments that add cartoonesque nonchalance to the dark elements of Paizs’ script. Crime Wave is almost like kinesthetic Gummo; much like Korine’s film, the eccentric characters seem like drawings that have come to life from a graphic novel in the backdrop of the eccentric suburbs that are never quite what they seem to be. And like Korine, Paizs’ use of non-professional actors illuminates the home-movie feel that gives Paizs a non-wavering, controlled authorship - like Steven’s thoughts that have fallen from the sky and operate as an almost tangent universe within the Winnipeg suburb.
Paizs’ Crime Wave is a deeply intelligent piece of filmmaking that works on an almost metaphysical level, from the existential struggles of Steven as a writer to the celebratory, non-linear filmmaking of Paizs that unravels in a segmented format. It seems to challenge cinematic formula through the story-arcs of the script to the self-reflective metaphors we can infer from Paizs’ own experience with the peaks and pitfalls of the creative process, and the attention deficits that serve to break down the spirit of creators trying to find out where the fit in in the world (as well as in their own head). It is predominantly a film that serves to be relatable, reflexive, and above all, radical. Unlike the character of Steven Penny - the middle-ground of screenwriting does not elude John Paizs. He has managed to construct the perfect premise, middle, and conclusion: with a message that resonates through film culture holistically - the more we try and conform to outlined templates, the more we lose the child-like creativity that make our stories unique and introspectively driven.
The core of Crime Wave is an acknowledgement, a homage and a celebration of independent film that exists worlds apart from our typical art-house Sundance flicks. The influence of Crime Wave can be observed through the fusion between reality and creative psychosis in von Trier’s Epidemic, the oddball parade of Korine’s Gummo and the dream-scape of Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. And, for a small independent lost gem, it is time to fully appreciate its value in modern cinema, and also as a tribute to the whimsicality and the flexibility of the dark comedy genre.
‘Steph’s Words on Cinema’ is a newsletter which focuses on reviewing independent, experimental and art-house films. It is free so please do subscribe and share. I also write for Take One Cinema, Eye For Film and my twitter handle is @stephpbrown_