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Crime Wave

(AKA Big Crime Wave) 1985, Starring John Paizs, Eva Kovacs, Bob Coultier, Darrell Baran, Donna Fullingham. Directed by John Paizs.

One of the best known and respected Canadian "cult" films, Crime Wave carries on in the unabashedly Canadian tradition of Goin' Down The Road, while providing the viewer with an experience entirely outside traditional mainstream Canadian film.

Crime Wave stars its director John Paizs as Steven Penny, a young filmmaker who is trying to make a "colour crime movie" called Crime Wave. Only he can't come up with the middle of the film, just variations on the beginning and ending. Steven is obsessed with colour crime, and filmmaking. He reads Colour Crime Quarterly magazine, and has posters in his room for 1950s B-movies like Teenage Crime Wave, Outside The Law and Stolen Face.

The movie is narrated by Kim, the little girl of a family that rents Steven a room above their garage. Steven teaches Kim different things about colour crime movies. He shows her his Bolex camera, explains why he only writes by streetlight, and plays her an audio tape which captured the sound of a camera that he borrowed from the NFB being run over by a car. In return, Kim tries to help Steven with making his movie.

The real treat in this film are the beginnings and endings of Steven's movies, which we get to see acted out. His first "beginning and ending" is the life of an Elvis impersonator named Ronny Boyle, trying to break into the "tribute racket." This version ends with Ronny's untimely death, thrown from his convertible into a wooden pole. The second mini-drama stars Skip and Dawn Holiday, two Allway distributor up-and-comers. While trying to sell air spray to their neighbours, Dawn is caught rifling through a customer's bathroom drawers. Skip and Dawn kill their customers, and escape. In Steven's ending, the two are taken down by police at an Allway awards ceremony. The third "beginning and ending" is about Stanley Falco, a young man trying to rule the self-help book industry by hitting his head on the floor. As it ends, he is still hitting his head. Crippled by self-doubt and depression, Steven is unable to write a complete screen play. The middles that Steven writes for these colour crime movie always end up in the garbage, but Kim has been sneaking them up to her room to read.

Just when Steven is about to give up, Kim sees an ad in Colour Crime Quarterly for a Texas screen writer named Dr Jolly looking to collaborate on a film script. Kim sends off a letter for Steven, and in return gets a bus ticket and some advice from the doctor: "Middles need twists!" Steven leaves Kim to meet Dr Jolly and write some middles, but Dr Jolly has some plans of his own for Steven, and it begins to look like Crime Wave will never be written.

Kim's narration gives Crime Wave a NFB documentary feel, and like many other Canadian films released in the mid-1980s, Crime Wave gently satirizes popular culture. The film is about the plight of the independent Canadian film as much as it is one. Although Steven is having difficulty with his screenplay, his trip to meet Dr Jolly in the United States is a bad experience that almost ruins him. Could this be Paizs wish for a Canadian film industry divorced from the corrupting influence of the USA?

It's hard to resist the pure earnest (and Canadian) fun of Crime Wave. The ending may not be satisfying for everyone, in the same way that the end of Repo Man slightly betrays the previous action. Regardless, this is truly one of the best Canadian movies I have come to enjoy, and should be viewed by everyone interested in Canadian film.

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