Tag Archives: John Paizs


Director , best known for his Canadian cult comedy Crime Wave (in which a silent screenwriter played by the director struggles to pen the ultimate “colour crime” movie in his quest to reach “the Top!”), graciously agreed to answer some questions for 366 Weird Movies about his homegrown Winnipeg masterpiece and other topics.

Questions from Gregory J. Smalley:

You, , and now are all Winnipeg natives, and all of you make movies that reinvent the styles of older films, with nostalgic irony but also genuine appreciation. Can we say there’s an actual “Winnipeg school” of filmmaking? If so, what brought this style about—is there something in the water in Winnipeg?

That’s a good question. Yes, it does appear to have become something of a thing regarding Winnipeg, this particular style of filmmaking. As for what brought it about, if not something in the water (which is an entirely reasonable supposition!), my next best guess would be possibly something to do with our winters. Have you ever spent a winter in Winnipeg? Though now thanks to climate change, this may never be provable, unfortunately!

What are “colour crime movies” in Crime Wave’s world? Any real-life examples of the genre you were thinking of?

Crime Wave (1985)
Behind-the-scenes photo from Crime Wave, courtesy John Paizs

The colour crime movie was simply the kind of movie that Crime Wave’s movie-maker protagonist, Steven Penny, aspired to make. Inspired by classic-era “noirs” movies, his idea was to reinvent them—supercharge them if you will—and all importantly, add colour! They were to be in colour, unlike almost all the real-life examples of the genre of course. As for any I may have been thinking of myself, none specifically. Though just last year I happened to catch one that if I had seen it back when I was first cooking up Crime Wave may very well have become key to my own inspiration. And its poster actually, coincidentally, hangs in Steven Penny’s apartment over the garage in Crime Wave! It’s a punchy little noir from 1955 called Hell’s Island. It’s packed with all the clichés of the genre, which of course we all love, and, very rare for a classic-era noir (and probably a lot closer to nonexistent at this one’s obviously a lot closer to nonexistent budget level), it’s in colour!

The protagonist of Crime Wave, Steven Penny, has no trouble writing the beginnings and endings of screenplays, but struggles with middles. So of course the obvious question is, is this an autobiographical comment?

In terms of screenplays in their totality—not just struggling with middles!—yes, very much an autobiographical comment. In fact completely. Just prior to writing Crime Wave I’d written a handful of feature-length screenplays, all of which did not work out for one reason or another. And on the night that I was sitting at my kitchen Continue reading WINNIPEG LEGEND JOHN PAIZS CHATS WITH 366

314. CRIME WAVE (1985)

AKA The Big Crimewave

“I’d always imagined that this would play at a midnight movie, kind of a cult movie and that this needed special handling. It needed to be directed at the same audiences that were going to see, for example, Lynch’s Eraserhead.”–John Paizs



FEATURING: Eva Kovacs, John Paizs, Neil Lawrie

PLOT: A young girl named Kim observes a moody boarder named Steven who has moved into the room above her parents’ garage as he attempts to write the world’s greatest “color crime movie.” As he despairs from writer’s block, she elicits the help of a Doctor C. Jolly from an ad in a trade magazine. However, the good doctor is not quite the savior Steven sets out to find.

Still from Crime Wave (1985)


  • Initially, filming took place only on weekends, as John Paizs was working for the City of Winnipeg as a traffic clerk at the time. A glimpse of his day job can be seen in Crime Wave when Kim and Steve go out on an errand during the costume party.
  • Paizs’ style evolved from the director’s technical limitations, his earlier short film efforts being shot on old equipment without any microphones. He developed a taste for narration, as it allowed him to jump around scenes without confusing the audience. (Paizs’ early short films are currently unavailable).
  • The “above the garage” character came from a previous script concerning a young man pursuing an 18-year-old girl who regresses back to 13-year-old behavior. Unhappy with the story, Paizs transplanted the character to Crime Wave, making the female lead an actual 13-year-old and knocking out the romance angle.
  • Paizs based the staccato pacing of the “beginnings and endings” on trailers for 1950s crime movies.
  • Paizs signed a distribution deal with a company who promptly ignored the film. It received no theatrical release outside of Winnipeg, and years later was dumped on VHS (retitled The Big Crime Wave to avoid confusion with Sam Raimi‘s Crimewave) without much in the way of promotion.
  • Although Paizs’ post-Crime Wave career has been slight, some might have seen his work directing segments of “The Kids in the Hall” (such as the “Mr. Heavyfoot” character). After seeing Crime Wave, the troupe’s Bruce McCulloch recruited Paizs to film standalone short segments in a similarly whimsical-surreal style.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Our narrator, Kim, often observes our hero, Steve, as he stands or sits brooding by the window above her parents’ garage. This recurring image telegraphs that something is about to change for the protagonist, while giving Crime Wave a silent movie feel. Indeed, Steve’s movements, tics, and expressions (or lack thereof) summon nothing less than a latter-day .

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Silent protagonist; streetlight head; “The Top!”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Veering between self-aware amateurism and downright surreal amateurism, John Paizs’ feature debut keeps the viewer on his back foot in an unlikely, charming way. Partially dressed as a documentary, with narration provided by a young girl, Crime Wave shows the hell of writer’s block, interspersed with clips of the breathless beginnings and endings (never middles) of the writer’s output. Its hokey upbeat tone wryly slaps you in the face, while in the background strange and occasionally sinister asides undercut the atmosphere.

Clip from Crime Wave

COMMENTS: John Paizs’ Crime Wave defies most descriptions and Continue reading 314. CRIME WAVE (1985)