John Paizs's Crime Wave
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By Jonathan Ball
John Paizs’s ‘Crime Wave’ examines the Winnipeg filmmaker’s 1985 cult film as an important example of early postmodern cinema and as a significant precursor to subsequent postmodern blockbusters, including the much later Hollywood film Adaptation. Crime Wave’s comic plot is simple: aspiring screenwriter Steven Penny, played by Paizs, finds himself able to write only the beginnings and endings of his scripts, but never (as he puts it) “the stuff in-between.” Penny is the classic writer suffering from writer’s block, but the viewer sees him as the (anti)hero in a film told through stylistic parody of 1940s and 50s B-movies, TV sitcoms, and educational films.
In John Paizs’s ‘Crime Wave,’ writer and filmmaker Jonathan Ball offers the first book-length study of this curious Canadian film, which self-consciously establishes itself simultaneously as following, but standing apart from, American cinematic and television conventions. Paizs’s own story mirrors that of Steven Penny: both find themselves at once drawn to American culture and wanting to subvert its dominance. Exploring Paizs’s postmodern aesthetic and his use of pastiche as a cinematic technique, Ball establishes Crime Wave as an overlooked but important cult classic.