As has been discussed before, the Bloor has become a relevant location for the local community of film buffs, but to Torontoist it feels like it’s never been as obvious as during the Edgar Wright–curated film season The Wright Stuff.
Currently in town preparing to shoot Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, British director Wright—who began his career in TV before making an impact on the international stage with his “zom-rom-com” Shaun of the Dead and then the Bad Boys II/Point Break–inspired Hot Fuzz—has taken time out of his busy schedule to programme a blistering series of films that we hope you’ve been able to check out. Starting with a double-bill of his own films, Wright has taken us through cult classics such as The Warriors and forgotten treasure like Busby Berkley’s Dames in a cleverly selected series of Sunday night screenings, making sure to throw in the odd curveball, such as the riotously violent Riki-Oh and the wildly trippy Monkees vehicle Head.
In preparation for the upcoming Spaced marathon—a screening of all fourteen episodes of his seminal Channel 4 TV show created with Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (née Stevenson), starting at 5 p.m. on Sunday—we had a chance to sit down with a very tired Wright after the Head screening held on Saturday, March 14 for a conversation, discussing the films he’s shown and will be showing, Spaced, zombie flicks, and Canadian cinema.
Torontoist: How was seeing Head on the big screen?
Edgar Wright: Great—that’s the second time I’ve seen it on the big screen, actually; I did a showing of it in LA and after did a Q&A with Mickey Dolenz. It’s so great to see it that way—it’s so much a representation of the time it was made—and it’s a great way to introduce it to people who’ve never seen it before.
You’re preparing to show Spaced at the Bloor. Could you have ever imagined showing it in cinemas across the world when making it?
Over the last couple of years we’ve done marathons in London and we did a small press tour to promote the DVD in the US, but that was nine years after it was first on TV—this September it will be ten years!
It’s possible that simply because it wasn’t that big a hit at the time that it’s started to resonate louder and louder with people—the wider audience haven’t had a chance to get sick of it. It’s really nice that the success of our films [Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz] were on their own right, and that the show started to take off as a result. I’m still really proud of it, so it’s nice to share it with an audience here.
When was it that you started to notice it was becoming popular in North America?
When we did the Shaun of the Dead press tour in 2004 there was always at least one person at every Q&A—in every city that we went to, including Toronto—that would be a Spaced fan. We’d always be asked to sign the UK version of the DVDs. It wasn’t everyone in the audience, but there was definitely a hardcore ten percent that would ask us about it, particularly if we were going to release the DVDs over here.
It started to become clear to us that there was already a cult following for the show, so when we released the Region 1 DVD we put new extras on it in tribute. It was so great to get it released here too; it took about four years just to clear all of the music.
Spaced is so personal to Simon, Jess, and I. It was made in the area of London we lived—we all lived in North London, as did our producer, and it was like shooting in our own back garden almost—though in fact one of the very first scenes is filmed directly outside my apartment of the time. The same as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, all the things I’ve worked on are very personal to me in some ways, and about places that are very dear to me.
How did you come to be working on this film series with the Bloor?
Well, I’ve done similar things in LA and London—in LA I took over the New Beverly for a while—and when I came here last year for some location scouting [Bloor programmer] Peter [Kuplowsky] bumped into me and asked if I was interested.
This series has been particularly great because a lot of the cast and crew on Scott Pilgrim have come along, and I’ve been able to show them films that I love and have had an influence on me, and even better share them with a crowd. No matter how many times you’ve seen a film it’s best to see it with a crowd—especially when showing films that people haven’t seen, like last week showing The Wanderers before a screening of The Warriors. It wasn’t like the Bloor was full or anything, but many of the people who had come out had never seen it, and it was amazing that they all walked out blown away by how good it was, so much so that it probably overshadowed the film that followed it.
We wouldn’t say it blew away The Warriors, which is one of our favourites, but it was certainly interesting.
The Warriors is fantastic. It has that great premise and structure—and so interesting in terms of the way it was made, with such a lack of extras or cars on the street. Watching it on the big screen the other night was the first time I’d personally seen it that way, and it was such a great way to figure out the ways they made it—thinking about the introduction Frank Marshall sent us for the screening where he said it took thirty-two long nights to make and thinking about how tough a shooting schedule of entirely night shoots would be in 1970s New York!
But The Wanderers is such a great film—much more of a coming of age story.
The Wanderers has some really interesting genre trappings though, such as the “Duckie Boys” gang swarm at the end which made the whole thing feel like a zombie film.
I love the Duckie Boys—that’s one of my favourite bits of the film. There’s a little bit in Hot Fuzz that didn’t quite make it into the finished film where the “hoodied youths” were more clearly modelled on the Duckie Boys. I’d always be saying to Simon about how much I loved them.
I didn’t program any zombie films because the funny thing about zombie films—and people always ask me about them, new ones that are coming out and what I think about them—is that with few exceptions I don’t really watch them anymore. Making a zombie film is like loving chocolate cake and then eating nothing but for a month. You never want to eat it again.
Did you get a chance to watch Dead Set?
No I haven’t, and that’s shocking because Charlie Brooker is a friend of mine—yet I haven’t been able to see it. I’ve been away for a lot of the year and he sent a copy to my office and I haven’t been back to pick it up…I’ve heard it’s brilliant, but with very few exceptions I treat zombie films the way a reformed heroin addict treats heroin—I do my best to stay away.
Back to your original point, though: it must feel especially gratifying to share films with people who’ve never seen them.
Absolutely. I brought a whole bunch of people myself tonight who’ve never seen Head and you can’t undersell it. You say to people, “this film is crazy!” and they say, “Okay—show me crazy!” and after they admit, “yep…that film was crazy!”
It’s certainly not the kind of film we’d recommend as a “drug movie.”
No, it’s almost like the film is already paced like a trip to begin with. It has its highs and lows until you come out the other side, but there are these dark and deep moments where you’re on the cusp of what you think might be a “bad trip.”
How did you discover these films?
A lot of them are ones that I stayed up late to watch on TV, and something like Busby Berkley’s Dames is something I would always have been aware of but as an adult have returned to, to fill in the gaps in my knowledge as a filmmaker. When I saw that in particular I was blown away and knew we had to try and get a print to show, because when else are you going to see it on the big screen?
I mean, the last twenty minutes of Dames is just astonishing. It’s as good as any Michel Gondry video—in fact you see how many of Berkley’s tricks, created over seventy years ago, are still used in music videos and how sophisticated they were originally.
Riki-Oh is another example of a film that no one could ever talk up enough. I really can’t remember how I first heard of it—it might have been something as simple seeing the cover in a video store and a quote on it being enough to juice me up for it—but it is one of those films that never ever disappoints.
I’ve had this theory about film that I’ve been developing, which is that there’s no such thing as bad films, only boring ones. No film that’s incident-packed can really be bad. It’s only when you’re bored or confused that a film has failed. I don’t think Riki-Oh is even a bad film anymore…
We don’t think Riki-Oh was bad to begin with!
Well I think when I first saw it, I thought to myself, “Oh my god, this is the new Plan 9!” but I started to come round to the idea it was awesome. And seeing it with a crowd was amazing.
It had more reach than we would have thought, too, because the old lady who owns the Bloor—
Oh yeah! She came up to me afterwards and told me how good she thought it was.
Yeah, she offered us some popcorn during the screening and then sat down and laughed her head off during an especially violent section.
How have these very different films personally inspired you?
They’ve all been inspirational in their own way—after all, I’d call them all some of my favourite films. I’d explain this screening series best in terms of that I can’t cook, so programming my favourite films for other people to enjoy is like cooking the audience a delicious meal.
One lesson I’ve learned though from this series is to always make sure the first film is longer than the second—or rather that the second is shorter than the first.
One of the screenings we’re most excited for is the Toronto double-bill, with Cronenberg’s The Brood and McKellar’s Last Night.
Absolutely. Don McKellar was here tonight actually. Last Night was a pretty little-known film in the UK—it can’t have opened on more than a couple of screens—and I saw it while we were writing Shaun of the Dead. It was something I watched with Simon and I remember talking about it during the Shaun of the Dead press tour while here and McKellar read about that so the next time I was here—for Land of the Dead—he got in touch. Last Night is a great film and really underrated.
Did you watch any other locally set films in preparation for filming here?
Not this year! Pretty much the only free time I’ve had I’ve spent here at the Bloor. I haven’t managed to catch any recent Canadian films and I’m pretty sorry about that.
Well, I know it’s a zombie film but there is Pontypool…
Oh yeah, one of our producers on Scott Pilgrim worked on Pontypool, and I’ve met Bruce McDonald a couple of times so I really want to see it. It’s a zombie film I’ll make the exception for.
One last thing….Have you seen a film called The Room?
I have! I’ve seen it two or three times. There’s a contingent, largely LA-based, which is all obsessed with The Room. Kristin Bell, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and actually Michael Cera are all obsessed with it. It’s an amazing film—I watched it at Christmas with a bunch of friends actually.
All images from Edgar Wright‘s photostream.