” Crispin Glover confounds and enthralls
When the credits rolled on It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE, and Erin P. and I absorbed what we had just witnessed (including, among other things, a man with cerebral palsy receiving oral sex from a woman in a leg brace before running over her neck with his wheelchair and killing her), I turned to her and said, “you know, that was way less disturbing than his last movie.”
What is It?, part one of Crispin Hellion Glover’s “It Trilogy,” featured an X-rated dreamscape of Down Syndrome, snail executions and naked girls in animal masks—Dali with boobs. It is Fine! also takes place in a dream world—the more reality-based (I guess?) but equally fantastic mind of writer/star Steven C. Stewart, the aforementioned palsy sufferer who plays Paul, the film’s protagonist.
The film essentially plays out as the lifelong frustrations of a man trapped in his own body and, I’m guessing, unable to find love throughout a lifetime of being ignored by the opposite sex. We see Paul’s existence through his own eyes, and as his fantasy opens at a dinner party where he sits ignored in a corner as revelers dance the night away, we immediately sympathize with his condition (even if we never truly understand what he’s saying; Paul’s strained, near-incomprehensible speech is never subtitled). But it’s at this party that Paul meets the first of a string of women he encounters during the course of the film — all of which mysteriously understand him perfectly (and incredibly, as the film progresses, the audience begins to understand him as well).
When this first woman rebuffs Paul’s marriage proposal after a few dates, he kills her in a rage. This leads to a sex/murder spree that constitutes the majority of the film, playing out like some strangely misogynistic revenge fantasy against every woman who’s ever rejected or even ignored both Paul the character and Stewart the screenwriter. It’s sloppily plotted in spots — story lines involving a pair of inept detectives investigating the first murder and a wheelchair-bound potential victim who escapes by canceling their date are simply dropped with no resolution — but what’s amazing is that Paul’s character is able to evoke sympathy even when the audience knows he’s plotting another death.
Despite the baffling sympathy evoked for a man acting out creepy murder fantasies, the primary feeling provoked by It is Fine! is one of discomfort. Yes, there’s plenty of sex and nudity, most of it involving Stewart. And while the knee-jerk reaction is to scream “exploitation!” at the use of the handicapped in this manner, it’d be foolish to argue that, since the man in question wrote the damn movie. “In fact, I sometimes wonder if I was the one being exploited,” Glover said during the (interminable) Q&A.
As uncomfortable as the film was, though, it was trumped by the seemingly endless Q&A. Did I mention it was long? It was long, thanks to several anecdotes that flew wildly off-course before Glover would say “but to get back to your question” about ten minutes after it was asked (no, that’s not hyperbole). By 10:20 (about 50 minutes after the film ended), the number of bowed heads in seats signaled collective near-exhaustion. Still, while rambling, Glover’s stories and opinions on film making and the movie biz were genuinely fascinating.
Perhaps the most entertaining portion of the night was the Big Slide Show, during which Glover read from a series of re-purposed books with a delirious energy that was absorbed by the audience. Books titled Rat Catching, Concrete Inspection, Round My House and The Backward Swing were built from 19th-century books Glover had acquired and transmogrified by blacking out passages, handwriting his own additions, and supplying photographs.
Even when no one knew what the hell Glover was talking about, it was still wildly entertaining, with no uncomfortable blowjob scenes to power through. Glover explained the reading as a nod to Vaudeville, speculating that with the increased quality of home theaters, live Vaudeville-style variety shows could make a comeback (and based on the rising popularity of variety shows like Milwaukee’s own Mondo Lucha, I’d say the theory has merit).
The final chapter in the “It Trilogy,” It is Mine, will apparently begin production at the end of Glover’s current tour. As occasionally disturbing as a night with Crispin Hellion Glover can be, there’s no way I’m going to miss it.