Q & A with Crispin Glover
To a certain generation, he will always be George McFly, the affable geek who had us at “you’re my density.” To the rest of us, Crispin Glover is something else entirely. A prolific actor, writer, performance artist and musician, he’s produced more than a few cult gems over the years and even managed to add a layer of intrigue to a handful of glossy, pre-packaged blockbusters. In the meantime, he’s used his successes to fund the creation and (self)distribution of several experimental films and works on paper.
In 2007, he came to The Times Cinema with What is It?, the first film in his “It” trilogy. He’s back on the road with the second film It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE, which screens in conjunction with Crispin Glover’s Big Slide Show tomorrow night at the Oriental Theatre.
He was kind enough to chat with me about the his films, why audiences should always question what they see on screen and the concept of creative control in the modern age of film. I still can’t believe he replied to my email.
I am very careful to make it quite clear that What is it? is not a film about Down Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised, or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks “Is this right what I am watching? Is this wrong what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?” — and that is the title of the film. What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in it’s media?
It is a bad thing when questions are not being asked, because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. Not being able to ask questions lead towards a non educational experience. This stupefies this culture. So What is it? is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media.
It is Fine…is based off an original screenplay by the film’s lead actor. How did you get involved with Steven C. Stewart?
Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I put Steve in to the cast of What is it? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned What is it? from a short film in to a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven’s screenplay dealt with. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.” short for “mental retard.” This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence.
When he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography. As soon as I had read [the screenplay], I knew I had to produce the film.
What has the audience response been to your films?
The films deal with taboo subject matter and there can be strong debate and discussion about the subject matter, which was expected. I have happily welcomed and been somewhat surprised by the amount of positive press and reviews both the films have received in the corporate media entities that have written about and reviewed the films.
Spontaneous discussions and even arguments sometimes erupt amongst audience members with each other during the Q&A session. I consider this to be positive, as it means people are having strong, thoughtful reactions to the film. For the most part people come up to me with extremely positive thoughts about both the films.
Your distribution of these films is very organic – you’ve literally taken the show on the road. Why not just follow the traditional distribution model?
I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in when Steven C. Stewart’s lung collapsed in 2000. This was around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. I realized with the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in an lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months.
After Charlie’s Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do.
Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not doing something that I personally find interesting with the character, then I can console myself that with the money I am making and can help to fund my own films. Usually though, I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well!
The benefits are that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It can be enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterward. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary.
Tell me about “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show”
These are hour-long live dramatic narrations of eight different books (Part I) or six different books (Part II) which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them.
The books are from the 1800’s that have been changed from what they originally were. They are illustrated with original drawings, reworked images and photographs. When I first started publishing the books in 1987 people said I should have readings. But they are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books helps to tell the story, so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visual representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while, but in 1993 I started performing what I used to call “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show.”
What do you think people will take away from your films? What do you want people to take away?
What Steve reveals in his film I do not know exactly. He was of normal intelligence but there was a certain naïve quality to his script writing as he had spent much of his life as a shut-in. This was part of the beauty of his screenplay. There are mysteries I will never know because I did not get the chance to ask him. As much as I would like to know, there is something about the film that remains alive for me because of these mysteries.
Steve really liked acting. In many ways, he is more of a natural born actor than I am. There was something true that was being expressed, and he somehow knew instinctively what to do. His acting is excellent in the film and he of course had written this fantasy for himself to play out, so no matter what there is a documentation of this man living his fantasy, but his performance works extremely effectively on a dramatic/organic level as well. The thing I am happiest about is that the emotional element that was there from the very first time I read the screenplay is there in the film.
I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made. I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out. I feel It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career.
It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE will screen at the Oriental Theatre on Thursday, April 22 at 8 p.m., preceded by Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show and followed by a Q&A with the man himself. For more info, go to Crispin Glover’s website.