Step Right Up! A Conversation with Crispin Hellion Glover
What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE, accompanied by live slideshows, Q&A and book signings
September 5-7 at IFC Center, New York, and subsequent tour
Actor/Director Crispin Hellion Glover (best known for playing the most eccentric roles in mainstream Hollywood including George “Get your damn hands off her!” McFly in “Back to the Future”, the Thin Man in “Charlie’s Angels”, Grendel in “Beowulf” and the Knave of Hearts in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” oh and yes, yes, he’s the guy who almost kicked Letterman in the face…) steadfastly continues his vaudeville- style tour performing as his most idiosyncratic character…himself! On each evening, Glover personally presents one of two feature films (“What is it?” and “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” both considered part of the “It” trilogy though either stand alone just fine on their own) alongside a slide show presentation, critical Q&A and book signing.
Both films have received a great deal of ancillary attention due to their graphic and confrontational subject matter (including racism, self destruction, sexually aggressive tendencies and fetishistic urges), bold imagery (swastikas, black face, oral and manual sex performed for and by the handicapped and Charles Manson) and choice of cast, a majority being disabled actors with Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and amputations. But casting actors with these conditions eased (or at least distracted) some of the tension away in both films and allowed for the seemingly guileless characters to unabashedly talk about the elephant in the room that most corporately supported films would try to avoid. Since both films are independently funded by Glover, the director had the liberty to react instead of pander to the corporate restraints imposed on modern film and dive into one of our culture’s most “taboo” subject matters.
I caught up with the aberrant auteur to put a few questions regarding his cinematic feat.
You are such a showman! I love the vaudevillian aspect of the Glover experience. Other than the amazingly comfortable chairs, why did you choose a venue like IFC to host your event rather than say, a space at Coney Island or an art gallery/museum?
Thank you! This will be my fourth time showing at the IFC. I have a comfortable association with them. If other venues wish to book me they can do so by contacting booking@CrispinGlover.com. People erroneously believe that I choose venues and then book those venues. Generally venues contact me and then I go to them. I have played in many museums, which I enjoy greatly. It is very important that the venue has a 35 mm projection system as my films are 35 mm prints. I am open to playing in almost any place that has good 35 mm projection.
Is the film component the main attraction or are all parts integral to each other?
I have been performing two different specific performances alongside the two specific feature films that then have a Q &A that follows each, followed by a book signing. The live aspect of the shows is not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater… For “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show” I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800’s that have been changed into different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs…
The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed.
In the future, will you ever show one without the other or do they always need to hold hands?
In this economy it seems like touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films. There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements….It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to be under-estimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. Both Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 1 and 2 are now set shows that do not vary. That being said there is an element of my own energy that will play a part on how either show is performed from night to night… They key is if the structure of the show itself works… Every once in a while there can be a technical problem that has to be dealt with and the audience actually always enjoys the aspect of “the show must go on!”
Critics and fans have welcomed you into the upper echelons of creative critical thinkers such as photographer Diane Arbus and filmmaker Werner Herzog – two names that frequently hover around yours. At some point, even the most beauteous must feel like the hunched over giant in Arbus’ work (Jewish Giant, taken at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970) trying to assimilate into an oftentimes ill fitting world. And many can empathize with the comical outsiders who fumble haphazardly in search of transcendence in Herzog’s films. What facets of your own characters are relatable to the mass? How important, overall, is it for your characters and/or your work to be understood and identified with by the populace?
I believe humans are a naturally curious species and when it comes to it anything that has questions or that can cause questions is something that humans in general will be attracted to. My interest is to make films that cause questions or thoughts.
I am very careful to make it quite clear that What is it? is not a film about Down’s 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 to their self “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 is it that is taboo in the culture? 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 because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So What is it? is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.
You’ve discussed the benefits of using actors with Down’s syndrome to play characters in your film. What are your feelings on genetic testing for Down’s syndrome and recent aggressive scientific research to predetermine those with genetic “imperfections”?
Science and the understanding of how the human body functions and the universe around us is an important thing. It is up to the culture how it implements it’s laws regarding science. I believe one can argue almost any moral standpoint almost equally as well as the other. The sensitivity of this issue is not up to me. I had a great time working with all the actors in What is it? including all the actors with Down’s Syndrome. They are all great people.
You talk about your work as a psychological reaction to corporate media and how it has influenced culture – your work seems to not only be a humorous reflection of this but also an aggrieved backlash. How does humor play a part in indignant resistance?
I am glad you know there is humor. Humor definitely helps to sooth information, concepts or thoughts that can be be difficult for some to deal with. When a human laughs they feel a part of something if there is a laugh accompanied with new information or concepts then the person who is laughing about this new concept/information has truly ingested that concept and information.
Has corporate media also altered our instinctive desire?
Corporate funded and distributed media’s goal is to alter the desire of people in order to serve the interests of the corporations that are funding the media.
And a heartfelt side note regarding 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. 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”… 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…. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. 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 the year 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 am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film and also produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made…
I am very proud of the film as I am of What is it? 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.
People who are interested in when I will be back should join up on the e mail list at CrispinGlover.com as they will be emailed with information as to where I will be where with whatever film I tour with. It is by far the best way to know how to see the films.