An Interview with Crispin Glover
by Rick Levin
Actor/director Crispin Glover is in Eugene
Nov. 19-21 for a three-night stand at the Bijou Art Cinemas. He’s screening the first two films of his It trilogy, What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE., as well as performing “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show.” The following is an interview Glover gave to EW.
What can folks expect from your appearance at the Bijou in Eugene? Do you consider this a multimedia event, or how would you describe it?
The books [presented in “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show”] are taken from old books from the 1800s that have been changed into different books from what they originally were. When I first started publishing the books in 1987, people said I should have book readings. But the books are so heavily illustrated and the way the illustrations are used within the books, they help 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 1992 I started performing what I used to call “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Side Show.” People get confused as to what that is, so now I always let it be known that it is a one-hour dramatic narration of eight different, profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years.
How would you describe yourself as an artist? Obviously, the terms maverick, renegade and independent have all been bandied about in the press. Does it bother you to be called eccentric?
I do not mind playing unusual characters, and in fact I tend towards being drawn to them. There is a pattern that can have adverse effects in the long run on business if [you’re] playing a certain type of character repeatedly. If I wish to address that in any way, it would be important for me in my own next films to play characters if I wish to respond to any concern I have about perception in my own way, as opposed to attempting to rectify this by utilizing the corporately funded and distributed film industry to figure out what is be best for me to play. It is probably the best policy for me to act in the films that are offered to me and fund my own films with that money.
Much has been made, and I’m sure critics have been divided, about the issue of using actors with Down syndrome in the films. How would you weigh in on this debate? Is it your intention to shock your audience or to make the viewer uncomfortable?
Most of the actors in What is it? have Down syndrome, but the film is not about Down syndrome at all. The actors in the film are not necessarily playing characters that have Down syndrome. It was and is extremely important to me that all of the actors in the film were and are treated respectfully. What is it? is my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in filmmaking — 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 themselves, “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 to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in its 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. 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 this culture’s film/media content.
Steve [screenwriter Steven C. Stewart, who died within a month after filming on It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. was completed] had been locked in a nursing home for about 10 years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy, and he was very difficult to understand. People who 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.
Martin Scorsese has called graphic sex film’s last taboo, on the heels of depictions of graphic violence. How do you feel about this? Do you see your work as pushing or transgressing barriers and taboos?
There is graphic sexuality in both What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE., but that graphic sexuality specifically has to do with Steven C. Stewart’s character in his screenplay. Then when I wrote him in to What is it? to make what was originally going to be a short film become a feature film — his original screenplay was to become a sequel of sorts to What is it? — it was important to cross that particular taboo barrier before getting to his film. This way by the time It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. was made and shown to people, the graphic sexuality taboo had already been crossed in the prequel, and the true beauty and essence of Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay would shine through.
Could you elaborate/describe your collaboration with director David Brothers and screenwriter Steven C. Stewart?
We had two directors working on It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE., and although David and I tended to work in areas that we specialized in, there always was a cross communication and strong influence from each of us on all aspects of making the film. Steve Stewart was a great spirit and loved to act and be around people. He is of course the main reason the film exists, and everyone working on the film could feel that there was something very important being communicated. As difficult as it was to understand Steve’s speech sometimes, ultimately he was a great communicator.
The bits of What Is It? I’ve seen have that dreamlike/nightmarish quality that brings to mind the plays of Ionesco, the poetry of Antonin Artaud and surrealist directors like Lynch and Buñuel. What are your influences? How would you describe your filmmaking?
There are many filmmakers that have inspired me, but four filmmakers I was very consciously thinking a lot about while I was making part one of the IT trilogy. These four were Luis Buñuel, Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Stanley Kubrick. That is not to say there are no other filmmakers that I thought about while making that film, as I am sure there were, but those four very much.
What is it?, It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. and “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show” appear in a different lineup each night at 8:30 pm Nov. 19-21 at the Bijou. A Q&A and booksigning follow each event. Check www.crispinglover.com and www.bijou-cinemas.com for schedules, times and further information. $20 each night.