Thursday, June 3, 2010
Crispin Glover, Live and In Person, New York City, Memorial Day, 2010
This whole marquee was actually just for Crispin, he is now going by "The Father of My Children, The Human Centipede: Crispin Glover".
My girlfriend and I love Crispin Glover. His nervous, awkward, bizarre charm always makes anything that he appears in more fun or more disturbing. From his brilliant, ultra-manic performance in "River's Edge" to his brilliant, ultra-manic dance moves in "Friday the 13th Part IV - The Final Chapter", to his legendary 1987 appearance on Late Night With David Letterman, the man is basically a human highlight real. He'll show up in a huge blockbuster like "Charlie's Angels" and make it way cooler just by smelling the Angel's hair (which we will talk about later.) Beyond his inspired work in movies, both major and indie, he is a truly subversive intellectual and some would even say deranged and/or brilliant artist.
I'd heard about "What Is It?" for years. A crazed art film with a cast made completely of people with developmental disabilities and Crispin. I didn't know how I felt about it. I respected Glover for making movies that nobody else would ever make in Hollywood (or elsewhere, for that matter), but I also wasn't too sure about his approach. If it was exploitative of the actor's conditions, I couldn't support it. If it was just meant to freak people out, still can't really get behind that. I decided I would never really know how I felt until I saw the film.
A few weeks ago, my girlfriend were doing a random google search for Crispin Glover, and there it was: "Crispin Hellion Glover: Appearing Live at the IFC Center, Manhattan to present "What Is It?" and "It Is Fine! Everything is Fine." We both had the day off, so we bought our tickets to see "It Is Fine!". What we got was definitely not what we expected.
A long line on a rainy Manhattan sidewalk on a sweaty Memorial Day, mostly made up of hipsters and artsy looking folk, and strangely enough some extremely drunk frat looking kids. After a long wait, we filed into the theater. The lights go down. A door near the screen opens and I catch the distinct profile of Crispin Glover. Myself and a few others that caught his profile cheer. He shouts "Welcome!" in the dark then proceeds to read six of his art books from giant projections on the screen. They are visually interesting and wild, sometimes funny, sometimes just weird and sometimes scary. This goes on for quite a while. Glover never relents in his dramatic delivery. Shouting, shaking his fists, sweat pouring off of him. He finishes. The crowd cheers, then he shouts 'Enjoy The film!'
The dramatic opening thundering classical music blares and the title credits roll. The first time we see lead character, Paul Baker, played by Steven C. Stewart, he is falling from his wheelchair, his head smacks the institutional linoleum and an old, demented looking woman stares at him. We enter his world as an orderly lifts him back into his chair. He wheels to a room where the theme music starts skipping on a record player and he stares at a picture of what we can assume is his mother.
Stewart had severe cerebral palsy and can't really communicate verbally, though he tries.
This film completely surprised me. At first, I thought it was a sympathetic view of a man with a horrible disease, but I had no idea what I was in for. This turns into a deranged, psycho-sexual serial killer film where the killer in question has severe cerebral palsy. I was incredibly disturbed as the sex killings ramped up. I couldn't help but think that Glover was a completely demented person responsible for one of the most deeply fucked up films I had ever seen. In my heart, I knew that this couldn't just be exploitative trash, but the images are so incredibly strong and deeply disturbing that I couldn't handle it at some points. I haven't covered my eyes at a film since I was 11 at 'Predator 2'. This film actually made me feel sick while I was watching it.
I was actually tempted to leave at the end of the film, but I wanted to see how Glover would explain himself. As the credits ended, Glover jumped up in the still dark theater and yelled 'Any questions?' in a somewhat sardonic tone. Everyone cheered. A Crispin Glover Q and A is more like a Q and then he rambles for about a half hour, then a Q. This technique proved to be excellent, however, because Glover completely explained the entire movie, his philosophy on art and culture, how to be an outsider while still being inside the corporately funded film industry and basically everything else that came into his impressive mind.
Turns out, this film wasn't even Glover's idea. He read the screenplay, written by Steven C. Stewart, the main actor in the film. Glover was impressed and knew that only he could make the film happen. He flew out to Salt Lake City and met with Stewart and a dynamic creative partnership was formed. Once I found this out, I wasn't as offended by the film. Stewart was an intelligent guy, a good writer, and knew exactly what was going on. Not knowing this going into the film makes it incredibly more disturbing, however. So sorry for ruining that brain-fuck for you.
From a strictly male point of view, it makes sense that a man with severe cerebral palsy would write a bunch of sex scenes with beautiful women into a film he was going to star in. It actually would make sense that any guy would write a movie starring himself the same way! Glover said that the original screenplay was 150 pages long and would have basically been a hardcore porn film. They cut the script down to fifty pages, but maintained some of the explicitness of Stewart's screenplay.
Stewart actually died one month after this film was finished. Glover said that Stewart called him one day and asked him if he was needed for the film anymore. Glover said it was a very bittersweet conversation because he knew that if he said no, Stewart would die. If he had said yes, Glover said, he would have lived as long as it would have taken him to complete the film.
Glover financed this film himself, because he thought it was important that Stewart's film be made. He knew how important this film was to Stewart and knew how little time they had to make it. Learning this made me completely respect Glover in a completely new way, one that I couldn't have predicted. He went above and beyond to help a man that had been ignored and looked down upon his entire life. Sure, the movie is sick as hell, but that's the way Stewart wanted it. That is profound.
Stewart was put into a nursing home for his entire 20s because the antiquated mental health community of the Salt Lake City of the 1960s just thought he was retarded. The fact that he couldn't express himself verbally made him a 'mongoloid' in their minds and he was locked away for a decade. Glover says that this severe mental and emotional trauma reverberates through all his work. He was a pissed off guy. Imagine being perfectly intelligent but not being able to express yourself and being held somewhere against your will for ten years. You'd be pissed as well.
Glover rambled on, and I was very impressed not only by his level of intelligence, but by his level of empathy for people that struggle outside of mainstream society. He said that he acts in big budget Hollywood films and then takes that money and does his independent art with it. For example, "It is Fine!" was financed with the money that he made on "Charlie's Angels". He completely created his villain character for that role, including the hair-smelling fetish. Steven C. Stewart had a fetish for smelling hair, which is actually one of the main themes in "It Is Fine!". He loves women with long hair, and when they tell him they will cut their hair short, he murders them. Glover said he never consciously made that a part of his character in 'Angels', but it must have been lurking in his subconscious from working with Stewart.
It was a rollercoaster of a night, confusing one minute, horrifying the next, fascinating then confusing yet again. I walked out with much more respect for Glover than I ever thought I would have. He's so much more than George McFly.
As I walked through the lobby, Crispin raced past me. I said, "Hey, Crispin!" He spun around and said "Yes?"
I said, "Hey, that was amazing."
He flashed a truly maniacal smile, his eyes alight with strange fire and said, "Thanks."
No, thank you, Crispin. A truly misunderstood genius, an outlaw auteur. These people are getting more rare by the day, so thanks for sticking to your guns, Mr. Glover.