Today as I sat in the hotel lobby waiting for my interview with Crispin Glover I thought about all the films I'd seen him in over the years. I'd been a big fan since River's Edge and was a little nervous about meeting him in person. I had no idea what to expect.
Sure, I'd heard a number of stories over the years, the usual celebrity slam, but I've always preferred to come to my own conclusions about people.
I found him smart, focused, sensitive, and interesting.
tV: Can you tell us a little about your show?
CG: There are two different films that I'll be showing: Part 1 “What is it?” on Saturday, and then Part 2 “It is Fine” on Friday and Sunday. I perform different live shows before the films: Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 1 (Friday and Saturday) and then Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 2 I'll be performing on Sunday.
I have many different heavily illustrated books of which the images will be projected behind me as I dramatically narrate them. Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 1 I've been performing since 1993. There are eight different books and it's an hour long performance. Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 2 I've been still working on and performing more recently but it's starting to be right.
I had taken old books from the 1800s and reworked them and turned them into different books from what they originally were and heavily illustrated them. When I started publishing the books in 1988 people would tell me I should have a book reading, but because the books are so heavily illustrated it made sense to have the illustrations projected behind me. Ever since I performed it it's gone very well.
There's a small film festival in Olympia Washington that had a retrospect of the work I'd done up to that point and they brought me up there. I thought, oh this will be the right time to perform Slide Show and it went very well and I've been performing it off and on ever since. I realized it was a good way to self distribute my films.
The first film, What is it?, which I premiered at Sundance (Film Festival) in 2005 and have been touring with since that time, is my reaction to the constraints that have happened within the corporate film funding and distribution industry. Where in anything that can possibly make an audience member uncomfortable, will necessarily be excised or that film will not be corporately funded or distributed.
I think that's a really damaging thing because it's that moment when an audience member sits back in their chair and looks up at the screen and thinks, “is this right what I'm watching? Is this wrong what I'm watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have done this? What is it?”
What is it? That's the name of the film. What is it that is taboo in culture? What does it mean when the taboo has been corporately excised. It's damaging because when people are asking questions there's a genuine education going on. To have a lack of questions being asked is the opposite of education: perhaps, and I don't like to stress it too much, propaganda. I think more or less, that's what's happening in corporate media at large.
The second film is called, It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Steven C. Stewart is a man who had been born with a very severe case of cerebral palsy and he wrote the screenplay and is the main actor in the film. I had written Steve into Part 1. It was originally going to be a short film and I expanded it into a feature. That was when I was realizing the elements of corporate restraints and I realized that Steve 's screenplay, although very different from What is it?, had certain thematic elements that were related. I realized that if I wrote Steve into Part 1 of What is it? That I could make his film the sequel.
Steve had been locked into a nursing home when he was in his early twenties and his mother died. He was difficult to understand and didn't want to be there. The people who were taking care of him would derisively call him an M.R. a mental retard, which isn't a nice thing to say to anybody. Steve was of normal intelligence and the emotional turmoil he must have gone through for that decade, I can't even begin to imagine.
As soon as I read his screenplay in 1987 I knew this would be a movie where I would have to be the person to finance and produce. It took a long time but I'm very glad to have finally gotten it done and am now showing it to people. I would have not felt good about it if we had not gotten the film made before Steve died. Steve did die within a month after we finished shooting the film.
We'd shot with Steve in 1996 on What is it? And then I was doing other things and working on films etc. Then in 1999 one of Steve's lungs collapsed. Cerebral palsy is not degenerative but Steve was getting older. He was 62 when we finally shot the film. It became apparent that if we didn't shoot something soon we may never get to shoot anything at all.
It was right about that time that the fist Charlie's Angels film was coming to me and I realized that with the money that I made from that film I could fund the Steven C. Stewart film: that's exactly what happened. We shot the film within a month after I finished shooting Charlie's Angels.
tV: What were some of the other challenges you faced?
CG: The whole film was shot on sets. I co-directed the film with David Brothers(SP) who built all the sets. Most of the money I made from the Charlie's Angels film went into building those. People sometimes think that it's less expensive to shoot on sets but that's not the case.
And Steve's health. He was ultimately ok while we were shooting but he could have died at any moment: that was always a possibility. I knew that would not happen though because there was a certain kind of drive. He'd already stayed alive for making the film.
Within a month after we finished shooting I got a telephone call and it became apparent Steve was in the hospital. One of his lungs had collapsed again and he was basically asking permission to take himself off of life support if we had enough footage to finish the film. That was, of course, a sad day and a heavy responsibility to let him know we did have enough footage. I know that had I said, “Steve, no, we cannot finish the film. We do not have enough footage”, he would have had whatever operation was needed and he would have been on the set and done whatever necessary to make the film.
I knew that there was no way that the film would not get finished because of him and that was something that transferred. There were a lot of reasons I wanted to make the film but the main reason, for me, was that I felt there was an important message, something almost intangible expressed in the film. I'm very relieved to be touring and showing this film to people because if he had died I really would have not felt good about myself. I would have felt like had done a bad thing.
tV: What drives you as an artist to take on a project like this?
CG: When I talk about it, it does sound serious but I don't believe in making drama that doesn't have a sense of humour. The films are funny. Before we started shooting David said to Steve, “Steve, when people see this film they're going to think it's weird” and Steve said, “OH YAH!”
He had a sense of humour and that's part of what I liked about Steve. If he didn't, I wouldn't be very interested. It's an odd sense of humour but I share that. It's not mainstream comedy by any means: you would never call it a comedy, but I'm not interested in making comedies. But I am interested in making dramas that have humour within them. I don't think drama is good if it doesn't have humour, but I have a dark sense of humour: I think Taxi Driver is funny (laughs).
tV: I thought Hell Raiser was funny.
CG: yah, the second Hell Raiser I remember was quite interesting and good and did have a humorous quality.
Rainer Fassbinder, there was one comedy he made that I didn't find so funny but when he makes a drama, even if there's tragedy in them, there's a sense of humour. That dark and light element is very important.
tV: Who inspires you?
CG: On the first film there were four filmmakers I was thinking about a lot. This is specific to What is it? There area plenty of other filmmakers that I think about but I was very much thinking about Werner Herzog, Stanley Kubrick, and not while I was shooting but while I was editing, Rainer Fassbinder.
I have a list of hundreds of films that I like so there are many filmmakers that I admire.
tV: What would you like people to take away from the experience of the films and the performances?
CG: I like films that either pose questions so people think about things, or cause people to have their own questions. Those two elements. What is it? is something that causes people to ask questions, specifically of me, but it depends. Sometimes they ask questions about things in general. That film, people can get upset about actually: not everybody, but some people. Then they can get upset at me because they're upset about it.
EVERTHING IS FINE is a very different kind of film. There's an emotional catharsis with the Steven C. Stewart character that is important but still leaves questions. Those things are important to me.
There are definitely films that come through the system, to a certain extent, that can pose questions but it's exceedingly rare, which is frustrating to me as an actor.
In the 80s when I was a teenager studying acting, I was going to see all of the revival house theatres that were popular in that time and they were still showing films that were mostly from the 70s, 60s, and 50s, 1920s. These were films that were asking a lot of questions at that time.
It took a while for me to understand and realize that in the industry, by the time I was 20 (1984) it was becoming quite rare for films to be asking questions. I was acting in films thinking this was not the kind of questioning I was expecting to be stepping into. I was excited about stepping into something that was a business that was asking questions and going up against things that should be questioned but as I was acting, I was realizing it wasn't happening and that was frustrating.
After Back to the Future came out in 1984 and was so successful, I felt a certain obligation towards finding films that somehow psychologically reflected what my interests were. The first film I acted in after Back to the Future came out was River's Edge. That's still a film that I'm proud of but subsequent to that, most of the films that I acted in, in the 80s and 90s, really didn't reflect what my interests were, didn't make that much money, and weren't necessarily good for my acting career.
When the first Charlie's Angels film was coming to me, it made sense to do that film in order to fund Steve's film but when I first got the script, it wasn't something I particularly wanted to do. When the film came out and was successful, that was good for my acting career and I realized I needed to switch the way I was deciding to act in films, divorce myself from the content, and think of acting as a craft as opposed to an art. I still think of acting artfully but there's a differentiation between thinking of it as a thing to do to make a living with something that I've learned at a young age, and professional work.
It's actually made me much more grateful to be involved working in the film industry. Most people want me to do something interesting anyhow so it's worked out well that way.