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Crispin Glover - The Man Who Thought Different

Author: Daniel Crichton-Rouse
Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Some know him as George McFly from Back to the Future. Others know him as the ‘creepy thin man’ in Charlie’s Angels. Most probably know him for his incident on Late Night with David Letterman. However, there’s a lot more depth to Crispin Glover than what you’ve experienced in the mainstream media, as 3D’s Daniel Crichton-Rouse discovers.

An auteur, Crispin Glover is responsible for two surrealist art fims, a handful of self-published books and an album called The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be – which contained the infamous Clowny Clown Clown. Glover is now in Australia presenting his unique work and you’d be crazy to pass up an evening with this visionary.

Could you please introduce your films What Is It- and It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine to our readers-
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 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-’

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 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 the contents of this culture’s media.

It is important to show What Is It- first because it sets up going in to taboo  subject matter to the extent so that when people view It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine the taboo element is not what becomes important, but the emotional content of the film.

The two films have thematic similarities but are very different kinds of film. It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine very much deals with the emotional catharsis of the main character and is played by the author of the screenplay Steven C. Stewart who was born with a severe case of cerebral palsy. I put Steven C. Stewart into What Is It- when I turned What Is It- into a feature from what was originally going to be a short film.

Steve had written his screenplay in the late 1970s. I read it in 1986 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. As previously stated he had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and 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 [particularly so in this instance as] 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. We shot It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine while I was still completing What Is It- and this is partly why What Is It- took a long time to complete. 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.

You don’t distribute your films en masse in theatres or for home viewing. Why is this-

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.

Being in total control of your films, how do you know when they’re completely finished- When do you stop thinking, ‘I could do this, or this…’-
Both the films were very evident when they were completed in the editing process. What Is It- took much longer to compete than It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine, mainly because of a technical problem with SMPTE timecode. The film was also extruded into a feature film from what was originally going to be a short film. This organic process took some work as well, but the time when the film was actually [finished] was quite clear.

Are the themes you explore in your works personal to you, or are they more abstract-
As one can see in the answers above they are quite personal to me and [to] others and reactive to very specific particulars.

What do you hope people take away from your work-
I would like for people to think for themselves.

Your directorial debut has been compared to the works of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Are you a fan of his work- What are your thoughts on this comparison- Do you draw inspiration from other directors- Peter Greenaway perhaps-
There are four filmmakers that I was very consciously thinking a lot about while I was making What Is It- 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, as I am sure there were, but those four very much.

I should also mention that David Lynch had agreed years ago to executive produce what will now be part three of the ‘It’ trilogy, titled It Is Mine, so he also was very important in this trilogy of films and I am very grateful to him for that. On top of which Eraserhead was an extremely important film to me when I was 16 years old and I still hold that film in the highest regard.

What started your love affair with film-

I have been working in film for a long time. I believe I started knowing it would be a good idea to work as an actor starting when I was about 11. I began professionally at age 13. My interest in film has probably developed out from that.

Name some films you’ve seen lately that you’ve loved…
The most recent film I saw projected in a theatre was at the LA County Art Museum. It was a Russian eight-hour version of War and Peace made in the 1960s. That was quite beautiful to see.

There’s the third part of the ‘It’ trilogy, It Is Mine, planned. How is it coming along- Will you be releasing it in similar manner to your current films, only showing it on tour-
Yes, I plan to direct It Is Mine. That will be part three of the ‘It’ trilogy. But it will not be the next film I make. There are some other films that deal with different themes that I would like to work on next. One never knows what the future holds as far as filmmaking. I am quite enthusiastic about producing, directing and distributing the films in the way I am currently doing it – but many variations are possible!

I should not go into detail for It Is Mine yet and I will not shoot that film next. There are other projects outside of the trilogy that I will shoot next. I own property in the Czech Republic and am making a small soundstage out there to continue making my own films. It is another culture and another language and I need to build up to complex productions like What Is It- and the existing sequel It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. It Is Mine is an even more complex project than those two films were so it will be a while yet for that production. I would say [it will be] at least a few years if not many more than that [before I start it].

I found an old interview online where you said you’ve written a screenplay for a film to be shot on a soundstage in the Czech Republic. Is this happening-
I have several projects that I am developing to shoot at my soundstage in the Czech Republic. It will still take some time before I am able to cohesively discuss those projects.

Off topic for a moment I’m interest in Trent Harris’ Beaver Trilogy. Can you please tell me a little more about it-

Unfortunately there are legal issues with Trent Harris’ Beaver Trilogy. It is best for me to not comment on this.

So what exactly can we expect from your events in Australia- Are you showing both films each session-
I definitely have been aware of the element of utilising the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films. It lets me go to various places and have the local media cover the fact that I will be performing either ‘Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show I’ or ‘Crispin Hellion Glover’s All New Big Slide Show’.

These are one-hour live dramatic narration of eight different books (Part I) or six different books (Part II), which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them. Then I show the film; either What Is It- – being 72 minutes – or It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine – being 74 minutes. Then I have a Q&A with the audience and after that a book signing. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment even if it is a slow process.

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 1800s that have been changed into different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs. 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 help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slideshow 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 books that I have made over the years.

Also after I show the film I have a Q&A session with the audience. This has become an extremely important part of the show, particularly after showing What Is It- What Is It- deals with many taboo elements and audiences can have very strong questions after the film and it is important to not explain the film to people in terms of symbols and meaning, but to put the film in context of what it is reacting to, and let people know that this is not just an exercise in something random –  there are specific reason why what is being reacted to with these films is important.

Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show is being performed at the Chauvel Cinema Tuesday 7 October and Thursday 9. More info from or