Director Crispin Glover insists that his films What Is It? and It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE weren’t deliberately intended to be confronting. This claim might come as a surprise to anyone who has followed this renowned eccentric’s career since first encountering him as Marty’s dad, George McFly, in Back to the Future (pictured, below). For Crispin Glover is no stranger to provocation.
To explain: What Is It? features non-actors with Down’s Syndrome acting out brutal, carnal fantasies including – but not limited to – a man being masturbated by a woman in a monkey mask.; It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE explores the psycho-sexual manifestations of a Cerebral Palsy sufferer. Both feature long and graphic depictions of sex and violence.
“I have zero interest in shocking anyone with my films,” Glover tells SBS Film just prior to departing the US for Perth’s Revelation Film Festival where he is presenting the films and his unique live show, Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Shows Parts 1 & 2 . “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 filmmaking.
“What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? The very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to themself, ‘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.
“By 1982, at age 18, I began to act in feature films. At this time, I believed contemporary culture’s film’s main purpose was to question suspect things in our culture,” he says. “Then, in the midst of my career, I realised that the types of films the industry was financing and distributing had changed almost diametrically from the types of films I had watched when I was 18.”
What is It? is a bold statement against the industry from which he occasionally draws a not inconsiderable paycheque; his unique onscreen eccentricity has enlivened major commercial entities such as Charlie’s Angels, Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine. Glover’s approach is similar to many of his contemporaries’ ‘One for them, one for me’ split between commercial and the personal projects.
“I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in,” he explains. “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 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 a one-hour live dramatic narration of eight different books.”
It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE (left) is an even more personal work, stemming from Glover’s first meeting with the writer and star of the film, the late Steven C. Stewart, who died from complications from pneumonia a month after shooting completed. The film is about as divisive a work as you can get; one online reviewer dismissed it as “snuff porn made by the Special Olympics”, while the New York Post said, “The movie is daring, original and aimed at sophisticated moviegoers.”
Glover read the script in 1987 and soon became friends with Stewart, who had been profoundly affected with Cerebral Palsy since birth and later wrote the screenplay after having freed himself from institutionalised hardship. “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,” says Glover. “Steven C. Stewart’s own true story was fascinating. Then the naïve including [of] his fascination for women with long hair, the graphic violence and sexuality and the revealing truth of his psyche from the screenplay were all combined.”
The two films are part of a planned trilogy - with a third instalment to be entitled It is Mine!. Glover’s commitment to the project/s has not waned in the seven years since What is It? (left) premiered at Sundance. He tours relentlessly with the films; in 2012 alone, he has performed across the US and Canada as well as Vienna and Madrid. Following the Revelations season, he brings the show to Sydney and Melbourne.
“There are benefits and drawbacks about self-distributing my own films. 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,” he says.
“The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution.”
Glover is determined to maintain his schedule, mostly out of an unwavering respect for Stewart. “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,” Glover says.
“I would not have felt right about myself if we had not gotten Steve’s film made. I would have felt that I had done something wrong and that I had actually done a bad thing if I had not gotten it made. 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.”
Dates and details of Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show can be found on his website.
Main picture: Crispin Glover in a publicity still from Willard (2003).