Renowned actor Crispin Glover is also an independent filmmaker in the purest philosophical form of the title. Not only does he finance his films, but he retains full artistic control over them as well. He has penned several books and travels with a slide show to illustrate them. Mr. Glover is coming to Nashville’s Belcourt Theater on Friday and Saturday night, Sept. 5-6. He will present his slide show and then screen the first film of his “It” trilogy, What Is It?
In the following interview he talks about the things that inspired his film, What Is It? The film reportedly presents the audience with imagery that it must question, and internally digest.
The Murfreesboro Pulse: Your dad, Bruce Glover, has been acting since the late ’50s. Some of his films are Walking Tall, Chinatown and Ghost World, but he was also cast in the second movie of your It trilogy, It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Can you talk about the influence your father has had on you, as well as your experience working with him?
Crispin Glover: Not only is my father an actor, but my mother retired as an actress and primarily as a dancer when I was born. She is also in It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I made a pragmatic choice to pursue acting as a career when I was quite young, around 11 or 12. I got an agent when I was 13 and got my first professional job that year. Having grown up around the business, it seemed like something I would be able to do. I would say that my personality type is not that of a standard actor’s, which would more be of someone who enjoys attention for attention’s sake. That in fact makes me rather uncomfortable. For me it is important to have an idea that is being supported in order to support it with a performance or even for media publicity. Because of this I believe that if my parents had not been in the business, and I was born with the personality type I have, I probably would have pursued a different career path.
MP: As an actor, you have often been cast as an outsider or offbeat character. This may have played a factor for you landing roles such as Cousin Dell in David Lynch’s Wild At Heart, and the Train Fireman in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. What did you take away from working with these talented “offbeat” directors?
Glover: When acting in filmmaker’s films that I enjoy I always watch the way they work. This was particularly true when I worked with David Lynch. When I was 16, Eraserhead was a very important film to me. I saw it many times at the midnight shows at the Nuart in Los Angeles. I still think it is a truly magnificent work. So when I worked with him, it was fascinating to see things that were the psychological underpinnings of what I had seen as a physical externalization when I had watched Eraserhead.
MP: I read that your four favorite directors are Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Stanley Kubrick and Luis Bunuel. Of the four, only Werner Herzog is still alive. It was a real treat to hear your shared commentary with Herzog on the DVD of his Even Dwarfs Started Small. How did that invitation come about?
Glover: I have many more favorite directors than that, but those four I was specifically thinking about when making What Is It? I thought about different aspects of each of those filmmakers. There are probably other filmmakers that had an influence as well, but those were the four I was very consciously thinking about.
The way the commentary with Herzog on both Even Dwarfs Started Small and Fata Morgana came about was while I was editing What Is It? I had toured with my Big Slide Show. Norm Hill had organized my show in Seattle. I spoke with him about my interest in Herzog’s work. I’d also met Herzog in 1990 at the Venice Film Festival. Years later, Hill was producing the DVD of Herzog’s films for Anchor Bay and he invited me to do a number of commentaries. I chose to do Fata Morgana and Even Dwarfs Started Small because those two had influence on What is it? in different ways. It is something I am very proud of in my career to have done.
MP: You have directed the first two movies of your trilogy. It is fascinating that these films are only being shown theatrically, and more often with you as their traveling escort. John Waters used to show his first films anywhere he could, even reportedly in a church basement. He also talks about William Castle traveling with his films and making them a big event. Do you feel like you’re carrying on a tradition, and do you think your efforts will inspire others to do the same?
Glover: Yes I do feel like I am following a tradition, but that tradition is Vaudeville, which is quite a bit older than the people you mentioned. The live performance aspect of my show is a very important part of it and as DVD sales and other forms of home entertainment continue to keep people staying at home, it would seem likely that entertainment that cannot be replicated at home will continue to escalate. I have found that the audience participation which inevitably happens in a live performance, and of course in a Q&A forum is some of the most important aspects of the show. Before I show the film 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, reworked images and photographs. When I first started publishing the books in 1987, people said I should have book readings. But 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 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 Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show.
MP: Do you feel any kinship to directors like John Waters, Vincent Gallo and Harmony Korine, who have all started their debuts with an unabashed independent spirit?
Glover: I like all of the directors you mentioned. I am careful about the word “independent” as it is applied in relationship to film. Because what is currently called “independent film” is usually corporately funded, and corporately distributed film that exists within a certain constraint regulation system. What Is It? is very much a reaction to the constraints that corporately funded and distributed films tend to exist within.
John Waters I believe financed his early films himself, and now they are corporately financed. Vincent Gallo and Harmony Korine’s films I believe have all been corporately financed. Stanley Kubrick’s films were of course in the end, all corporately financed. But being that he had proven himself as a fine responsible cinematically re-couping filmmaker, he was able to situate himself in the best of both worlds, a situation wherein he had corporate financing and was an autocrat in being able to make his films the way he had wanted.
MP: I understand that your film What Is It? is mainly cast with individuals who have Down’s syndrome, yet does not call attention to their disability. Lars Von Trier’s The Kingdom has two like individuals cast as a kind of Greek Chorus in that manner. What have been the reactions from audiences concerning this approach?
Glover: I have not seen The Kingdom but I want to. My experience is that audience members generally are very approving of, and interested in having people that are not usually put in front of the camera as actors.
MP: Someone who has seen What Is It? told me much of the imagery is alarmingly potent. I also read an article that compared What Is It? with the surreal work of Alejandro Jodorowsky. Do you find audience’s reactions are as “potent” as the imagery?
Glover: 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?”?and that is the title of the film. 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 because when questions are not being asked, people are not having a truly educational experience.
MP: When do you plan production for the third movie in your trilogy, IT IS MINE.?
Glover: I should not go in to 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 first. I own property in the Czech Republic, and am making a small sound stage out there to continue making my own films. It is another culture and 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 at least a few years if not many more than that. We had to shoot It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. because of Steve’s health. He died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral palsy is not generative, but Steve was 62. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. When the whole trilogy is done, It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. will be the best film of the three. I don’t really like to play favorites and What Is It? has certain valuable things that It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. does not have, but It Is Fine! EVERY-THING IS FINE. has an emotional catharsis with the Steven C. Stewart character that I hold in very high regard. I look forward to coming back to Nashville and showing It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. at a later date. People can sign up at crispinglover.com and it will e-mail them whenever I am going to have a show.
Thank you for the excellent questions. I appreciate it!