Crispin Glover makes the last of three live appearances at Cinema 21 at 7 pm tonight,
bearing "'profusely illustrated" out-of-copyright books (one of them about rat-catching, which may give the night a Willard
-y vibe) and a movie dramatizing the fantasy life of a writer with cerebral palsy. Last week, he and I conducted an interview by e-mail; his responses were extensive, and indicative of a guy far more interesting than the ostensible "creepy weirdo" of the popular imagination.
We excerpted his replies
in this week's WW
, but the unedited, unabridged versions are worth reading as well. They are reprinted in full after the jump.
What have you learned about acting by directing actors with Down's syndrome?
The actors with Down's Syndrome were all great to work with. Sometimes people ask me if the length of time it took for me to make What is it? had to do with working with actors with Down's Syndrome. What is it? will be playing only once at Cinema 21 on the Wednesday preceded by Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 1, which is a one hour dramatic narration of 8 different profusely illustrated books that are projected behind me. Even though What is it? took many years to make the main reason fro the delay was a very uninteresting but harmful technical issue having to do with SPTE time code. The technical problem was alleviated once prices came down for digital intermediates and I able to transfer the 16 mm film to a digital intermediate and make the 35 mm print of the film with a digital intermediate. “What is it?” was shot in a total of twelve days which was spread over three years. Twelve days is a relatively short amount of shooting days for a feature film. The most important thing about working with an actor weather they have Down's Syndrome or not is if they have enthusiasm. Everyone in I worked on What is it? had incredible enthusiasm so the were all great to work with. The same is true when I worked with everyone on the sequel to "What is it?". I will be showing the sequel to "What is it?" Titled "It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE." at Cinema 21 preceded by Crispin Hellion Glovers Big Slide Show Part 2 which is a different one hour dramatic narration of 7 profusely illustrated books that are projected behind me. "It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE." and Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 2 will be at Cinema 21 On Tuesday and Thursday.
I think a lot of people are curious about what your films are saying. Is there a message, or are they simply an exploration of things you find interesting?
I am very careful to make it quite clear that 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 film making. 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 it's media? It is a bad thing because 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 this culture's media. I would like people to think for themselves.
Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I put Steve in to the cast of What is it? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned What is it? from a short film in to a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven C. Stewart's screenplay dealt with. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he 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 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. As I have stated, I put Steven C. Stewart in to What is it? When I turned What is it? in to a feature film. Originally What is it? Was going to be a short film to promote the concept to corporate film funding entities that working with a cast wherein most characters are played by actors with Down's Syndrome. Steve had written his screenplay in in the late 1970's. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral palsy is not generative but Steve was 62 when we shot the film. One of Steve's lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in when Steven C. Stewart's lung collapsed in the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first Charlie's Angels film was coming to me. I realized with the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened. I finished acting in Charlie's Angels and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven C. Stewart lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in an lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting. 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. I would not have felt right about myself if I 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. So I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out. We shot It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. while I was still completing What 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. People who are interested in when I will be back should join up on the e mail list at CrispinGlover.com as they will be emailed with information as to where I will be where with whatever film I tour with. It is by far the best way to know how to see the films.??After Charlie's Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well!
What are you looking for in out-of-copyright books that you re-create into new works? What usually catches your fancy?
For “Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show” 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 1800's that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.
I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800's and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this. When I was finished with the book I was pleased with the results and kept making more of them. I made most of the books in the 80's and very early 90's.
Some of the books utilize text from the biding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. I made about twenty of them altogether.
When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books they 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 slide show 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 profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show.
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.
Because I tour showing two different films it is important to have two different slide shows. I had other books that did not make it to the selections of when I first made the original slide show back in 1993. I have to admit that the books I perform in “Crispin Hellion Glover's Slide Show Part I” are best for live performance. I have a few of the books from in “Crispin Hellion Glover's Slide Show Part I” in “Crispin Hellion Glover's Slide Show Part 2” because they help to make the structure of the show somewhat similar. But there is a substantial difference in the two shows and I am still making changes to the second shows as I perform them. I have recently added a new book that was made specifically for live performance to Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show Part 2 and I am very pleased with the audience reaction to it so far.
How many times per tour does someone make an "I'm your density" joke? Does this get old?
I truly have never had anyone make a joke of anything having to do with “I'm your density” There was a ‘zine that had multiple issues in the 90's called Mr. Density. Someone came to one of my shows that had worked on that ‘zine and told me the title came form a combination of the line you are referencing and a sentence in the Index from one of my books titled “Concrete Inspection” In the Index of the book the sentence is “Density proportions required” I generally don't have people coming up to me saying single lines from films. Usually when people approach me they have seen me in multiple films. I am always surprised as to the diversity of films people will bring up that have seen me in and what order. Every once in a while although it is very rare someone will come to one of my shows without having ever seen me in anything previously. When I get a compliment from them on the film or the live portion of the show I actually take that as an extremely high compliment as is comes with no preconceived notions. But I am very grateful when people come to the show for whatever reason they are coming, and happy they are!