Beyond Good and Evil: An Interview With Crispin Hellion Glover
by Tracy Vanity
All images courtesy of Crispin Glover
Those who gravitate to that place beyond limitations, where anything and everything can happen, tend to search for others like themselves because as social animals, humans have a primal desire to seek fellow passengers on the same crazy journey.
Crispin Hellion Glover is not merely a passenger but a driving force in that place which he describes as existing “beyond good and evil.”
Best known for his acting roles in major Hollywood pictures such as Willard, Beowulf, Charlie’s Angels, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and yes…Back to the Future…Crispin uses the money and recognition he receives from his mainstream work to fund and promote his personal projects: from a whimsical album of original music with covers of songs by Nancy Sinatra and Charles Manson to modified vintage art books and two brilliant feature-length films which he’s been touring around the world with for 7 years and counting.
With What is it? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE!, which he produced and directed himself without the backing of a major studio, Crispin has achieved what few who venture beyond the realm of that which is beyond good and evil ever do: establish a symbiotic relationship between a mainstream Hollywood acting career with an avant-garde art career.
I’ve been fortunate to catch Crispin’s screenings about 4 times when I lived in Los Angeles and was in awe every time. Not only is watching him perform a live dramatic narration of his books entertaining but it adds an organic spirit that can’t be replicated while watching a film in a theater, television set or computer screen. The more we become accustomed to viewing our world through a glowing screen, the more powerful the medium of reality and physically interacting with other human beings becomes. Crispin uses this power to his advantage through his live opening performance and Q&A sessions.
I was very happy that Crispin agreed to an interview for Bizarro Central to help promote his winter tour in the Americas. Along with discussing details of what’s in store for those who attend a Crispin Glover screening, Crispin also describes how David Lynch helped him make his film and also provides details on the forces that influenced him to create such an elaborate vaudeville show in the first place:
Tracy: When I interviewed you back 2007, you mentioned that your interests were with “that which was beyond good and evil”? Is that term still applicable to your interests and your films What is it? and It is fine! Everything is fine!?
Crispin: Yes that description still applies to the films. I generally answer with that description when there is a moral question. Films that are currently financed and distributed by the film corporations and distribution corporations that currently exist must sit within the boundary of that which is considered good and evil.
What this means is if there is a so called “bad thing/evil thing” that sits with in a corporately financed and distributed film it must necessarily pointed at by the filmmaker so that the audience is dictated to that the only way to think about that so called “evil thing” is that one way.
Any other way of think about that so called “evil thing” would be considered wrong and it must be made in such a way that they audience understands that the filmmakers feel that this “evil thing” is only that and no other way of thinking about that “evil thing” could or should be possible.
A film that goes beyond the realm of good and evil may have this same so called “evil thing” but the filmmaker may not necessarily point at that so called “evil thing” so that the audience are not dictated to and therefore can determine and think what for itself as to what this so called “evil thing” really is to them.
Tracy: You began touring with What is it? back in 2005 correct? What made you decide to tour with your films instead of go the typical route of showing them in film festivals and having a company distribute the films? Why do you only show them in person instead of having multiple theaters show it or sell your films on DVD?
Crispin: The live aspect of the shows are not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater and a majority of how I recoup is by what is charged for the live show and what I make from selling the books after the shows.
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.
There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements.
There are benefits that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards.
Tracy: Before you screen your films, you do something called “The Big Slide Show.” For those who have not had a chance to attend your screening, can you explain what The Big Slide Show is?
Crispin: 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.
Tracy: It is my understanding that What is it? asks questions generally not asked in our society. It explores taboos and the nature of why such things are taboo in the first place. You also said once that it was a reaction to the mainstream Hollywood film industry which refuse to explore taboos. Since filming this movie, has mainstream Hollywood films become any more open to exploring taboos or do you feel things have stayed the same since you made the film?
Crispin: I am very careful to describe what I am reacting to as “corporately funded and distributed film” as opposed to “mainstream Hollywood.” There are always some good films that come out from the corporately funded and distributed film system, and sometimes good thoughtful questions can come through them, but it is exceedingly rare and quite obviously a struggle for the filmmakers to have happen. I would say taboo subjects are still not properly dealt with in corporately funded and distributed film.
The main intent of these films is not to make audiences uncomfortable, but to think for themselves. 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.
Tracy: Is “It is Fine!” another exploration of taboo or did you have a different purpose when making that film? You’ve said that It is fine! will probably be the great film you’ve ever made. Do you still feel that way?
Crispin: I feel like “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” will probably be the best film I will have anything to with in my whole career.
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.
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.
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.
Tracy: What directors and films have influenced your work?
Crispin: Not only am I a fan of Werner Herzog but he is one of the few living mentors I have had the pleasure of getting to know a bit and have a genuine friendly relationship with.
Both Werner Herzog and David Lynch have been personally kind to me and supportive of my as a filmmaker which I am very grateful for and means a lot to me.
Even though there were four filmmakers that I was consciously thinking about while making “What is it?” I am certain there are other film makers that had influence as well. Eraserhead by David Lynch was a film I saw over and over at midnight shows at the Nuart theater in Los Angeles when I was 16. I admire David Lynch very much as a film maker in general, but Eraserhed was a very important film to me at the age of 16. It still is my favorite film of David Lynch’s. It is really worth it for people to go see that film in a move theater projected on a big screen with excellent sound in a fine 35 mm print as it is an experiential film and has a tremendous impact when seen in the proper theatrical setting.
Tracy: You’ve been doing this tour for 7 years correct? How long do you think you will continue doing this tour?
Crispin: Yes it is hard to believe but 2012 will be the 7th year of touring! The tour is continuing organic process. I do not really have a beginning or ending of touring. I have started to try to organize it a bit seasonally, but it can change if I end up acting in a film like I did in 2011.
Tracy: Has the reactions to your films changed since you first began touring with them?
Crispin: Perhaps there are more people in the audience who are prepared to expect something unusual, but for the most part people have always expected that when coming to the shows.
Tracy: You show your films all over the world, how do you choose where you screen your films? If someone wants to have a Crispin Glover screening in their city what’s the best way to go about it?
Crispin: Usually the shows happen from the venues contacting me. The best way for someone to get me to come to their area is to have their local independent 35 mm cinema contact my via booking @ CrispinGlover.com with the spaces removed.
Tracy: What would you like people to take away from your films?
Crispin: I would like for people to think for themselves.
Tracy: It seems like through both of your films you have explored nearly every taboo possible in our culture. Is there any dark corner of the human psyche that you have yet to explore or question?
Crispin: There are particular subjects that would be damaging for me to explore so I stay away from them.
Tracy: What can we expect from future Crispin Hellion Glover projects?
Crispin: The sets for my next film productions have started construction. At the same time the sets are being built I am in the process of continuing to develop the screenplay for myself and my father to act in together on these very sets. He is also an actor and that is the next film I am planning to make as a director/producer.
This will be the first role I write for myself to act in that will be written as an acting role as opposed to a role that was written for the character I play to merely serve the structure. But even still on some level I am writing the screenplay to be something that I can afford to make. There are two other projects I am currently developing to shoot on sets at my property in the Czech Republic. The cost of the set building will determine which one I actually shoot next. They are will all be relatively affordable yet still cinematically pleasing.
Crispin Glover’s tour is the most unique and incredible live performances I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. It is definitely a one-of-a-kind experience that cannot and will not be replicated by anyone else.
He will begin touring with his Big Slide Show and first two films in his “It” trilogy in the U.S. starting January 6th. So far the confirmed locations and dates are:
January 6&7: Nashville TN at The Belcourt Theatre
January 13&14: Chicago IL at The Music Box Theatre
January 17&18: Columbus, OH at the Grandview Theatre
January 20: Penn State University, PA State Theatre
January 25&26: Buffalo, NY at the Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre
January 27&28: Ottawa Canada Mayfair Theatre
Please check out Crispin’s offical site for updated information on tour dates and more.