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Q&A: Crispin Glover

Crispin Glover answers some pertinent questions for ACMI on the eve of the Melbourne leg of his Big Slide Show tour ...

crispin glover
Crispin Hellion Glover [Photo: Rocky Schenck]

Crispin Hellion Glover is a multi-faceted American artist. Primarily known as a film actor (stealing scenes in pop culture classics such as Back to the Future and Willard) Glover is also a publisher, filmmaker, recording artist and author. 

Following considerable effort to produce the film entirely with his own money over nine years, Glover premiered his first feature, What Is It?, at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and then began touring with the film, performing his slide show and engaging with audiences after the screening.

Glover's second feature as a director, It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. premiered at Sundance in 2007.

ACMI: Can you tell us how the ideas developed for What Is It? and It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE? Does exploration of the "eccentric" naturally extend to exploring and challenging society's notions of the "handicapped" and/or the "disabled"?

CG: I 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 [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.

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 the culture... So What is it? is a direct reaction to the contents [of] this culture's media.
  what is it?

What Is It?: actress Kelly Swiderski

I would like people to think for themselves.

It is important to show What is it? first [before It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.] because it sets [us] up going into taboo subject matter ... 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 in to 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 1970's. 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 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.

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.

ACMI: You're interested in puzzles, and conundrums - I'd hesitate to suggest, that you'd like to keep answers to questions about "who you are" a puzzle also. Do you think we want to know too much? Which direction do you like to approach art from -- the knowing or the ignorance?

CG: I am as interested in puzzles or conundrums as I am in people thinking for themselves. I do not really think of my works as puzzles, but more as things that hopefully will raise genuine questions in people so they think for themselves. I try to approach the answers about myself as [straightforwardly] as possible. There are certain things best left unanswered or partially answered because it could spoil someone's interpretation of a good thing to contemplate if I give too much explanation. My life is and always has been much more "centric" than many may perceive.

ACMI: You've been travelling the world with this slide show, have you found that audiences in different states and different countries respond to you differently - or do you find a lot of common ground?

CG: Spontaneous discussions and even arguments sometimes erupt amongst audience members with each other during the Q and A session. I consider this to be positive as it means people are having strong reactions to the film. There can be very aggressive questioning in the Q and A [after the films] and there can be very intellectual and thoughtful conversation, it depends on the mood of the audience. I ask people sometimes when I am doing the book signing if the film is what they had expected, and often people say "I expected that the film would be unusual" and they will often say that it was a lot more than ... they expected, and they mean that in a very positive way. What people often do not expect is the large ... live portion of the show.

I have found that by and large the people that have the most aggressive questioning about the film are in the US. So far I have shown the films in the US Canada and Europe. It makes sense to me that the most aggressive questions are in the US because the film it very much reacting specifically to US media.

ACMI: What would you most like Australian audiences to take away from your big slide show?

CG: I would like all audiences no matter where they are from, to think for themselves.

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