Crispin Hellion Glover : Interview

By: Andrew Lyman

Even half-hearted glances into Crispin Glover’s history will reveal a human far beyond Back to the Future. He has produced a large number of unique, surrealist books that hearken back to Burroughs’ cut-up and Surrealist collage. He has produced a record of such singular strangeness, and yet clear purpose, that it warrants the consideration from any student of the bizarre. The album is entitled: The Big Problem /= The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be. The 13 songs on the album all address The Big Problem. If at some point The Big Problem is figured out, there is a phone number printed on the sleeve to call. Apparently tens of people have accomplished this.

Most remarkable of all is Crispin Glover’s movie: What Is It? The film, the first of a trilogy, was completed last year but has never seen a wide release. Instead, Glover tours with it - reading from his books, answering questions (of which there are many) and doing his best to clarify the film for all those perplexed beyond belief. Free of context, What Is It? is little more than a surrealist nightmare of shocking imagery and Wagnerian intensity. However, when placed into the proper context, it takes on the aspect of a Dadaist or Situationist Happening. The title alludes to more than the initial scoff it produces. The film is a question. Few, if any, answers are offered. There is no moralizing to be had. No clear delineation of right and wrong, good or bad. The film is a measured attack on our good senses. It leaves It for us to determine. What is good, what is wrong, and why?


You've created a position for yourself where you are taken very seriously for the work you create, which is quite esoteric and interesting, and involves subjects like the film industry and modern culture. You’re also in this position where these subjects in your work are easily dismissed as "outside" or "wrong" or "crazy" or "evil." Have you created this position for yourself willfully? Do you feel you can express your ideas however you want?

Well, I feel like I am in the midst of creating that position. I don't feel like I've accomplished it one hundred percent. What I'm happy about right now is this is. I am in the midst of the "Big City" Tour of the film. I had gone to smaller cities before because I wanted to get my footing as to how to be self-distributing and negotiating - understanding how things work, selling the film, all of this kind of thing. I've always been confident that I could make the money back that I've put into it, which is somewhere between 150 and 200 thousand dollars. But I had a show already in San Francisco and in Seattle, and we had just under fifteen hundred people at the Castro in San Francisco. Then we sold out every show in Seattle with the Northwest Film Forum. It was a 300 seat venue, so it was a smaller venue than the Castro, but there were 900 seats for the three nights I was there. These are really good numbers for me…. I have Los Angeles (December 8, 9, 10), but the numbers that have so far come in are helpful for letting me know that I can ultimately do well and continue doing well as long as I have to. I do have to keep my overhead low. I mean, that is a low overhead for making a movie. Most films aren't 35MM. Most feature films aren't made for that amount of money, and it's not easy, but I'm continuing to set myself up in order to basically keep taking that money and putting it back in so I can keep doing these things in this kind of element. If I keep my overhead low, I feel like I can keep making that money back. If I started getting into higher realms of making, of spending, money it would be more difficult. I'd like to keep doing these things, and most of the things I'm wanting to express, in most of the screenplays I have written, I feel like they can be made for this kind of budget. I have learned, and I know how to do that, to keep in that budget. It's not easy, but I do think it's doable.

You stated at the end of the viewing that the film is specifically against studios deciding what we can handle, and the deciding of what is evil and wrong. Are reactions to the film contrary to what these studios think? How are people reacting to the film?

Well, I'm very specific. I know words get bandied about, but I actually get really specific about what words are used to describe it because they do mean different things. The words that I use to describe it are corporately funded films. What is often talked about is a differentiation between independent and studio films. I don't see a great differentiation between the two because, essentially, any corporately funded film, any body of people that come together in order to fund something look for material that is going to be able to be distributed in these corporate type of distribution systems. There's not that great of a variation between a large corporate distribution system, like a studio system, or a smaller corporate distribution, what is called an independent. What they're essentially still all doing is funding, making, and distributing films that fit within a realm that would be considered good and evil. Meaning, if something is considered bad, or would be considered not the right thing to do, or not the right thing to think, or the evil thing, it has to necessarily, within the structure of the film, be pointed at and stated in such a way that the audience knows that the filmmakers feel that this is the wrong thing to think. The audience is dictated to - that this is the only way to think about this one thing. It does not let an audience think any other way. That's also if the material has really been genuinely thought out that much. I think that most of the time, it hasn't really been so specifically thought out…. The films that wont get corporately financed, corporately made, and corporately distributed, are films that go beyond the realm of that which is considered good and evil. If that bad thing is in there, and it's not pointed to within the structure of the film saying this is necessarily the bad thing, and the audience therefore is able to think a bit for itself as to what that thing actually is. Maybe it's bad thing, maybe there's positive things, maybe there's different ways of feeling about it. I think the areas where audiences can feel uncomfortable, or areas that are taboo, are areas where thoughts can actually occur.

Actually, taboo is a slightly different subject, and it's another element away of describing something similar. Taboo elements are not able to be dealt with properly, or any way at all, it seems at this point in a corporately funded film. Really, when you analyze what is taboo in a culture, you can understand what a culture is really thinking about. I think it's a very dangerous thing ultimately when the main form of communication, or the most important form of communication, in a culture is - which I feel like film making should be that - but when it's necessarily not able to genuinely deal in these taboo areas, there's a lot of thinking that is not able to come forth, and that's a bad thing for the culture. I think it ends up stupefying the culture to not really have these elements dealt with.

It poses more questions than it provides answers. That is part of the strength of it.

Yeah, which is one of the reasons that I tour around with the film. On one level I very much am a proponent of not talking about certain things. I feel like, on most levels, if one can, it's better to not say anything. When I premiered the film at Sundance, I wanted to have a question-and-answer period with the press screening. For whatever reason Sundance did not want me to do that. I really wanted to and they wouldn't let me, so my initial press reaction for the film, I really didn't have a lot of genuine reviewers reviewing the film. I had a lot of gossip columnist types really making lists of things that existed in the film, and reacting in this way of just the sensational elements, and I've never tried to sell the film in that way. I've had people say, "well, you should just take all of the most extreme kind of things and put that in the trailer or talk about all of that," and that isn't what is interesting to me about the film. It is the taboo not being dealt with in the culture, and this reaction to it, that's interesting to me. So I do feel like it's an important thing for me to go and give a context of what the reaction is - not necessarily what each of the specifics or symbols. If people tend toward asking me those specifics, I'll tend toward backing away from that, because that's a dictation. I don't want to dictate to people what they should be thinking about, but I do think it's important to put it in a context that it can be thought about, and to see what it's reacting to.

I agree. I think that can easily be lost with this film without that context. Before seeing the film, I re-read the essay, “What Is It?” that you wrote for Apocalypse Culture II (Feral House). I think my reaction would have been different without that prefacing of it. All you do is pose questions in that essay, and it becomes apparent that it was designed as a commentary on film industries and culture.

That's funny because I haven't talked to a lot of people that have read that essay that have also had that experience with the question-and-answer. It's done in a different fashion. I don't state it in the way that I'm kind of stating it more directly which has been, from my experience, of continuing to re-find what it is that I'm trying to express to the audiences when I'm having the question and answer periods. I had written that essay quite a while before the film was actually finished, but I already knew that it was dealing with these things, but it was a different vocabulary that was expressing it. But you got that out of that essay? That's good, I'm actually glad to hear that because I didn't actually know if that was quite so apparent.

So in terms of that goal with this film, or this trilogy, or your books or music, you've obviously set your sights on this system, and you're critiquing this system. What do you see as a way out, or a way of correcting it?

Well, the reason through this film is a reaction. When I started making the movie, it was not something where I sat down with a piece of paper and said, "all right, I have this corporate entity that I need to react to and do it in this particular way.” It was more of an emotional reaction that I had not necessarily analyzed all of these things. It was more during the period when I was turning it into a feature film. I had started out to make the film to advertise that this was a viable concept - to work with in a corporate situation where I could get corporate funding. I'm not against getting corporate funding. I love that idea. The problem is, I know that corporate funding will necessarily excise out things that I think are genuinely important to be investigating and dealing with. I genuinely think it's harmful to the culture that this is not happening. But that's come more as I've been making the film. When I really thought about it, on some level I was naive even starting to make the film with the concept of getting corporate funding.

I thought what you had to say regarding that is really important. When questioned, why did you use actors with Down Syndrome, you said that when you look into the face of someone with Down Syndrome, you see the history of an outsider.

I didn't say the history of an outsider, and I am specific about the words because little nuances mean different things. "Outsider" can mean the same thing. What I said is when I look into the face of someone that has Down Syndrome, I see the history of someone that has grown up living outside of the culture. Even that, there are nuances of the language that don't necessarily express that specifically, because culture itself is a dangerous word to use in certain ways, because essentially everything is culture. This glass is culture, this table is culture, anything that is manufactured by human beings, or has anything to do with human beings, automatically becomes culture.





That’s such an interesting point, because that takes it outside the realm of taboo for the sake of it. That makes it real, and that makes it worth considering.

Right. Well, it's also genuinely what I'm interested in. I really do think that the people that I worked with, and in general, I really do think there's something particular about people with Down Syndrome. There's all kinds of people that are interesting on film that are not normally put into film, but in particular, people with Down Syndrome. One of the things is a not necessarily learned social masking that most people have. It doesn't necessarily make someone with Down Syndrome automatically an excellent actor, but it can help for certain things, and it can be very compelling and interesting.

There were certainly some beautiful moments that wouldn't have occurred any other way. If you would have just said, ‘you know, this is taboo, we can't do this‘, it would have been a different film.

Absolutely. Yeah. This film, there's no way this film would exist under that particular structure that I've been talking about. At one point or another throughout the conception, or the writing, casting, directing, editing, distribution, somebody in the process, the normal thing you'll hear is, ‘well, we really wouldn't want to say that.’ It sounds innocuous enough, but when you analyze it, when that ubiquitously happens, that question, on every single line of the process of corporate film making, it excises these interesting possibilities out uniformly - and that's unhealthy.

Crispin Hellion Glover presents his Big Slide Show, followed by a screening of his film, What Is It? on the following dates:

December 1, 2, 3: Clinton Street Theatre - Portland, Oregon
December 8, 9, 10: Egyptian Theatre - Los Angeles, California



All opinions expressed by Andrew Lyman are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

© Stay Thirsty Media, Inc. 2006
All Rights Reserved

Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Terms of Sale | Site Map


*A PURCHASE IS REQUIRED TO ENTER THE PLAYWRIGHT AWARD CONTEST. Contest ends 2/1/07. Open to US legal residents of the 50 US and DC, who are 18 years or older at time of entry. Subject to Official Rules. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.