Sunday, February 16, 2014

An Evening With Crispin Hellion Glover

Actor/director Crispin Glover has been called many things- some flattering and many not so flattering. The head-scratching has only become louder in recent years with the release of two experimental art films that choose to have actors with disabilities play leading roles. "What Is It?" utilizes people with down syndrome to tell its story and "It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!" was written and stars Steve Stewart, a man confined to a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. Watching both films is a feat of tolerance, especially "What Is It?' since its main themes rally against the corporate propagandist that Glover so fiercely believes has infiltrated modern Hollywood. Like other surrealist artists (Bunuel the filmmaker most frequently  referenced), Glover says he wanted to challenge the viewer's expectations and have us ask ourselves probing questions. "What Is It?? certainly does that. But the better of the two films is "It Is Fine Everything Is Fine!". Filmed like a 70's TV murder mystery with a bit of Fassbinder for seasoning- especially in its casting of Fassbinder starlet Margit Carstensen and the film's penchant for garish lighting and highly artificial sets- "It Is Fine Everything Is Fine!" stars scriptwriter Stewart as the aforementioned wheelchair bound man with a unique obsession for women with long hair. And beautiful women seem to be throwing themselves at him, in which he proceeds to strangle and kill them. Beyond this straight forward synopsis, there's something heartbreaking and melancholic about Stewart's flights of fancy and the ideas of body constraint. "What Is It?", the first film in a proposed trilogy, also challenges the viewer with questions of authenticity about our relation to the visual image. Should we laugh? Should we be repulsed... especially in its imagery of repeated snails and Nazi symbolism. Yet there's a unique, experimental energy running through both films that supersede their obviously provocative statures.

All of this is made even more clear by Glover himself, an artist who not only shows both films on his current tour of art houses, repertory theaters (like the great Historic Texas Theater where I saw him) and museums, but performs his unique slide show reading and then stays for a Q and A session. Both nights I saw him, Glover spent almost 4 and a half hours in total answering every question thrown his way... extremely ingratiating and welcoming... a bit rambling at times, but incredibly well meaning and honest. As one person asked, "what is it about his persona...a man who never plays it safe... that attracts generations of people to him?" After this two night event and his deep explanations covering everything from his early days of acting to the personal sacrifices he's made in bringing these films to audiences, Glover is even more so a man who never plays it safe. Which makes us like him even more.

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