Crispin Glover came to Baltimore last week, and he brought with him his most recent film, It is Fine. Everything is Fine! He screened it at The Charles Theater (Baltimore’s long-standing art house), proceeding it with a slideshow performance of several books he’s created, and following it up with a lengthy Q&A session.
A little background: Crispin Glover is strange. I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense at all, it’s just true. He’s an extremely gracious person, very friendly and polite, proud of his work and eager to share it and discuss it; that work and its creator, however, are out there.
You may be familiar with Glover’s directorial debut, What Is It?, notable for predominantly featuring actors with Downs Syndrome. I have not seen the film, but I know of it, and Glover spoke a bit about it and its reception. There was, and still is, a feeling by many people that the film was exploitative and gratuitously shocking. Again, I haven’t seen it, so I can’t really comment.
I imagine his newest film has gotten the same response. It is Fine. Everything is Fine! stars Stephen C. Stewart, an actor with Cerebral Palsy, who also wrote the screenplay. It’s a hard film to describe, though if you want the superficial description it’s about a guy with cerebral palsy and a long hair fetish. He fantasizes about meeting women, washing or brushing their hair, having sex with them, and then strangling them. And in a way, that’s it; that’s the whole movie. Stewart is almost totally unintelligible due to his dysphasia, and the film’s narrative is as bizarre as its subject matter. There is some interesting set design, however, and the photography has that dreamlike quality that you’d see in the work of Kenneth Anger or David Lynch. It’s hard to say that I enjoyed the movie, and I’m not sure that enjoyment is even the point.
Stewart and Glover were obviously going for something, though Stewart passed away within a month of wrapping, and Glover is admittedly unsure of what his motivations were in writing the screenplay, and he’s cagey about what all of his ideas were as director. (Which is not to say that I expect a director to justify their work to me.) The question of exploitation came up during the Q&A and I thought Glover’s answer was great. Basically, he questioned whether he exploited Stephen Stewart by making the movie, or whether Stewart exploited him in getting his script produced.
It’s obvious that Crispin Glover is passionate about the work he’s doing—he said that this film is probably the best film he’s been involved with in his life—and he expressed regret that so few people are really pushing the boundaries in cinema, that there’s so much to explore that never gets explored. I think he’s completely right. And isn’t that what we want from our artists? And I’m not even necessarily talking about someone like Crispin Glover. Look at a director like Soderbergh. We want them to explore new things and stretch themselves creatively, and yet when they do, no one goes to see their work. I know that’s nothing new; people hated Van Gogh’s paintings, too, but it’s a shame nonetheless.
Glover funds his films with the money he makes from his Hollywood work—this most recent was made with his Charlie’s Angels cash—and I found his attitude to be pretty unique. Lots of artists take jobs in order to fund the work they’re really passionate about, but I’ve heard so many of them complain about it, and I really didn’t get that from listening to Glover speak. He didn’t run down Charlie’s Angels or Beowulf, disparaging them as somehow not part of his “real work.” He was obviously most proud of his new film, but he didn’t seem at all resentful that he had to take a paycheck from McG in order to fund it.
I’m glad Crispin Glover is doing what he does. I can’t claim to fully understand what he’s made, but I’m glad he made it. I’m glad someone is able to work the Hollywood system in order to do the work they want to do. And even though I like a good piece of entertainment as much as anyone, I can’t help but wish that there were more people like Crispin Glover running around Hollywood.