I am sure that I am not the only person who sat through Crispin Glover's films What Is It and Everything Is Fine and found myself asking different questions altogether: What is he doing? And why?
Both films are iconoclastic orgies of images featuring actors with disabilities, graphic sexuality, and taboo symbols like swastikas and black face, all strung together in a macabre poetry that is neither clear nor comforting. Glover is using these films to explore issues that are generally ignored by polite society. As discomforting as it may be, it is precisely this opportunity to grow and learn that Glover is offering us, very intentionally.
With the exception of Glover, the entire cast of What Is It has Down's syndrome. The hero, and screenwriter, of Everything Is Fine has such severe cerebral palsy that his speech is virtually unintelligible, yet in the film he is a legendary lover and elusive serial killer. Despite all of the bizarre imagery in the film, it is the simplest things that left me the most unsettled; a subtle understanding that many of the things I believed about the world and people around us just aren't as simple as they seem.
I left both films feeling profoundly glad that they existed, and that I had seen them. But I was truly grateful that I got to sit down with Crispin Glover and ask him, "What are you doing? Why are you doing it?" And yes, I did ask, "What is it?"AR: OK, help me out here. What is it?CG: The first film (What Is It?) is my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 or 30 years, when anything that could possibly make an audience member uncomfortable is necessarily excised or that film will not be corporately funded or distributed, which I think is a negative thing. Because it's that moment when an audience member sits back and looks up at the screen and thinks to themselves, "Is this right what I'm watching, is this wrong what I'm watching, should I be here, should the filmmaker have done this, what is it?"What is it that's taboo in the culture? What does it meant that the taboos are being ubiquitously excised? I think it's damaging because it's those moments, when people are having those questions, that they are having a truly educational experience.I don't mean to say that the only time that there is an educational experience is when taboo is being directly discussed, but I do think that when the questions are taken away, it's not just the taboo, it's all the domino elements that are taken away, until nothing is being asked, nothing is being said, and that's really a bad thing.AR: When you were making Everything Is Fine, did you stop and imagine what the audience response would be to a severely disabled character having sex with and killing women?CG: David Brothers, my co-director, had certain thoughts about that, and he always felt like people would get upset by it. And when we sat with Stephen C. Stewart, (the star and screenwriter of Everything Is Fine) not too long before shooting the film, he said to Steve, "You know, Steve, when people watch this movie, they're going to think it's weird," and Steve said, "OH YEAH!" He really knew that. He knew it would upset people.AR: Why use these actors with disabilities to play characters that don't have disabilities? The character in Everything Is Fine is disabled, and it's an important part of his character. But the actors in What Is It all have Down's syndrome, while the characters they play don't.CG: On some level it makes them almost more like people, as people with Down's syndrome are. I feel most corporately funded and distributed film that deal with people with disabilities, there's been a way that it's put that kind of "cuteifies" or "puppetizes" them in such a way that I feel is condescending, and I feel that this film is not.AR: You've obviously made the decision to do these films independently, rather than with a major film corporation. Do you feel there's an inherent wall between corporate film and the kind of expression and exploration you're doing with these films?CG: I don't think it has to be that way because there definitely have been extremely expressive and unusual films that have come through corporate entities. I think Stanley Kubrick is a good example of it. He started off making films that were, you know, financed in similar fashions (more independently) and then graduated into having more corporate sponsorships with a lot of control because they were already successful. But it's a different time now.AR: In order to keep films like this being made—not just by you, but by other filmmakers who are also pushing the boundaries—what do we need to do?CG: In terms of what people have to do—meaning the person that's going to make it—it's just, make it. You become a film director by directing films. In terms of what the culture has to do, it's difficult; people are going to adhere to, on some level, what's put before them. I have to continue to explore how to put things before them. I have to do it in whatever logical fashion that I can; if there is a certain kind of education that comes through with it, and it continues to spread, then that's a good thing. And that's kind of what my goals are, and hopefully that's the kind of thing that will keep spreading.Alyssa Royse is the founder and editor in chief of JUST CAUSE Magazine and JustCauseIt.com. A discussion with Glover about the role of film and independent cinema can be found at www.JustCauseIt.com.Learn more about Crispin Glover and his films at www.CrispinGlover.com.