Wednesday, June 2, 2010

IT IS WHAT IT IS: The Films of Crispin Hellion Glover

Perhaps you know him as George McFly. Perhaps you know him as The Bad Guy From Charlie's Angels or maybe even Willie Wonka. But chances are, when you think of Mr. Crispin Hellion Glover, you don't think of him as a filmmaker. There are probably a few good reasons for this: Glover's films are the very definition of obscurity, difficult to locate and even more difficult to watch. His subject matter, dialogue, themes, and imagery all seem designed to invoke a creepy uncomfortableness, and sitting through either of his films (2005's What Is It? and 2007's It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine) can be a challenge. His films have been praised, ridiculed, mocked, derided, and turned into urban myth since their original release, but the nagging question remains: Is Crispin Glover a misunderstood genius, a mischevious prankster fucking with the quote unquote ART world, or something somewhere in between?

The first film in Glover's so-called It trilogy (Part 3, It Is Mine, remains unmade), What Is It? is a film with very little linear narrative, based around a cast of characters with Down's Syndrome, a bunch of naked chicks, lots of bugs, snails, and salt, and writer/editor Adam Parfrey in blackface. To hear Glover tell it, What Is It? was meant to mess with the status quo's pre-concieved notions of "good", "bad", and "offensive", hence the mentally-challenged protagonists, rampant nudity, and multiple swastikas displayed throughout (the original movie poster featured a painting of a young, naked girl, posed in front of a Nazi flag and wearing a Nazi officer's cap, with a riding crop placed in her nether regions). The film was never released on DVD, and was shown only on a brief tour that Glover made of the United States after its release. What Is It? was reportedly filmed in just two and a half weeks (spread over the course of a decade), on a budget of $150,000 (mostly money from Glover's role in Charlie's Angels), and featured only himself and Fairuza Balk in regards to any "known" film actors. I'd love to give you all a link where you could buy it or at least see a significant portion of it, but alas, the best I can do is this trailer:

(NSFW - PS: this clip has less than 2,000 views on the 'Tube, WTF?)

Pretty fuckin' loopy, right? So when do we get a DVD? Go to and complain.

Right: bearded Crispin, with female fan and movie poster in question.

So how does a guy like Crispin Hellion Glover (that's his REAL middle name) follow up a debacle like What Is It?
With It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine, of course. The second film in Glover's surrealistic trilogy was written by one Steven C. Stewart, a writer/actor afflicted with cerebral palsy who spent the previous decade in a nursing home. Stewart is also the star, and most of the film consists of his psycho-sexual re-enactments/re-imaginings of twisted trysts with lingerie-clad vixens. "Disturbing" is a word that doesn't even come close to describing this film.

It Is Fine! is every bit as obscure as its predecessor, but if you're dying to see it and you live in New York City, well, LUCKY YOU. It's playing RIGHT FUCKING NOW (with personal introduction by Mr. Glover himself, of course) at the IFC Film Center. Showtimes HERE.

Trailer (again, NSFW):

At this point, you're probably asking yourself the inevitable question: "What Is It? What was that? Maybe this interview with the man himself will help you understand. Maybe not.
Maybe you should check out this comedic exchange between "David Lynch" and "Crispin Glover". Maybe not.
I cannot tell you what "IT" is. I don't understand "IT". But Crispin Glover has "IT". "IT" is obviously his. I fear "IT". But at the same time, I am drawn to "IT".

I find myself unable to elucidate any further on "IT". But there are several things I can tell you about Crispin H. Glover:

1) He is an author (of sorts), who "writes" his books by finding old books in the public domain (hence lacking copyright) and adding his own text and illustration in the margins and elsewhere. His production company, Volcanic Eruptions, has published several of these tomes since the late 80's, the most notable being Oak Mot and The Rat-Catcher.

2) Before his "breakthrough" role as George McFly in 1985's Back To The Future, he appeared on several television shows, among them Hill Street Blues, Family Ties, Happy Days, and The Facts of Life. He also played "Jimbo" in 1984's Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter. And let's not forget his hyperactive Hessian in the post-Future classic River's Edge.

3) He owns land in the Czech Republic, where both of his movies were filmed.

4) Wesley Willis wrote a song about him.

A walk down memory lane (1987, was it?):

Mr. Glover released his first and only album in 1989, with the help of Barnes & Barnes (of "Fish Heads" fame). The recording features The Hellion rapping, singing, speaking, and generally freaking out over a wide range of psychedelic tunes -- electronic, acoustic, and otherwise. There's even a cover of a Charles Manson song in there, sung in a warbling soprano. Again, the concept of "IT" plays a central role. It's pretty hard to find. LUCKY YOU:


"Clownly Clown Clown". Not the album's best track (that honor belongs to "The New Clean Song"), but the only one with a music video:

I don't know what else to say. I don't get "IT".

I'll leave you with this -- quite possibly the finest 60 seconds of cinematic genius ever scraped from the bottom of the collective subconscious. From 1991's Rubin & Ed:


SEANFORD said...

goddamn it, rivers edge is the best thing that ever happened to me. have you seen glover as edison?

RyGar said...

I think that "It" has something to do with a blatant disregard for convention norms, and the use of colors, sounds, and movements which are unknown to the 99.9999999999% of humanity that is not Crispin Hellion Glover. I agree that "New Clean Song" is the best track. "These Boots" and "Getting out of Bed" being the only other 'listenable' tracks. Crispin Glover is a cyclopean middle finger, almost invisible amongst the wash of giant rubber dongs that make up Hollywood.

Shelby Cobras said...

Well said, RyGar. And Sean, my bro (and IC buddy) Shane turned me on to Drunk History. John C. Reilly and Crispin Glover in the same place at the same time? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Will Towles said...

I have a version of that tiger painting! (first picture of Crispin, behind him, on the on the left) It's in storage and now I know I need to get it out!

Thanks, top-notch work as always. You didn't even feel the need to show the video of Glover kick Lettermen in the chest. A lesser blog would have began and ended with that and that alone.

Aylmer said...

I haven't seen any of his movies, but I get the impression he's pretty influenced by early Herzog, e.g. Even Dwarves Started Small.

stonerphonic said...

when crispin glover apologises for stealing 87 minutes out of my life with the ridiculous "Simon Says" (2006) then all will be forgiven...

Anonymous said...

His films look wicked!

Daniel said...

I was told the Crispin Glover record had his actual phone number on the back of it. I'm sure it has changed by now....

Cory said...

I saw What Is It. fucking boring.

Manslaughter said...

Best track on that album is "AUTO MANIPULATOR-I play with myself I'm a MASTURBATOR". Wow.

Shelby Cobras said...

Daniel - It is indeed true. He included his # and stated that anyone who solved the "mystery of IT" should call him and let him know.

Corn Dog - How and where did you get to see it?

Erik Del Tigre said...

"What Is It" had a premiere tour that came through Tucson when I lived there. The local paper ran an article about the retard sex scene and Crispin Glover got kicked out by the theater staff for being an unmanageable asshole. Good times all around.

Helm said...

A tide of fortuitous density has propelled Crispin Glover's career in 'things'. It's an interesting comment on the culture that he exists.

The Goodkind said...

I saw What Is It at a screening here in Seatown with CG in attendance. He did a reading beforehand and a Q & A afterward. I don't know what Cory's got against it but I thought it was, ummm, obtuse. CG was a fun guy, a little bitter about things in Hollywoodland but otherwise entertaining.