If you love awkward outsiders in the movies, from Montgomery Clift and James Dean to Robert Crumb and Hedwig, then you probably have a place in your heart reserved for Crispin Glover. With a fascinating and eclectic onscreen acting resume going back more than 30 years, Glover has left an indelible impression in roles as diverse as George McFly in Back to the Future and Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. He is a gifted performer, equally adept at light comedy and hard drama. What really sets him apart from other actors, though, is his remarkable capacity for being uncompromisingly weird.
Not quirky, odd, cute, or alternative, but actually disturbing.
When required, Glover can channel behavior that is unsettling because it seems to originate from somewhere darker and more irrational than the subconscious. In Wild at Heart, Lula tells Sailor the story of her mentally ill brother. Glover appears as the brother in flashbacks for barely more than a minute but is unforgettable as a man trapped in a fever dream of inexplicable fears and compulsions, cowering in abject terror from his own clothing, stepping ever so cautiously to accommodate the cockroaches he hides in his underpants. It is a quintessential demonstration of Glover’s unique ability to walk the fine line between the absurd and the tragic.
To truly appreciate Crispin Glover’s commitment to the unusual, you have to see the two feature films he himself has made. This is nearly impossible to do, as they are not now, nor have they ever been in distribution. The only way to see them is if Crispin shows them to you himself, which is exactly what he’s doing this weekend at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
“What Is It?” and “It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine” are parts one and two of what he calls the “It” Trilogy. They are personal projects of passion for Glover who directed, produced, and personally financed both. I saw a very early, very rough version of “What Is It?” which he also wrote, in an Asian cinema below the sidewalk in Chinatown back around 1998. At that point, Glover had already been working on the movie for two years, with another seven years to go. I don’t recall anything resembling a plot, but I was personally profoundly engaged by the movie, which alternated scenes dramatizing the perilous lives of garden snails with scenes of a cast made up almost entirely of people with Down Syndrome doing things we’re definitely not used to seeing them do. I have yet to see another movie that even remotely addresses the cultural taboos it so sweetly and subversively plays with, so I am intensely curious to see the movie in its final form. In the Q&A Glover explained that the movie was his response to the influence of corporate control of films, which is the suppression of anything that might make an audience uncomfortable. You have been warned.
“It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine” was written by and stars writer-actor Steven C. Stewart, who died of complications from cerebral palsy a month after filming wrapped. Glover has described it as “an autobiographical, psycho-sexual, fantastical retelling of [Stewart's] point-of-view of life.” It depicts the inner fantasy life of a man confined to a wheelchair, and Glover claims it is probably the best film he’ll ever work on.
Glover will be on hand at both screenings to present the films, and to perform readings from his books accompanied by a slideshow of the illustrations. Crispin is a warm and articulate host, and engages generously with his audience. If you’re sick and tired of the predictable, you definitely should attend these rare screenings.
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