Friday, November 20, 2009

NO PHONY: Crispin Hellion Glover

For years I’d read about the touring one-man live shows of actor Crispin Glover, one of the few people still breathing for whom I’d stand in line for an hour to meet. But for one reason or other, I’d never had the opportunity to attend one.

That changed last night, when my friend Gavin, his son and I went to the Charles Theater in Baltimore to see Crispin Hellion Glover (indeed, Hellion is his middle name) perform his "Big Slide Show", followed by a screening of his movie It is Fine! Everything is Fine., the second installment in his so-called "It" trilogy that began with 2005's What is It?.

Mainstream audiences are most likely familiar with Glover as George McFly, the father of Michael J. Fox's time-traveling character in Robert Zemeckis' 1985 hit Back to the Future, or his role as the non-speaking "Thin Man" with a hair fetish in 2000's Charlie's Angels. Horror audiences might recall his appearance in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (which also starred a young Corey Feldman), or, more recently, as the rat’s-best-friend title character in the 2003 remake of Willard. But Glover has perhaps built his strongest cult following with roles like Lula’s cousin, Dell, in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990); burn-out Layne in 1986's River's Edge; Andy Warhol in Oliver Stone's The Doors; and memorable bit parts in movies like Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1995) and the following year's The People vs. Larry Flynt (directed by Milos Forman), as well as his turn as the title character in the 2001 adaptation of the Melville short story, Bartleby, just to name a few. (I particularly enjoyed his outing that same year as Jules in Fast Sofa; if you are unfamiliar with it, think of a buddy road-movie that pairs Glover with Jake Busey – yes, Jake Busey – because that’s essentially what it is.)

The evening was entertaining, to say the very least. "The Big Slide Show" is a visual presentation of his series of visual/cut-up/collage books (published under his own imprint, Volcanic Eruptions), accompanied by Glover’s live, at-times manic narration. There isn't much in the way of conventional story-telling here – think more along the lines of a younger William S. Burroughs (sans track marks), armed with a slide projector instead of a Star .380. That said, Glover's impeccable comic timing, coupled with his appearance (hair neatly parted, and a vested, black suit that would make John Zacherle feel envious) and obvious enthusiasm for the work, keeps the viewer engaged throughout.

The evening's feature presentation, It is Fine! Everything is Fine., centers on a man with cerebral palsy (played by Steven C. Stewart, who also wrote the screenplay), his obsession with women with long hair, and the homicidal spree on which he embarks. Stewart wrote the screenplay, Glover explained, as a crime drama in the style of a "1970s TV-movie-of-the-week." The movie is sexually graphic – even Gavin, who has been there, done that (as well as least twice), admitted that no-holds-barred (and, at-times, violent) sex between a middle-aged man with cerebral palsy and an attractive young woman was an entirely new movie-going experience for him. As absurd as the premise might seem in writing, however, the storyline and direction held up within their own context, and were much less abstract (even, dare I say, more conventionally linear) than I had expected.

Interestingly, Glover, in fielding questions after the screening, revealed his anachronistic (even Luddite) views on copyright laws. Citing fear of movie piracy, he has made every effort to keep the movies he's made entirely outside of any digital format whatsoever (indeed, recording devices of any kind are strictly forbidden at his performances). Consequently, it appears the only manner in which to view said films (shot on 16mm film, he explains, and subsequently converted to 35mm) is to attend one of these screenings. Regardless, that he has successfully kept his work outside the digital sphere in the age of Twitter, IM and "sexting" is a truly remarkable feat.

After the show, Glover sat in the lobby and patiently chatted with fans, happily signing whatever memorabilia and knick-knacks they had brought (including the inside of Gavin's thrift-store cowboy hat and, interestingly, someone's copy of Back to the Future Part II, in which Glover had declined to star; when stock footage from the earlier movie as well as an actor made up in his image were nevertheless included in the sequel against his wishes, Glover successfully sued producer Steven Spielberg, eventually settling under terms that have never been made public). For my part, I attempted to present our (un)fair city (besieged of late with questions of image in light of alleged corruption and its portrayal in television shows like The Wire) in positive terms by giving him a copy of my zine, Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! - specifically, the "rat" issue, Infestation!.

Capote's Holly Golightly may have been a "real phony", but last night's event thoroughly quashed any questions regarding Glover's authenticity. Think what you will, but he remains, for me, an American original, what Hunter S. Thompson might have called a "classic affirmation of everything right and true and decent in the national character."

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad that you gave him a copy of the zine! I was there, too. - Jena Shlock