The posted details of Crispin Glover’s visit to the Market Arcade seemed simple enough. He was to narrate a slide show of pages from books and his 2007 fantasy drama It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE would be screened followed by a Q&A with a signing in the main lobby. I was aware that Glover had a knack for dabbling in the unorthodox and unconventional. Yet nothing could have prepared me for the content I was to see that night on December 15th.
The slide show had altered pages of books Glover had collected over the years. With unassuming titles like Round My House, Rat Catching, New World, and Concrete Inspection, they gave the appearance of dry reads, tomes of years past. Yet, with the unnerving scribble and morbid pictures, these books were given disturbing makeovers. There were mythical beasts and strange oddities that were labeled as siblings to human characters. Long-winded narrative given rushed life through the exasperating recital by Glover.
While there was some drag during the slide show, there would be an awkward image or humorous observation that would bring the momentum back. With Glover’s sense of comic timing and delivery, this heightened the subject matter to comic gems. Taking after the likes of Jonathan Swift, Monty Python, and John Hodgman, among others, he presented the absurd in such a straight-faced, matter-of-fact manner. One could easily imagine John Cleese in his heyday standing up at the front of theater one of the Market Arcade, reciting the on-screen passages, with the same vibrancy as Glover.
Following the slide show was the screening of 2007 drama/fantasy It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. When I say this is a fantasy, think not of the likes of Tolkien, but of fantasy in the vein of Bret Easton Ellis. The fantasy was much like our reality only twisted to fit a character’s imagination. It also left the audience to wonder whether what was seen on-screen as actually happening or was a fabrication of the main character.
The film centered on Paul Baker (played by Steven C. Stewart, who also penned the script), a man with cerebral palsy (CP) and his attempt to start a relationship with Linda Barnes (Margit Carstensen). When the relationship turns for the worse, he kills her. He proceeds to find women with whom he sleeps with and murders them. The death scenes emitted one of two reactions from the viewer: absolute laughter or total disgust. The profound incompetence of the detectives and police added to the idea that this has to be fantasy.
Another noted element of this film was the graphic scenes of sexuality. Forget Brown Bunny. The scene that served as the climax, for lack of a better word, with Stewart and actress April Hoglund goes above and beyond the interaction between Vincent Gallo and Chloe Sevigny. One couldn’t help but appreciate the game nature and unhindered professionalism of the stunning actresses in this film including centerfold Jami Farrel, Anna Stave, and Carrie Szlasa (Scrambled). This also entailed what independent cinema is supposed to be: content that major studios won’t go anywhere near.
The film warranted a Freudian examination. In parts of the film, we see Baker looking at pictures of what viewers can safely assume is his mother, with short hair. In a few scenes, we hear women talk about cutting their hair short followed by Baker’s verbal protest. Not long after, the women are murdered, in almost a film noir-inspired progression. During the Q&A, Glover mentioned he often picked his movies based on his flare for psychology. One can easily see him picking up this project and adding a deeper level to this deceptively simple film.
One disappointment I had with the film was with Bruce Glover, Crispin’s amazing father. After seeing him figuratively off-the-leash in Peter McGennis’ Buffalo Bushido, I expected another charismatic performance. Yet, I was impressed to see him play a fairly normal guy who had one or two quirky moments. Another great performance in this film is Lauren German as an embittered, disabled woman Baker meets on the street.
The music pieces of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky elevated the the proceedings to classic tragedy. It was almost operatic in its microcosmic scope and in collusion with the minimalist set design. While not used in the same, grand manner as music in Woody Allen’s Match Point, it serves as a great juxtaposition to the events on-screen.
The cinematography and spirit of the film managed to outshine any other attempt at recapturing the essence of the “Grindhouse” cinema. The look of the film was not so much 2007 as it is 1977. It didn’t have the polished feel of digital video altered to look like 16mm film. This films looked exactly like it was shot on 16mm. The set design by co-director David Brothers was amazing in capturing that low budget vibe. It also gave the appearance of a stage production and not so much a movie set.
The direction by Glover and his plethora of set-ups recalled Russ Meyer. The action and drama was front and center. There were no fancy angles or camera trickery. This simple approach in the shooting mimicked the styles of Herschell Gordon Lewis and late 70’s/early 80’s John Carpenter. At the same time there was a surreal quality in the camerawork that brings David Lynch to mind.
The part of the extensive Q&A that stuck with me was when Glover mentioned that CP isn’t degenerative and the people inflicted with it are of equal intelligence as typically developed people. To think that one with CP wrote this dark, sexually-charged story was eye-opening to me as I’m sure it was to people who found out Frankenstein was written by a woman. All my movie-viewing life, I was fed the concept of the disabled person with a heart of gold and who was noble in nature. Here was a story of a man with CP who was capable of such violent, malicious thoughts. Yet it should not surprise me. They are human beings just like you and me.
The evening showed Crispin Glover as much more than a actor. He’s a writer, an illustrator, a comic mind, and a director. Very few can juggle this many hats and still produce quality work. Glover is a man who shines outside of the mainstream, who is his brightest when in the realm of the obscure and profane. While I’m sure many in the audience wished for Glover to make his work more readily accessible to the masses, his method of gradual exposure for his creative madness better suits the fruit of his labor. Glover knows there is an audience for his films, and he lets them eagerly find him.