Oh dear. He's trying not to laugh.
I went and saw Crispin Glover at the Texas theater on Sunday with my buddy TK and we had an absolute blast. He's a very entertaining fellow, but not in the way you'd think.
The show started with his BIG SLIDE-SHOW and readings from eight books (one of them in the above embedded video). I'll say, of of all of them, my favorite was Rat Catching, parts of which were used in the following title sequence:
You can get some basic ideas of what the book is like here, but what Glover did with these old books was black out some parts, write in new bits, include his own illustrations and text, and occasionally insert bits from other books. That would be weird enough on its own, but then you remember it's the same guy who made this video because he wanted to.
He's thin, but not terribly tall or imposing. Still, I really enjoyed the BIG SLIDE SHOW and TK did as well and we joked with each other a little during it and in the silent dark before the movie.
Now, just a weird aside, TK thought the movie were were going to see was It is Fine! Everything is Fine!, which is the second in the series, but actually showed the night prior. As a result, she had this song stuck in her head:
Not too far off.
The movie we saw was What is it? and I'd post the trailer, but there's too much nudity and it's not something we'd ever show at Hell and—quite frankly—the movie itself isn't that good. Add to that, how I felt about the flick itself started with "This isn't brilliant; it's stupid," to "This is an exploitation film," and finally "This is parody of art-films" (come on, look at those credits) and in the end, none of that mattered.
You see, the movie doesn't matter.
So why watch it? Well, because there's a Q&A afterwards. That's the point of these showings and that's the point of his touring. The movie itself is an elaborate prop to assist in starting a conversation, and it was a fascinating conversation at that.
"In a certain way the discussion after the film with the audience is the most important part of the shows," Glover says. "[B]ut that discussion would not take place without the live performance and the feature films, so the whole thing has to happen in the single evening."
The point of the film What is it? is make the audience question what they've just seen. This is part of the reason Glover doesn't want to release the film on DVD: it's essential to the experience to be in public and surrounded by strangers. He watches the audience as they watch the film and lets us know what he's observed during that time.
Case in point: one of the biggest laughs in the film is when his character floats down, summons a record-player and its attendant, laughing puppets. This is followed immediately by an incredibly racist song with an offensive chorus; and, at the same time, a man with severe cerebral palsy is manually masturbated by a naked woman in a monkey mask. The audience goes stone cold silent. But! What the audience also does look around at other members of the audience to see how they're reacting. People look for a cue on how to respond to what they're seeing and hearing.
And then, after pushing every button connected to every trigger and taboo, Glover gets up on stage and asks, "Are there any questions?"
Now, I don't see this as theater of the offensive. Yes, it's supposed to make the audience uncomfortable, but there's nothing really that explicit (besides that one scene). Most of the cast has Down Syndrome, but they are also adults. The "gore" is a bloody knife and it's so cartoonish, you laugh at it. What grossed me out the most were the snails, but I just hate them in general.
And laughter's a huge part of the production. Glover calls it "the polite growl". When you make something else the "other" and want to heap derision on it, to push it away, you laugh at it. You laugh at that which is to be excised. Glover also says the coward comic laughs at others, but the brave comic makes himself something to be laughed at. That led to a question about this moment in history:
This is extraordinarily difficult to watch. The awkwardness and vulnerability that Glover displays in this performance is heartbreaking when coupled with Letterman's jeers. Also, it's promoting this movie:
Now, don't we all look like idiots? It's such an obvious troll.
Sadly, he was supposed to be promoting the movie River's Edge (the interview being in 1987). Rubin and Ed wasn't released until 1991, so it took four years before anyone got the joke, or cared to.
One thing he was willing to discuss was why he didn't return to the Back to the Future films. But first, you have to understand Joseph Campbell.
So, at 1:10, the "wisdom and power" is mentioned (read more here). When the hero returns from his ordeal, he brings back the "elixir", and that elixir is the moral of the story.
And the end of Back to the Future, when Marty comes back, everyone's problems have been solved by money. His brother is in a suit, his mom is thin, and Biff is their servant (granted, they still live in the same house in the same neighborhood), but Marty has that sweet truck he's always wanted. Everyone's problems go away because they are rich.
So, Glover went to Zemeckis and said he had a problem. Zemeckis said, "Crispin, I like weird movies. I liked Eraserhead. I made Used Cars and had a moral about greed and trickery and I didn't work for three years. I WANT TO BE RICH."
And, in case you're wondering, Eraserhead is where this is from:
Now we're getting into the main thrust of what Glover is trying to impart with these sessions. He says that for the last thirty years, films have been less about asking questions and more about propaganda. And before you say anything about Hitler or Stalin, let me remind you that PR are the first two letters of propaganda. Better yet, let's look at a quote from the "Father of Public Relations", Edward Bernays:
THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.
Bernays is not messing around here. He's the guy who convinced women to smoke by selling "torches of freedom" to suffragettes. He's the guy who came up with "planned obsolescence" and made everyone buy a new car every year. He's the guy who made the 20th Century what it is today.
The Q&A session we had Sunday night went WAY over schedule, but there were a few tangents and Wolf PAC was mentioned and an audience member wanted to talk about nullification and we can all pretty much agree that money in politics is bad.
Because we didn't see It is fine! Everything is Fine!, Glover filled us in on what that movie was about and why he made it and he showed the trailer. I'm sure, of the two, it's the better film, but I think we had the better Q&A session.
By the way, Glover's been living in the Czech Republic, so someone asked him about the Brothers Quay and Jan Švankmajer. I'm going to kill two birds with one stone on this one:
But it was Glover who talked about Karel Zeman (who I've mentioned before). The reason for that is, his new movie that he's working on, Title! Title! Title! (thus named because it's a three-word title, but he doesn't want it on IMDB) has a little fake train in the background at one point and he wanted to use some effects like that. "I'm not that patient".
Also, Glover will be working with his dad on Title! Title! Title! and they're both sporting Moscow on the Hudson beards and mustaches for that. Well, here, take a look:
All in all, it was a delightful evening. I found Mr. Glover to be one of the most thoughtful, considerate, and erudite speakers I'd seen. I was annoyed by how he's viewed by so many (and, I admit, what I thought going in). If you have a chance, I HIGHLY recommend seeing one of his shows. It is utterly worth it.