Interview: Crispin Glover (Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show)

by: James Wallace
July 15th, 2011

I recently sat down with Crispin Glover to talk about his one-man vaudevillian show, his many books and illustrations, the current two entries in his self-financed IT trilogy (which he also partly wrote, directed, edited, and starred in), and his eclectic, genre bending filmography that spans almost 60 films.

Well, I should clarify...I know for certain that I was sitting when I typed the questions and sent them to him using this quaint little invention known as email...and I can only assume that he too was sitting when he typed his answers and sent them back to me (coincidentally also using email).

Being that this is the second time I have interviewed the renaissance man, I am without a doubt that he is one of the nicest gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of conversing with. For proof of this, attend Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show (which you can absolutely do tonight or tomorrow night if you are in the DFW area). I am also equally certain that he is in fact a genius. For proof of this, get absorbed in the following interview (something you will definitely want to do if you are interested at all in the independent, self-financing of films).

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You've been working on your books and illustrations for many years. What is your process for selecting the pieces that you narrate during your one-hour show? And what was the initial inspiration behind Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show?

The live aspect of the shows are not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater and a majority of how I recoup is by what is charged for the live show and what I make from selling the books after the shows.

For Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show I perform a one-hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800's that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.

I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that. I was in an acting class in 1982 and down the block was an art gallery that had a book store upstairs. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800's and someone had put their art work inside the binding. I thought this was a good idea and set out to do the same thing. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this. When I was finished with the book I was pleased with the results and kept making more of them. I made most of the books in the 80's and very early 90's. Some of the books utilize text from the biding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about twenty of them. When I was editing my first feature film WHAT IS IT? there was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film into a feature from what was originally going to be a short. I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the books are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. It took a while but in 1992 I started performing what I used to call Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show. People get confused as to what that is so now I always let it be known that it is a one-hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. There is a second slide show now that has 7 books and is performed if I have a show with Part 1 of the IT trilogy and then on the subsequent night I will perform the second slide show and Part 2 of the IT trilogy.

The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed.

I definitely have been aware of the element of utilizing the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films. It lets me go to various places and have the local media cover the fact that I will be performing a one-hour live dramatic narration of eight different books which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them, then show the film either WHAT IS IT? being 72 minutes or IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. being 74 minutes. Then having a Q & A and then a book signing. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment even if it is a slow process.

Volcanic Eruptions was a business I started in Los Angeles in 1988 as Crispin Hellion Glover doing business as Volcanic Eruptions. It was a name to use for my book publishing company. About a year later I had a record/CD come out with a corporation called Restless Records. About when I had sold the same amount of books as CDs/records it was very clear to me that, because I had published my own books, I had a far greater profit margin. It made me very suspicious of working with corporations as a business model. Financing/Producing my own films is based on the basic business model of my own publishing company. There are benefits and drawbacks about self distributing my own films. In this economy it seems like a touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films

There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements.

There are benefits that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way becasue digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to be underestimated as a very important part of the show for for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense.

The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.

For the live performance aspect of my shows I have been performing Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 1 since 1993. I started performing Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 2 three years ago. Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 1 has stayed the exact same show since the first time I ever performed it. Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 2 has taken a few years to develop and it is finally working extremely well. It is working well to the point that I think I am getting even better response Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 2 than Part 1 and I always have had excellent response with Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 1. Much of Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 2 finally working very well was the addition of a book that was made specifically for the show.

Both Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show Part 1 and 2 are now set shows that do not vary. That being said there is an element of my own energy that will play a part on how either show is performed from night to night. So there are relatively small energetic differentiations from myself and from the audience that to me make a bit of a difference, but to the audience I do not think make as much of a difference. They key is if the structure of the show itself works. Now both the shows work very well and I and the audience always enjoy them. Every once in a while there can be a technical problem that has to be dealt with and the audience actually always enjoys the aspect of “the show must go on!”

A clip from Crispin Hellion Glover's book What It Is and How It Is Done. as performed in Crispin Hellion's Glover's Big Slide Show. Video courtesy of CrispinGlover.com

IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE., which you co-directed with David Brothers, is a psuedo retelling of the life of the film's screenwriter Steven C. Stewart (who was in your directorial debut WHAT IS IT?) What was it about Mr. Stewart's life that inspired you to tell his story?

I am very careful to make it quite clear that WHAT IS IT? is not a film about Down’s Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to their self “Is this right what I am watching? Is this wrong what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What is it?” -and that is the title of the film. What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture’s media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in it’s media? It is a bad thing because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So WHAT IS IT? Is a direct reaction to the contents this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. I put Steve in to the cast of WHAT IS IT? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned WHAT IS IT? from a short film into a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay dealt with. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.” short for “Mental Retard”. This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence. When he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller, truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography. As I have stated, I put Steven C. Stewart in to WHAT IS IT? When I turned WHAT IS IT? in to a feature film. Originally WHAT IS IT? was going to be a short film to promote the concept to corporate film funding entities that work with a cast wherein most characters are played by actors with Down’s Syndrome. Steve had written his screenplay in in the late 1970’s. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steven C. Stewart died within a month after we finished shooting the film. Cerebral Palsy is not generative but Steve was 62 when we shot the film. One of Steve’s lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in and when Steven C. Stewart’s lung collapsed in the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first CHARLIE'S ANGELS film was coming to me. I realized the money I made from that film I could put straight in to the Steven C. Stewart film. That is exactly what happened. I finished acting in CHARLIE'S ANGELS and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven C. Stewart lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in an lower budget film for about five weeks and David Brothers started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting. I am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film and also produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve’s film made. I would have felt that I had done something wrong and that I had actually done a bad thing if I had not gotten it made. So I am greatly relieved to have completed it especially since I am very pleased with how well the film has turned out. We shot IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. while I was still completing WHAT IS IT? and this is partly why WHAT IS IT? took a long time to complete. I am very proud of the film as I am of WHAT IS IT? I feel IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career. People who are interested in when I will be back should join up on the e-mail list at CrispinGlover.com as they will be emailed with information as to where I will be with whatever film I tour with. It is by far the best way to know how to see the films.

 After CHARLIE'S ANGELS came out, it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.

Steven C. Stewart as Paul Baker in IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. Photo courtesy of CrispinGlover.com

IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is now your second film. Do you have any immediate plans to direct another feature? Maybe a third to round out your IT trilogy or perhaps any others?

People often ask if part three of the trilogy is what I will be making next, but it is not. I should not go in to detail for IT IS MINE. yet and I will not shoot that next. There are other projects outside of the trilogy that I will shoot next. I own property in the Czech Republic and am making a small soundstage out there to continue making my own films. It is another culture and another language and I need to build up to complex productions like WHAT IS IT? and the existing sequel IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE. IT IS MINE. is an even more complex project than those two films were so it will be a while yet for that production.

I am in the process of writing a screenplay for myself and my father to act in together. He is also an actor and that is the next film I am planning to make as a director/producer. This will be the first role I write for myself to act in that will be written as an acting role as opposed to a role that was written for the character I play to merely serve the structure. But even still on some level I am writing the screenplay to be something that I can afford to make. There are two other projects I am currently developing to shoot on sets at my property in the Czech Republic. The cost of the set building will determine which one I actually shoot next. They are will all be relatively affordable yet still cinematically pleasing.

Writer/Director Crispin Hellion Glover in WHAT IS IT? Photo courtesy of CrispinGlover.com

During an interview we did together at Sundance in 2010 for DRUNK HISTORY: TESLA AND EDISON, you were accompanied by a gentleman who you told me documents the festivals and events you attend. Are you currently working on turning this into a self-reflexive documentary of sorts?

That project started with an interview the night of the premiere of WHAT IS IT? at Sundance in 2005. The filmmaker definitely has collected some good footage that over the last six years and there will be some earlier footage available to him for that project as well. I am not the director of that project, but I would like to make certain something interesting happens with it, and I predict that it will.

A bit of a retrospective question if I may. You've been in almost 60 pictures that span every genre, some of them classics that will rank at the top of "Best Of" lists as long as cinema exists. Is it possible for you to pick a favorite film you've been a part of?

As far as acting goes there are very different ways to think about this. There are performances of myself that I like wherein I do not particularly love the film itself. It is very rare that I have been in a film that I truly enjoy as an audience member. That being said some of the performances I like of myself are:

Layne in RIVER’S EDGE
Larry Huff in THE ORKLY KID
Danny in TEACHERS
George McFly in BACK TO THE FUTURE
The Thin Man in CHARLIE'S ANGELS
Willard in WILLARD
Bartleby in BARTLEBY
Grendel in BEOWULF
Cousin Dell in WILD AT HEART
Dueling Demii God Auteur in WHAT IS IT?

Crispin performs his one man show tonight and tomorrow night at the historic Texas Theatre. Tickets can be purchased here.

Visit CrispinGlover.com to see when he'll be in your city, along with information on WHAT IS IT?, IT IS FINE! EVERYTHING IS FINE., Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show, his books, and more!

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