Glover2.jpgIt's hard to say what enigmatic actor Crispin Glover is best known for: Back to the Future's George McFly? His role in Charlie's Angels? Almost kicking David Letterman in the head? If Glover has his way, he'll ultimately make his mark with his trilogy of films exploring the ways in which the monolithic American movie industry systematically excises various taboos from cinema. The first film in the series, the surreal non-narrative What Is It?, employed a cast comprised almost exclusively of actors with Down syndrome who performed scenes charged with startling sexual and emotional pathos.

The second film, It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is markedly different in tone. Written by Steven C. Stewart, a man afflicted with cerebral palsy who also stars, the film is comparatively naturalistic in tone. It's the fantasy of a man improperly institutionalized with cerebral palsy who first dreams that his heart is broken by unrequited love, then dreams that he goes on a noir sex-fueled killing spree, made all the more striking by the fact that he is almost entirely physically immobile. Stewart and Glover's collaboration is immensely daring and emotionally searing; by using the experience of a man trapped in his own body to question the limitations of society's pity for the handicapped, It Is Fine! amounts to a haunting validation of the rich humanity of those who struggle with monstrous physical disabilities. It's a brave, beautiful, unforgettable film that New York audiences will have a chance to see for one week starting November 21st at the IFC Center. Crispin Glover will be on hand at all the screenings to answer questions and present his "Big Slide Show" featuring illustrations and narration from eight of his novels. (More details available on Glover's website.)

What are some of the conceptual differences between What is It? and It is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE? They’re very different kinds of films. I wrote, directed and edited What Is It? myself. And it’s really my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened within the last 20-30 years in films wherein anything that could possibly make an audience member uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film is not distributed or funded. That’s a very damaging thing, to prevent people from looking at a film and wondering, “Is this the right thing I’m watching, is this the wrong thing I’m watching, should I be here, should the filmmaker have done this?” These are genuine questions and people are having an educational experience at that point. And for everything to be ubiquitously excised that can possibly prompt people to ask genuine questions within the culture ends up stupefying the culture. And I think that really has happened to this culture.

So What Is It? was almost a thesis, an exploration of that question: What is that taboo within the culture, what does it mean that you can’t explore these things, what is it? Whereas with EVERYTHING IS FINE, being part two, it’s like, “Okay, we’ve said that already. Now let’s actually explore these things you’re not supposed to be exploring in corporately funded and distributed film. This is the story of a man written by Steven C. Stewart; I funded it, co-directed it, co-edited it and I’m distributing it. So I contributed a lot of aesthetic elements to it but ultimately this one is Steven C. Stewart’s film.

And I feel that when the trilogy is done it will be the best film of the trilogy, but not only that I think it will be the best film I’ll have anything to do with in my whole career. There’s something about the emotional cathartic element that happens with the Steven C. Stewart character that I’m very proud of in EVERYTHING IS FINE.

How did you become involved in bringing his script to film? It’s a long story. He had written the movie after he’d been virtually locked in a nursing home for about ten years after his mother died in his twenties. And people would derisively call him an M.R.; a mental retard, which of course is not a nice thing to say to anybody. But the bookends to the movie are the only things we shot on location, everything else was shot on soundstage sets. And coincidentally that one location we used was the nursing home he had been locked in! We did not find that out until we were at the location. So that place that you see in the film, that was where he experienced life in his twenties. He did end up getting out of the nursing home and when he did he wrote the screenplay.

I was working on a movie – well, it’s a long story how I got to see the script. But when I was 19 I was working on a film called the The Orkly Kid with a filmmaker who was from Salt Lake City. He knew a filmmaker in Salt Lake City named Larry Roberts who had made a short documentary for television about Steven C. Stewart and his experience in the nursing home. I believe the documentary actually helped him get out of the nursing home and Larry suggested he talk about the script [EVERYTHING IS FINE] to a young area filmmaker named David Brothers. When I was working on The Orkly Kid Larry Roberts had shown me some of David Brothers’s movies and this was at the time I wanted to start making some of my books into movies. And I thought David Brothers’s films were very creative and he was starting to build sets and I thought he would be a good person to collaborate with. So we made one of the books that’s in my slideshow into a video, I’m only now starting to edit it – this was shot in the 80s. I’m looking forward to finally getting to it.

But while we were shooting that David told me about Steven C. Stewart’s screenplay and as soon as I read it I knew I had to produce this movie, particularly because of the scene where he’s asking Linda, the part played by Margit Carstensen, to marry him. It’s written in this ‘70s detective movie genre style, there was always a naiveté to it, which was something David Brothers and I wanted to make sure we preserved and didn’t interfere with. But the fact that it wasn’t written as an autobiography and he was just kind of using himself truthfully to play the bad guy in this genre movie, it reveals different things that I don’t think would have been revealed had it been written as a strict autobiography. And that scene where he’s asking her all kind of interesting things about the hair… that scene is the emotional crux of the film. I never asked Steve but I assumed this was something he had experienced at least once.

Had he ever had a relationship with a woman? Yeah, he did. He wasn’t a virgin or anything like that. I think his experiences were not perfect experiences.

Didn’t he meet someone during the course of making the film? One of the last title cards says that he fell in love with one of the actresses from the film and he willed his portion of the proceeds from the film to her.

Was his love reciprocated? I don’t like to say. It’s not that it’s a secret or anything but I think it’s good to let it be known that that happened but I feel like some of it’s private. I feel like it would be a little wrong to talk about it too much in terms of publicity. Because the actress is a private person and it’s not really fair to get into the private life of somebody. I don’t reveal who it is or anything. If that person wanted to come out and talk about it that’d be fine but it wouldn’t be right for me to talk about it.

Was there a specific moment of inspiration that inspired your vision for this trilogy? Yeah, kind of. This is another long story; I often tell this in a different order. Steven C. Stewart’s film was not the thing that started this trilogy, it was its own separate entity, it wasn’t originally part of this trilogy of films. Nor did either of the other two screenplays have anything to do with Steven C. Stewart initially. I ended up incorporating Steven C. Stewart into the first film later on when I realized there were thematic similarities and that it could help this film commercially to have a prequel to it, so to speak.

But in the mid-nineties two young writers submitted a script to my agent and made an offer to me to act in a film they wanted to direct, which they really shouldn’t have done because they didn’t have any money. But it got me to read the screenplay and there were interesting things about it. But I had decided that the next first-time filmmaker I wanted to work with would be myself. And I said to them I would be interested in acting in it if I could rework some concepts in it and direct it. So they came and met with me and the main thing was that I wanted most of the characters to be played by actors with Down syndrome. And they were okay with that.

Why did you make that choice? Well, I had written other screenplays with the concept of having actors with Down syndrome play the parts. Sometimes they were playing characters that did have Down syndrome, sometimes there were differentiations. In What Is It? the characters don’t have Down syndrome necessarily, they’re just played by actors who have Down syndrome. The film is not about Down syndrome, it’s about my psychological reaction to corporate restraints of anything possibly taboo. But I had had an interest in this for many years; I’d always felt that people with Down syndrome had interesting qualities that could really reflect well in film. And I still feel that way. I loved working with all the actors in the film, they all did a great job, they really brought a lot of individual interest to each of the characters they played.

But there was a different conception in the initial screenplay that will end up being part three of the trilogy. What happened was that I went to rework the young writers’ screenplay and David Lynch agreed to executive produce it for me to direct. And I had a number of actors of name value who were interested in being in it. I went to one of the large corporate entities in Los Angeles to get funding and they were interested but after another series of meetings they said that they were concerned about funding a film where a number of characters were played by actors with Down syndrome. So it was decided that I should write a short film that promoted this as a viable concept, and that film was What Is It?

And initially all of the actors in the film had Down syndrome; we shot that short version in four days and when I edited down it came out to 84 minutes. And it was too long for the concepts that were in the movie; in fact the film is only 72 minutes now. It was longer than the final film and I hadn’t set out to make it into a feature at that point. And I also realized that if I made it into a feature that the original screenplay I had reworked, which is titled It Is Mine, could be made into a sequel. So I changed the antagonism in the film and I put myself in What Is It? as a personification of the antagonism. And I realized if I put Steven C. Stewart into the film that there were certain conceptual elements in his movie that fit into What Is It? And if I put him into What Is It? I could make It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE into a sequel and part of a trilogy and there would be a commercial aspect that would be helpful to the film itself.

Initially Steven C. Stewart’s film was going to be part three but in 2000 one of his lungs collapsed. Cerebral palsy is not degenerative but he was choking on his own saliva and it caused that health problem. And so it became apparent that if we didn’t shoot something soon we might never get to shoot anything at all. And it was right around the same time that the first Charlie’s Angels film was coming to me. So I realized that with the money that I made from that film I could put it into the Steven C. Stewart film and make that movie. That’s what I did. After I shot Charlie’s Angels I went to Salt Lake City and sets started being built. For a period of six months, consisting of three separate smaller productions, we shot the film.

And within a month after we finished shooting the film Steve died. When he was on his deathbed he contacted us and made sure that it was okay for him to take himself off life support. And I know that if I had said, “No, Steve, you can’t die right now, we need to shoot more stuff,” he would have gone and gotten an operation and done what he needed to do. It was of course a sad day and a heavy responsibility to tell him, yes, we have enough footage. So he did what he had to do. And it took a while because I was still in the midst of figuring out a lot of technical problems that were still going on with What Is It? What Is It? took nine and a half years from the first day of shooting to having a 35 mm print. But really, more accurately, both films – What Is It? and EVERYTHING IS FINE were made relatively close to each other – took twelve years. And most of that time there were technical problems with What Is It? which were finally resolved by going through a digital intermediate; I was originally going to do everything photo chemically.

After Paul kills the last woman they’re lying on the floor together and I wish I could understand what he said. Right. There would be a violation of the concept if there were subtitles for the film and it would be condescending to Steve to do it. Also it is revealed later through these bookends that what happens in between is a very clear cut fantasy element where everybody understands what he says, in his fantasy. We went through it and knew that virtually every line he says may not be understood by anybody at all. And we just felt that in the context with other people one can understand what is going on. What did you feel was happening at that point?

It seemed to be a moment of revelation because it was one of the rare moments in the film where he was expressing himself without anyone there to listen. In the dialogue scenes you could get a sense of what he was saying by the other actors’ reactions but in that climactic scene at the end he was alone. It made me very curious. There’s another scene where he has another monologue after he’s choked Linda. Which, actually for me is one of the only things that I don’t know exactly what he’s saying because it’s an improv and he had not written that out. I think I know what he’s saying but that’s one of the things I love about the movie, actually, is that even if Steve was here alive there would be questions one could ask him… He was of normal intelligence but he wasn’t an analytical intellectual. And so a lot of questions like, “Why do you like long hair?” he would respond with, “I don’t know.” He wasn’t stupid but he wasn’t analytical either. So yeah, I don’t mind that some of that stuff is mysterious because some of it will always be mysterious to me as well and I kind of enjoy that.

But what is in the script at the end that he says? Someday I plan to publish the screenplay. I don’t think I should say. I’m careful because I feel it’s more important for the audience to have the experience because even if something can’t be heard, whatever the emotional experience they are having in that moment is the right thing. Even if they hate the film and just want to get up and leave and tell everybody how bad it was, well, that was the right experience for them. Or if they’re curious and they don’t quite know what it is and they’re interested, maybe they’ll see it again or years later they’ll find the screenplay. But I don’t feel I should be telling people what things are because I feel like it limits the experience somehow. When I go and do the question and answer for What Is It?, what I do with that film is put it into context as to what it was reacting to. But I’m very careful to not explain small things.

I can appreciate that. For me, I’ve never spent any amount of time with anyone that handicapped so I appreciated not having things spelled out for me; it gave me the immersive feeling that I was actually sharing these moments with Steve. Right, right.

You mentioned in an interview that Werner Herzog is one of your favorite filmmakers. Is there truth to the story that Werner Herzog was told that What Is It? is a spoof, in part of his own films?
It’s definitely not a spoof; I haven’t heard that rumor but there would be no reason for me to spoof Werner Herzog’s films, I think his films are excellent and don’t really need spoofing from my point of view. But What Is It? was definitely influenced by at least two of his films, specifically Even Dwarves Started Small and Fata Morgana. With Even Dwarves Started Small there was a feeling of an entire group of people that are living somehow outside of the culture, and that feeling happens in What Is It? It was more like that perhaps when it was a short film; other things changed when it was turned into a feature film. And certainly What Is It? is reacting to different things than what Werner Herzog was reacting to when he made Even Dwarves Started Small. But people who have seen both of those films can see an influence without a doubt. Fata Morgana has more to do with a structuralism that starts to happen within your head and having questions in your mind that start to become the experience of what the film is about; Fata Morgana is a film that operates very much like that. And I think 2001: A Space Odyssey operates like that as well but they’re very different movies.

Has Herzog seen EVERYTHING IS FINE?
No and I’d like him to because he was really supportive and nice about What Is It? and from what I can tell he’s very supportive of fellow younger filmmakers and I really appreciate that. And I have a feeling that he’ll really like EVERYTHING IS FINE. After the film was done David Brothers and I were talking about how Herzog tends toward making a lot of films with very strong male characters who feel kind of outside of the culture, and this is something that EVERYTHING IS FINE definitely has.

Do you identify with these characters because in your career you’ve managed to be in the dominant culture in certain points but still remain outside of it.
Yeah, I don’t really know what to think of that. I live in Los Angeles, I have property in the Czech Republic, I was born in New York and have spent a lot of time here. But certainly most of my life I’ve been around the corporately funded and distributed film experience; my father is an actor so I’ve been around that and in some ways I’m very much immersed in the culture. And in other ways I have points of view about the culture that make me feel like it’s important to remove myself from certain elements of it.

How long are you going to be touring with EVERYTHING IS FINE? I haven’t finished touring with What Is It? and I will continue touring with both of them for years. And it’s something that I need to keep reiterating to people about piracy. It’s something I’m very concerned about because I need to recoup the money that’s invested. I think now people think it’s just a DVD but what people who pirate DVDs are really responsible for is at least a couple hundred thousand dollars that I’ve invested in each of these films. And I am going to be recouping this by touring for years. I don’t want to be recouping it by releasing the film on DVD.

What has the reaction to It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE been like so far?
Without having seen What Is It? it may not seem like this, but It Is Fine! is an easier film for people to get behind. What Is It? really had an intellectual distancing at work; there wasn’t really any character you could have a cathartic experience with in What Is It? With this film there is a strong emotional catharsis for Steven C. Stewart’s character and it’s part of what I think is really excellent about the movie. There are a lot of taboos that are explored in What Is It? and it’s part of what that thesis is dealing with. And if there are people who have difficulty with graphic sexuality in film then this is not a film for them to see. It’s going to be unrated so no one under 18 is allowed and that’s fine; it’s an adult film.

Be that as it may, if there is an adult who doesn’t have difficulty with graphic sexuality in film they should be able to explore this. And I feel like it’s a very beneficial exploration for someone to go through. I’m very glad that I’ve been able to work with it. When the whole trilogy is done this will be the best film in the trilogy and also the best film I’ve ever been involved in.

I’ve been getting a very positive feedback. With What Is It? I’d expected a certain amount of negative reviewing, but I actually got positive reviews in large publications, like the New York Times saying, “Crispin Hellion Glover, auteur, is a force to be reckoned with.” So what more could I ask for? I was surprised by that; I was fully ready to accept and be grateful just to be reviewed by The New York Times with a negative review. Because I know as a producer in talking to people that some people will read a review and go see the film even if they don’t like the review. On this film I am expecting more positive reviews; I feel like people involved in the film community and who know cinema will see the value of the piece and that it has a lot of genuine heart and soul – and those are words I generally won’t use. But there’s a strong emotional cathartic experience with the Steven C. Stewart character in the film. I would assume there will be some negative reviews but it’s almost like because Steven C. Stewart wrote it it’s almost like kicking a man when he’s down, it’s almost unfair for somebody to say something negative. If they’re going to have problems with the graphic sexuality I’d rather they picked on What Is It? because I have that in there as well, with the Steven C. Stewart character, as kind of a foreshadowing of this. But It Is Fine! is an exploration of a man’s genuine psyche and a documentation of this fantasy and that’s part of what’s really unusual about the film is that it’s a documentation of him.

I don’t have the entire history of cinema in my head but I wonder if there has ever been such a faithful rendition of a handicapped person’s artistic vision in cinema.
I don’t think there is. There are films that have a kind of particularity unto themselves that are not repeatable and I think this happens to be one of those films. If Steve had died and this film had not been made I would have genuinely felt I had done something wrong – not only would I have felt, ‘Oh I should have done that,’ but I would have felt I had done something bad by not getting it made. So I am relieved that this has happened. David Brothers and I joked about it at Sundance, that Steve forced us to make this film. At some level there’s a truth to that; we both felt like this had to be made.

And like I say I’m genuinely relieved and glad to be getting it out. This was not repeatable; we couldn’t have just hired another actor with cerebral palsy to play the part because part of it is also that he had a hair fetish and that’s at least as important as the cerebral palsy. It is the documentation of his fantasy that is so important. And that is what makes it particularly unusual. And like you say I can’t think of another movie that is particular like that. There are other movies that are particular unto themselves that are also not repeatable but this is in a very small class of movies that exist like that. And that’s something that I’m really glad to have been a part of.