It’s October 31st. Halloween. My stomach’s in knots, not only from the food poisoning (screw you, San Francisco), but because I’m about to call one of my forever-heroes, Crispin Glover. I have his home telephone number. How the hell did that happen? I know my face is beet-red as I dial the number. I do it anyway…
CRISPIN GLOVER: So you saw What Is It? when I had a rough version years and years ago?
KELLY O: I did. And that would be my first question. What has changed?
CRISPIN GLOVER: What you saw was a video that I had taken off a computer, a very degraded-looking element. The new film is a 35mm print. I was in the middle of editing when I toured with the video—I wanted to see how audiences would react. Anyone who’s seen what that was, well, it’s now not very similar at all. It will be interesting to see what you wrote from your recollection of it.
I hope I didn’t get it really WRONG.
There are scenes that are similar, but… well, the sound is completely different, and the editing, I’m certain, is QUITE different.
Do you do all the editing yourself?
Yes. And there are new scenes that weren’t in the first film. When you see it again, it’ll evoke some memory, but it will also be a very different experience.
You know, the first time I saw it, we tried to go get coffee afterward, and talk about what we had just seen, but it was so dreamlike… like when you try to remember the details of a dream, but you just can’t.
It does operate on that level. Especially now that it’s done, people will come and see it multiple times. It’s designed to be experienced this way. There’s definitely a structure that becomes more evident on the third or fourth viewing—certain things start to fall into place. Some of my very favorite films operate like that.
But if you don’t release it on DVD, how will people get the chance to see it again and again?
Well, there are three screenings, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, so people could do it that way. But also, I’ve shot the sequel to the film, and I’ll tour with that too. It won’t be a normal kind of release…. I plan to tour with the film(s) for many years to come. It’s quite likely that, in a year or so, I’ll come back with the sequel.
You have the trailer for What Is It? posted on YouTube. Are you worried that, someday, a bootleg might appear?
I don’t mind having a trailer there—YouTube’s great—and good for things like previews. There was someone that tried to sell a bootleg on eBay, and I was nice about it once, but I would never be nice about it again. It’s a highly illegal thing to do. I think people don’t realize that it’s very different for a studio to have a bootleg than someone like myself. Most studio films are released on DVD anyway, so they can take that hit. For me, it would be extremely damaging.
So this is a trilogy—is there a common thread that runs through all three?
Yes—there are themes, but also great differentiations. It’s not a normal trilogy. In corporately funded film, the reason that a second or third film is made is because the first film was a financial success. But what happens is the second and third fall very short of what was originally appealing about that original film.
Almost ALWAYS. Can you tell me a bit about the sequel, It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!?
I was working on another film, up in Salt Lake, when I was given a screenplay written by this fellow, Steven C. Stewart, a man with a very severe case of cerebral palsy. Stewart had been locked in a nursing home for a number of years after his parents had died. They labeled him a “M.R.”—a “mental retard”—yet he was of normal intelligence. This screenplay he wrote, though not a strict autobiography, had a fantastical, psychosexual element to it… almost like folk art. It was fascinating to read, and I said, “THIS is a movie I want to produce.” Also, Steve Stewart is the man in What Is It? who chokes me and kills me in the end of the film. Ultimately, this [trilogy] is my psychological reaction to a certain kind of frustration I have with corporate control of the content in our media. Right now, anything that makes an audience uncomfortable, with any kind of taboo, will be necessarily excised, or will not be distributed. I think it’s a very damaging thing to have happening to the culture.
It’s especially prevalent in films….
It’s not only prevalent, it’s basically ABSOLUTE. If there’s a film that goes beyond the realm of good and evil, then this film will not be funded. So many of my favorite filmmakers—Stanley Kubrick, Luis Buñuel, Fassbinder, Herzog—they’ve all made films that go beyond this realm—and have been financially successful. Even more importantly….
WHAT AN IDIOT I AM—MY TAPE ENDS, WITH CRISPIN MID-SENTENCE. But I have so many more questions! What about the slide show? Adam Parfrey? And Steven Spielberg! Does Spielberg really like young boys?
* * *
Crispin goes on to tell me that, although the sheer amount of taboo in What Is It? can definitely be disconcerting, it’s purpose wasn’t just that. He wants to evoke discussion and dialogue about racism, and prejudice. And he claims he tries not to be “flippant” in the Q&A.
I then try to ask him, “Why snails?” He starts to explain that the snail-killings are actually the MOST taboo thing in the whole film. He tells me he definitely does NOT advocate animal cruelty or snail-killing for sport. I interrupt and say, “No, the snails themselves, still alive, terrify the hell out of me.” He laughs and says he thinks they’re beautiful, especially on film. I apologize for my interview tape, and lack of skill. He says he looks forward to coming to Seattle because he thinks all the darkness and rain in the Northwest probably leads to more time indoors, and a more thoughtful film community.
We hang up. I think to myself, we are a more thoughtful film audience. But the rain also delivers my own terrible nightmares about slow-moving slugs. And now, screaming snails.
Find more of Glover at http://www.crispinglover.com.