Friday, November 20, 2009

Crispin Hellion Glover @ Charles Theater

Crispin shows what it is and how it is done

This was a busy week for a reclusive suburban shut-in like me, but when opportunity knocks, ya gotta answer the call - especially when it's two pioneering artists like Devo and Crispin Hellion Glover that are knockin.' On Sunday night I spent (factoring in the requisite Ticketron "service" charges) roughly $55 to see Devo play their first album Q: Are We Not Men, A: We are Devo! and two encore songs over the course of roughly one hour. (And since we're talking D.C., factor in another $20 for parking.) Three days later I paid $20 plus a mere $2 parking to see Crispin Hellion Glover present over four hours of entertainment and crowd interaction, including "Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show" (a one-hour reading from all eight of his altered/authored books), his latest film It is fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE!(this 2007 film, co-directed with David Brothers, is the second part of Glover's "It" trilogy that began with 2005's What Is It? - which he screened the trailer for afterwards), an exhaustive post-screening audience Q&, and an even more exhaustive post-Q&A book-signing with fans. My girlfriend Amy and I were starving, but we feasted on entertainment value; as Amy said later, with her signature omnivoristic perspective: "I loved Devo but this was the better value meal!"

The gathered masses apparently agreed. The event was sold-out and as I nodded to and greeted a sea of familiar faces in the Charles lobby, I commented to Amy: "I think every Baltimore hipster, artist, and scenemaker is here tonight. If a terrorist or right-wing Christian wacko [since The Charles Theater was screening Lars Von Trier's Antichrist there] blew up the Charles Theater tonight, they'd wipe out Baltimore cultural arts community in one fell swoop."

Local luminaries lobbied in the Charles
Theater lobby for the CHG Live Experience

To be sure, as I looked around it was a Who's Who of local notables, including John Waters; his pals "Orpheum" George Figgs and former Atomic Books/Atomic TV honcho Scott Huffines; Reptilian Records mogul Chris X; Merkin Records founder Joe Goldsborough; Sondheim Award-winning artist Laure Drougoul; beautiful MICA film animator/teacher Laurence Arcadias; artist-about-town Dan Van Allen; Normal Books & Records' impresario Rupert Wondolowski; dynamic arts duo Lynne Parks & Chris Siron; former Meatjack maestro Brian Danilowski; Rock Star frontman Todd Stachowski; erstwhile Katatonix musico and eternal "Living Legend" Adolf Kowalski; grub critic Richard Gorelick; comedian/Crystal Palace FC USA-booster Kevin Hall; filmmakers Karen Yasinsky, Stephanie Barber, Ann Everton, Billy McConnell, and Craig Smith (Psychedelic Glue-Sniffing Hillbillies); and on and on and infinitum.

Roll call at The Charles

"I wish I had my Hipster Bingo cards on me tonight," I mumbled to Amy. "I'd have shouted 'Bingo!' by now." I'd already spotted the requisite Hot Asian Girl with digital camcorder and stylish zippered jeans (they seem to be everywhere these days!), the Weezer Guy with the nerdy glasses, the cool styled-sideburns kid, the Bettie Page and Louise Brooks fashionista femme fatales, and all the tatted and pierced wannabees in their fedoras, pea coats, skinny jeans, and spotless red or black Chuck Taylor kicks.

"The Big Slide Show" ran about an hour and was very amusing, though it could easily be trimmed down to, say four or five books. I think I enjoyed Concrete Inspector and Rat Catching the best, both of which are still available for purchase on CHG's website:

Glover is very protective of intellectual property rights (don't count on finding YouTube clips or screeners for any of his works!), but he has sanctioned this reading of What It Is and How It Is Done - because it's on his website! Better yet, it was taken from an episode of Atomic TV and even has our logo on it!:

Next up was It Is Fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE!, which ran 74 minutes.


The film is of a type that whose format you either accept within the first 5 minutes - or bail on while there's still time to opt out...the kind of motion picture of which All About Eve's Bette Davis would advise: "Fasten your seatbelts; you're in for a bumpy ride!" In short, it was written by and stars Steven C. Stewart (pictured below), a man born with cerebral palsy who spent the formative years of his life in a nursing home where he was disdained as an "M.R." (Mental Retard).

The Tao of Steve: babes find cerebral palsy studs irresistible

The frustration of that kind of backstory helps explain why he wrote the screenplay as a sort of 1980s made-for-TV crime thriller in which he plays a cerebral palsy guy named "Paul" irresistible to women (and fetishistically attracted to their long hair!), whom he kills when they threaten to leave him - or cut their hair! The biggest stretch of the imagination is that he believes people can easily understand him, even though he speaks at best like Monty Python's Gumbies. As I whispered to Amy, "The only thing worse than trying to understand what a person with cerebral palsy is saying is trying to understand a Scotsman with cerebral palsy...that's a double whammy no-win situation!" Glover gets around it by having the actresses and other characters move the narrative along with their dialogue (e.g., "Why yes Paul, I'd like to have you meet my kids.")

To pass his time, Paul fantasizes about the man he should be despite his twisted body and four possible relationships he could have and their (always dire) outcomes. In the film's most graphic moment, he receives fellatio from another handicapped patient. I loved the post-screening Q & A when Patti Vucci asked the question I had been wondering, too, when she said, "I know this isn't an art school question but more like a junior high type question, but was he really fucking that chick at the end?" (Answer: Yes! And the fellatio was not simulated. Shocking as it may be, it's not that hard to find struggling actresses in Southern California who will do sex scenes if a good role comes up.) (Equally shocking: these sex scenes are...very un-erotic! If you get off on them, you have more problems than Steven C. Stewart!) (Then again, one man's prime rib is another's Hamburger Helper: I can still recall creepy library patrons who got off watching glimpses of flesh in our potty training and breast cancer videos!)

The decision to not use subtitles and to let the star speak in his indecipherable natural voice was as much a testament to the filmmakers' sincerity (as Edith Massey sang in her cover of "Big Girls Don't Cry": "Sincerity counts when you're talking to me!") as it was to testing an audience's endurance. (But as the Merry Prankster himself, Ken Kesey, once delineated: "You're either on the bus or off the bus."

Or as Chris Gore commented:
“Glover and Brothers force you to see this crippled person as a suave leading man. To say the film is weird would be cliché, it's way beyond that the film drew laughs and gasps from the audience. The odd thing about it all - it works. It's actually refreshing to see someone who actually has cerebral palsy in a film rather than some actor playing someone with cerebral palsy…"

Though a friend (legitimately, understandably) groaned afterwards that, "That was painful!," I enjoyed the movie and was impressed by the technical aspects of Glover's and Brothers' filmmaking, from the look (it was shot on 16mm and blown up to 35mm), to the lighting and wonderfully anachronistic set designs. In short, it was a Midnight Movie made 30 years past its heyday. Back to the Future, indeed. The rich, color-saturated photography made me think of Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, while the sparse, East German-kitsch sets with their technicolor shag carpets made me think of early John Waters and David Lynch movies - not to mention Chuck Statler-era Devo music videos.

PAPER Magazine's Dennis Dermody nailed it when he wrote:
“Glover's co-director- David Brothers' art direction create streets and apartment interiors of hallucinatory luridness. That, mixed with the thunderous soundtrack of Beethoven, Smetana and Tchaikovsky give the movie a relentless nightmare quality. What Diane Arbus was to photography, Crispin Hellion Glover is swiftly achieving as a filmmaker. Training his sardonic eyes on the strange and afflicted he achieves a mad dark poetry on celluloid.”

And, yes, the all-classical library soundtrack was pitch perfect - and again reminded me of early Kenneth Anger soundtracks, before he started using pop music.

In a major casting coup, the film also features Fassbinder regular Margit Cartensen (The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Fear of Fear) as "Linda Barnes" (though at first I thought she was a man - her look here is very David Bowie circa Hunky Dory), not to mention Crispin's old man Bruce Glover, who is currently working on a documentary about the making of It Is Fine, and former Playboy January 1997 "Playmate of the Month" (and ex-Glover girlfriend) Jami Ferrell (she's on Facebook!) as the drunk blonde who is flattered she can "give a cripple a hard-on."

Margit Carstensen, back in the day...

Margit Cartsensen, more recently

Daddy-O Glover: Bruce Glover as Bond villain
Mr. Wint in "Diamonds Are Forever"

Following is a trailer for It is Fine:

It Is Fine trailer

It became clear from the Q & A afterwards that Crispin Hellion Glover is a passionate idealist who truly really believes in what he believes in. And not as crazy as the roles he portrays or the David Letterman moments make him appear. Basically, he's a throwback to the non-conformist, anti-Hollywood indie filmmakers of the "Midnight Movies" era of the late '60s, the '70s, and early '80s, in the pre-VCR days when the John Waters, Alejandro Jodorowskys, and David Lynchs of the world were making fare like Divine Trash, El Topo, and Eraserhead. (And speaking of El Topo, George Figgs correctly pointed out in the post-screening Q & A that Jodorowsky's ground-breaking Midnight special featured midgets and other Fellini-esque human oddities way before Glover was accused of exploiting differently-enabled people). And, as in the pre-VCR/pre-Video-On-Demand days of yore, Glover is a theatrical purist who believes films should be seen in a communal setting in theatres (yet another reason why he won't release his films on DVDs or send out screeners to festivals).

The gist of Glover's Q&A was a re-statement of the points he made on the Tom Green show (see video clip below):

Crispin Hellion Glover on Tom Green

Basically, he's anti-"Corporate Hollywood" filmmaking, though he has learned "What it is and how it is done" enough to take the money for mainstream fare in order to finance making the kind of movies he wants to make, and he wants to harken back to the days of thought-provoking and boundary-pushing films that challenge the viewer to ask questions like: "Is this right?" "Is this wrong?" "Should I be watching this?" "What does this mean?" That is, it's unlikely he'll be renting formulaic Sandra Bullock movies or going to the Cineplex to see CGI-laden blockbusters like 2012.

He apparently made a lot of money from his non-talking role as the "Thin Man" in Charlie's Angels, a classic example of "corporate Hollywood" crapola that Roger Ebert once described as "eye candy for the blind." But the filthy lucre received for his Charlie's Angels performance financed the cost of shooting It Is Fine on film.

But perhaps the most interesting factoid gleaned from the Q&A was the answer to a question about the nursing home depicted in the film. Ironically, the only place the filmmakers could find to film in was same institution Steven C. Stewart had been locked in for 10 years during his Twenties. As Glover said, "You can see that was not a fun place to be living."

Afterwards, it was out to the Charles Theater lobby, where CHG patiently signed any and everything handed to him and posed for photo ops with a long line of adoring fans.

Rupert Wondowlowski takes an iPhone pic
of his gal pal posing with Crispin Glover
(I like how CHG is under a poster for "A Serious Man")

If I could find my The Big Problem does not equal the solution. The Solution equals Let It Be LP (featuring the classic ditty "Clowny Clown Clown"), I might have been tempted to stay, but Amy and her friend Donna Diode were tired, so we called it a night and headed back home in the rain.

In closing, kudos to Charles Theater revival series programmer John Standiford for booking the event. It was yet another good call!

Now if only I can find that dang copy of my (long-misfiled) Crispin Hellion Glover LP The Big Problem...

"The Big Problem..." LP

Related Crispin Hellion Glover links: (official web site)
Essential CHG Videos
It Is Fine trailer 2
"Clowny Clown Clown" music video
Crispin Hellion Glover interview in Filmmaker magazine
It Is Fine cast bios

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