Crispin Glover in­tros odd­ball ‘What is it?’

Ec­cen­tric ac­tor comes to Mem­phis for sur­real one-man show

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

The ap­pro­pri­ately ti­tled “What is it?,” a sur­real and dis­turb­ing fea­ture writ­ten and di­rected by ac­tor Crispin Glover, de­buted at the 2005 Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, where the Mem­phis-made “Forty Shades of Blue” and “Hus­tle & Flow” took top hon­ors.

Even so, “What is it?” — de­scribed in the fes­ti­val pro­gram as “be­wil­der­ing” and “un­nerv­ing” — bears about as much re­sem­blance to the typ­i­cal Sun­dance-val­i­dated “in­die” film as a Ko­modo dragon does to that cute in­sur­ance- com­pany gecko. Glover’s movie was guar­an­teed not to start a bid­ding bat­tle or dis­tri­bu­tion fight among the stu­dios scouting Sun­dance; a war of words, how­ever, is al­most cer­tain to flare up af­ter ev­ery screen­ing.

In what is likely to be the most un­usual movie-re­lated arts event of the year (or just about any other year) in Mem­phis, ac­tor/film­maker Crispin Hel­lion Glover — to give his name its full dis­tinc­tive due — will be in town to screen “What is it?” at 7 p.m Tues­day, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day at the Palace Cin­ema at 5117 Old Sum­mer Road. (The venue is ap­pro­pri­ate: In its hey­day, the Palace — then known as the Fare Four, and later the Cin­ema Show­case — was the only East Mem­phis hard­top the­ater to show such non-main­stream fare as David Cro­nen­berg’s “They Came from Within,” “Debbie Does Dal­las” and “The Bad Lieu­tenant.”)

In ad­di­tion to screen­ing his movie, Glover each night will an­swer ques­tions, sign books and per­form what he calls a “dra­matic nar­ra­tion”-plus-slide -show drawn from the con­tents of the eight art books he’s cre­ated since 1987.

Tick­ets are $20 per night at the door or $17 in ad­vance, avail­able only at Black Lodge Video, 831 S. Cooper. The event was co­or­di­nated by Black Lodge and lo­cal con­cert pro­moter Chris Walker. (Walker also organized the most re­cent prece­dent to Glover’s ap­pear­ance: “Shock Value: An Evening with John Wa­ters,” which took place in 1997 at the New Daisy on Beale Street and in­cluded a screen­ing of “Pink Flamin­gos.”)

Ad­mis­sion to the Glover pro­grams will be lim­ited to peo­ple 18 and older, “due to the strong adult themes and just the gen­eral (screwed) up na­ture” of the film, ac­cord­ing to the Black Lodge Web site, which also prom­ises that when Glover ar­rives, “the dark clouds of me­di­ocrity for­ever loom­ing over the city of Mem­phis will part for three days.”

Glover — who was in Mem­phis in 1996 to act in Mi­los Forman’s “The Peo­ple vs. Larry Flynt” — is pop­u­larly known as an ec­cen­tric char­ac­ter ac­tor who spe­cial­izes in ner­vous or un­nerv­ing char­ac­ters.

He was Marty McFly’s dad, Ge­orge McFly, in his big­gest hit, “Back to the Fu­ture” (1985). He was the mas­ter of rats in “Wil­lard” (2003), Andy Warhol in “The Doors” (1991), a trou­bled teenager in “River’s Edge” (1986) and the grotesque mon­ster Gren­del in the CGI “Be­owulf” (2007). He’s worked with David Lynch (“Wild at Heart”) and Jim Jar­musch (“Dead Man”). When he guest-starred on an episode of “Happy Days,” his char­ac­ter was named “Roach.”

Fa­mously, in 1987, when he was a guest on “Late Night with David Let­ter­man,” Glover di­rected a karate-style kick at the host’s gap-toothed smile that seemed to stop mere inches from its tar­get. The 72-minute “What is it?” and its 74-minute se­quel (ti­tled “It is fine! EV­ERY­THING IS FINE.”) are in­tended to de­liver sim­i­lar round­house kicks to the cul­ture.

A movie in­hab­ited by ac­tors with Down syn­drome, an ill-fated snail (voiced by Fairuza Balk), the scary re­frain of a shock­ingly racist old Johnny Rebel coun­try record and Glover him­self (ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial cast list, he por­trays a “Du­el­ing Demi-God Au­teur and The young man’s in­ner psy­che”), “What is it?” is Glover’s re­sponse to what he sees as a timid, even mori­bund arts cul­ture.

View­ers of the movie likely will ask them­selves whether Glover is ex­ploit­ing his Down syn­drome ac­tors, or pro­vid­ing them with op­por­tu­ni­ties typ­i­cally de­nied them. That’s one rea­son the ques­tion-an­dan­swer ses­sions that fol­low the screen­ings are “ex­tremely im­por­tant,” said Glover, 44, in a writ­ten re­sponse to ques­tions sent via e-mail.

“I make it quite clear that ‘What is it?’ is not a film about Down syn­drome but my psy­cho­log­i­cal re­ac­tion to the cor­po­rate re­straints that have hap­pened in the last 20 to 30 years in film­mak­ing,” Glover wrote.

“Specif­i­cally, any­thing that can pos­si­bly make an au­di­ence un­com­fort­able is nec­es­sar­ily ex­cised or the film will not be cor­po­rately funded or dis­trib­uted,” he con­tin­ued. “This is dam­ag­ing to the cul­ture.”

In fact, ac­cord­ing to Glover, it is healthy for an au­di­ence mem­ber to look up at the screen and think: “‘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.”

Glover not only fi­nanced his films, which were cre­ated over sev­eral years in the down time be­tween act­ing jobs, he is “dis­tribut­ing” them him­self through a se­ries of pub­lic pro­grams. (He ap­pears in Nashville Sept. 5-6.) This places Glover in the tra­di­tion of such other taboo-break­ing (if less ar­tis­ti­cally in­clined) movie show­men as pro­ducer Kroger Babb, whose “Mom and Dad” (1945) con­tained shock­ing doc­u­men­tary footage of a mother giv­ing birth, and Dwain Esper, di­rec­tor of the proto-gore film, “Ma­niac” (1934).

“‘What is it?’ is a di­rect re­ac­tion to the con­tents of this cul­ture’s me­dia,” said Glover, who ad­mits his work in the “cor­po­rate me­dia” is what en­ables him to draw an au­di­ence to his odd­ball projects. (He is plan­ning a third film in his “It” tril­ogy, to be ti­tled “IT IS MINE.”) How­ever, he also says of his act­ing ca­reer: “It is very rare that I have been in a film that I truly en­joy as an au­di­ence mem­ber.”

Whether or not view­ers “en­joy” the ex­pe­ri­ence of “What is it?,” they’re un­likely to for­get it. Said Glover: “I would like for peo­ple to think for them­selves.”

—John Bei­fuss: 529-2394

New Line Cin­ema

In 2003, Crispin Glover talked to rats in “Wil­lard.” Next week, he comes to Mem­phis, where he might talk to you.

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