Film and TV

Crispin Glover Talks About His It Trilogy, Big Slide Show and Unique Method of Film Distribution

Actor, writer and director Crispin Glover owns an interesting piece of real estate in between the realms of independent cinema and pop culture. The lanky legend has pulled off brilliant performances in memorable, mainstream movies such as the one-armed bellhop in Hot Tub Time Machine, the conniving "Thin Man" in director McG's big screen remake of Charlie's Angels and Marty McFly's loveable loser of a father in the first Back to the Future movie.

The money he makes from those movies are used to fund his own artistic endeavors through his Volcanic Eruptions production company, such as a series of illustrated books including Oak Mot and Rat Catching that he's turned into a live Big Slide stage show tour. He's also producing, directing and starring in a series of films dubbed the It Trilogy, the first two of which have already been made with a third in the works. They aren't available at a theater near you because he prefers to screen them himself along with his live stage show. That's what he'll be doing this Saturday and Sunday at the Texas Theater.

"I did have offers from small distribution companies that wanted to distribute through 'usual channels,'" Glover said by email. "What 'usual channels' means is that the films would play in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and a few other metropolises and then it would go out on DVD and through creative accounting, the small distribution company would never pay. I had spoken with enough self-funded film makers to see that was the normal pattern and that my distribution would have far more people see the films and also I would have a chance at recouping theatrically, which I have basically done.

"The fact of it is that I have recouped mostly through performing my live shows and selling the books, but all that mattered to me was that I could justify to continue to funding my own films."

Glover said he wrote his series of eight books back in 1983 using books from the 1800s "that have been changed into different books from what they originally were" and without consideration for their publication. He conceived his hour-long book narration show Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show as a way to bring in audiences to showcase his films and to meet his legions of awestruck fans.

"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," Glover said. "In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800s 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."

Five years later, he self-published his works and was urged to do book readings, but that presented a bit of challenge for his illustrated works.

"This is why I knew a slide show was necessary," he said. "It took a while, but in 1992 I started performing what I now call Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Side Show Part 1. The content of that show has not changed since I first started performing it. But the performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based the audience's energy and my energy."

Each slide show concludes with a screening of one of his It films -- his first feature length film released in 2005 called What Is It? and his follow-up in 2007 called It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. As of now, his live shows are the only way audiences can view his films.

"There is no question that the way I am making and self distributing the films is far more work than a more traditional way of making films through corporate funding and distribution," Glover said, "but the first film What Is It? in particular is very much a reaction to the constraints in corporately funded and distributed film making."

His first film tackles that trope by throwing taboos and uncomfortable topics at the audience that would never make it into the final cut of a big budget Hollywood production or even most independent film companies.

"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?" Glover said. "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 [of] this culture's media. I would like people to think for themselves."

His follow-up film It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. came from a screenplay written by Steven C. Stewart, a man with cerebral palsy who Glover met through some of the people he worked with while filming The Orkly Kid. Stewart spent 10 years in a nursing home and his cerebral palsy made him very hard to understand by the home's staff, some of whom labeled him an "MR short for 'mental retard,'" Glover said.

"This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence," Glover said. "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."

Stewart's film is autobiographical even though it feels more like a murder mystery, a style that Glover said he borrowed from 1970's TV movies. Glover financed the movie with money he made from his work in Charlie's Angels and co-directed Stewart's movie with David Brothers. He also put Stewart in the movie. Unfortunately, he passed away just one month after they 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," Glover said. "Steven C. Stewart's own true story was fascinating and then the beautiful story and the naïve -- including his fascination of women with long hair -- and the graphic violence and sexuality and the revealing truth of his psyche from the screenplay were all combined. There was a specific marriage proposal scene that was the scene I remember reading that made me say I have to produce this film."

The third and final film of the trilogy It Is Mine is still in the works but his current tour will include some 35mm previews of what has been completed thus far. It's an even more ambitious project shot in his Czech Republic chateau where the sets alone took two years to build out of some 14,000-square-foot horse stables.

"At the same time the sets were being built, I was in the process of continuing to develop the screenplay for myself and my father to act in together on these sets," Glover said. "My father, Bruce Glover, is also an actor who has appeared in such films as Chinatown and Diamonds Are Forever and he and I have not yet acted together on film. The project with my father is the next film I am currently preparing to make as a director/producer. This will be the first role I have written for myself to act that will be written primarily 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," Glover added. "These films will be relatively affordable by utilizing the basic set structures that can be slightly reworked for variations and yet each film will feel separate from one another in look and style yet still cinematically pleasing so they will be worth to project in various cinemas."

He admitted that his process of screening and sharing his work can take its toll, given all the preparations and travel, but the touring has melded in its own, unique way into his film, book and performance projects. He described it as a necessary part of the process because it leads to one of the more personally gratifying benefits of his work.

"The more I tour with the live shows and films, I see it at one huge project," he said. "In a certain way the discussion after the film with the audience is the most important part of the shows, but that discussion would not take place without the live performance and the feature films, so the whole thing has to happen in the single evening. I get offered to break the shows up and present them in various ways, but I do not show the films without the live shows and Q&A, and I do not perform the live shows without the films and Q&A. In a certain way, the book signing is a more personal extension of the Q&A."

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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.