Crispin Glover

Crispin Glover performed at the Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene last week. The first part of the show consisted of a slide show in which he read passages from old books that he had rearranged into stories. The stories were surreal, mysterious and funny. (One of the books Glover used is titled Studies in Rat Catching. I will have to add this to my reading list.)

In the second half he showed a film he had made entitled It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. The film was written by, and starred, Stephen C. Schwartz, who was born with a severe case of cerebral palsy. It is basically about a man with cerebral palsy who fantasizes about having sex with women and then murdering them. That’s pretty much all there is to this film. (Oh, and he fantasizes about necrophilia as well.) The movie is a little over an hour long, but watching it seems like an eternity.

Glover did a question and answer session after the film was over. I would have stayed for this, but it was getting late and I had to get up early to go to work the next morning. Instead I read an interview with Glover in the Eugene Weekly. The interviewer asked him about another film he made, titled What Is It?, which employs actors who have Down’s Syndrome:

    Much has been made, and I’m sure critics have been divided, about the issue of using actors with Down syndrome in the films. How would you weigh in on this debate? Is it your intention to shock your audience or to make the viewer uncomfortable?

    Most of the actors in What is it? have Down syndrome, but the film is not about Down syndrome at all. The actors in the film are not necessarily playing characters that have Down syndrome. It was and is extremely important to me that all of the actors in the film were and are treated respectfully. What is it? is my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in filmmaking — specifically, anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair, looks up at the screen and thinks to themselves, “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.

    What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in its media? It is a bad thing 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 this culture’s film/media content.

    Steve [screenwriter Steven C. Stewart, who died within a month after filming on It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. was completed] had been locked in a nursing home for about 10 years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy, and he was very difficult to understand. People who were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an “M.R.,” short for “mental retard.” This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence. 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.

Well, It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE did make people uncomfortable. There was nervous laughter throughout the film, and I could hear people squirming in their seats. Some people got up and left, though they eventually came back. The film is disturbing because it was clear that Schwartz was acting out his own resentment and anger towards women, and this anger and resentment were were intimately bound up with his having cerebral palsy.

This brings me to an important question: is it sufficient for a work of art to be merely disturbing? (I would argue that the best works of art are disturbing on some level.) The world offers us an abundance of disturbing images, disturbing events, disturbing arguments, etc. Art that is merely disturbing just adds to the noise.

Subtract the shock value from It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE and you’re left with nothing. The film doesn’t even succeed on a purely technical level: the acting and direction are amateurish, and the sets and costumes look embarrassingly cheap.

Glover should stick to doing slide shows.

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