Last night saw Crispin Glover do a live performance and screening of his film WHAT IS IT? at the Plaza in Atlanta. Plaza is a perfect place for such shit, as it's the only independently owned theater left downtown and has been held over from I believe the 50's, with the old style long curtains and deep screening rooms held over.
Glover started by coming out and reading excerpts from six of his books. He basically delivered a dramatic monologue using images from the text (which varied from erasures, to weird photos with inscriptions, to scrawled drawings and architectural images, etc.). His reading added a lot to what would have otherwise been easy to misunderstood text. A couple of the books in particular hit me for the way he was able to evoke a lot from little mental snippets, kind of like Dennis Cooper meets Edward Gorey or something. It was also quite funny, and Glover's mannerisms (which seem truly him, and not just a theatric b/s) added another layer to the crypticism of it.
Then they screened the film WHAT IS IT?, which is about 72 minutes long, and features Glover in a cast almost entirely of actors with Down's Syndrome. Later in the Q&A, Glover was very emphatic that the characters did not necessarily have Down's, but the actors did, and it was one of his stipulations for the film, which was adapted by him from a script offered to him that had been written by another physically handicapped author (who was held against his will in an asylum for 10 years), who plays a central character in the film. The film was surprisingly narrative, if highly skewed, for all of its bizarre imagery, which included at various points (1) salt being poured on snails up close, making them shrivel (2) Nazi insignia and a man painted in black face (3) the song 'Some Niggers Don't Die' by Johnny Rebel, played during a scene where the author actor, who is handicapped, is laying inside a clam getting a handjob from a nude woman with huge tits and a animal mask over her face) (3) a Down's couple making out and simulating sex (4) Down's kids beating the shit out of each other with shovels and talking about Michael Jackson (5) organ music by Anton LaVey and songs by Charles Manson, etc.
At some point I turned to my girlfriend and said, "This has everything."
I liked the film. And for all of its obviously intentionally taboo imagery, Glover was extremely particular and concerned over its reception, which he said is why he tours with it, so he can 'protect' the work, as it clearly stirs certain people to the point of anger in frequent spots. The imagery was really well done and the shots were crafted with care.
The Q&A then led into Glover offering extremely long answers to questions (he pointed out that the answers were long so as to answer many questions he used to getting at once, to save time, which I understood, as he's been touring with it for more than 10 years). He spoke a lot about how the film was made as a stab at the film industry's effect to smother out all instances of taboo, which has created the stilted yard of shit in theaters now. He explained an extremely detailed vision for the film, in which his taboos were selected specifically to evoke certain responses, rather than just piss people off. He was very articulate and clearly had put a lot of thought into the film, and to the roles the Down's actors played, and their experience of the film. His reception by the actors' families and others with Down's who'd seen the film was one that suggested they were glad to see such imagery in the film and that it was not exploitative. I got the feeling that the place the imagery came from was 'genuine' and that Glover knows exactly what he's doing, and isn't just weirding around.
In fact, perhaps my favorite part of the night came during the Q&A, when some girl in the audience, who obviously had pegged Glover as 'weird for weird's sake' and thought she could hang, raised her hand and asked, "Which would you rather swim in: a pool of scabs or a pool of kittens?"
Glover snickered a little, then looked at her more directly and kind of grimaced, and essentially said, "I do not understand this question or why you are asking it. I would not like to do either of these things." He did not play into her joke, it was slightly awkward, funny.
Glover was so explicit in his statements that eventually, after about an hour of the rather dry q&a, we ended up having to split out early to meet some friends from out of town, so I didn't get to meet him, and I was rather glad to exit without the full barrage of q&a, as I didn't want it explained away to me. Enough context was given, and Glover seemed almost so concerned about the correct reception that he went on even beyond needed, but overall I was happy I saw his work and where it comes from.
I wish I'd gotten a chance to ask about the presence of LaVey and Manson in the film, as well as some of his method of creating the text in the books, but fuck, hm, next time.
Now back to editing.