Interview: Crispin Glover Brings Films, Big Slide Show to Chicago

| January 31, 2014

Crispin Glover

While perhaps best known as an actor in such films as Back to the Future, Crispin Glover is also truly interesting artist and filmmaker who uses his appearances in major-studio Hollywood films to finance his own films and artistic pursuits. Mr. Glover has directed two feature films so far, the first two in a trilogy of films that are connected thematically if not narratively: What Is It? and It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. The films can only be seen when Mr. Glover takes them on tour, performing dramatic readings from his books (“Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show”) before the screening of his films and often engaging in hours-long Q&A and book autographing sessions with the audience afterward. Film Monthly took a moment to talk to Mr. Glover in advance of his latest appearances in Chicago, screening It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. at the Music Box Theatre on Friday, January 31st and screening What Is It? at the Patio Theater on Friday, February 7th.

FM: The only way for an audience to see your films is to attend one of your appearances (which include the film presentation as well as a performance of one of your Big Slide Show readings from your books). I know you have said this is partially because you want to engage the audience in discussion about the films after they have seen them. Can you elaborate on that a bit? 

CG: The live aspects of the shows are not to be underestimated. This is a large part of how I bring audiences in to the theater and a majority of how I recoup is by what is charged for the live show and what I make from selling the books after the shows. For “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show” I perform a one hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. The books are taken from old books from the 1800’s that have been changed in to different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.

I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. 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. In the book store there was a book for sale that was an old binding taken from the 1800’s 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. I worked a lot with India ink at the time and was using the India ink on the original pages to make various art. I had always liked words in art and left some of the words on one of the pages. I did this again a few pages later and then when I turned the pages I noticed that a story started to naturally form and so I continued with this. When I was finished with the book I was pleased with the results and kept making more of them. I made most of the books in the 80’s and very early 90’s. Some of the books utilize text from the binding it was taken from and some of them are basically completely original text. Sometimes I would find images that I was inspired to create stories for or sometimes it was the binding or sometimes it was portions of the texts that were interesting. Altogether, I made about twenty of them. When I was editing my first feature film “What is it?” There was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.

When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the books are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary. 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.

People sometimes get confused as to what “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show (Parts 1 & 2)” is so now I always let it be known that it is a one hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. There is a second slide show now that also has 8 books. Part 2 is performed if I have a show with Part 1 of the “IT” trilogy and then on the subsequent night I will perform the second slide show and Part 2 of the “IT” trilogy. The second slide show has been developed over the last several years and the content has changed as it has been developed, but I am very happy with the content of the second slide show now. The books and films are all narrative. Sometimes people see thematic correlations between the content of my books and the content of the films.

The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed.

I definitely have been aware of the element of utilizing  the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films. It lets me go to various places and have the local media cover the fact that I will be performing a one hour live dramatic narration of eight different books which are profusely illustrated and projected as I go through them, then show the film either  What is it? Being 72 minutes or It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE being 74 minutes. Then having a Q and A and then a book signing. As I funded the films I knew that this is how I would recoup my investment even if it a slow process.

Volcanic Eruptions was a business I started in Los Angeles in 1988 as Crispin Hellion Glover doing business as Volcanic Eruptions. It was a name to use for my book publishing company.  About a year later I had a record/CD come out with a corporation called Restless Records. About when I had sold the same amount of books as CD/records had sold it was very clear to me that because I had published my own books that I had a far greater profit margin. It made me very suspicious of working with corporations as a business model. Financing/Producing my own films is based on the basic business model of my own publishing company. There are benefits and drawbacks about self distributing my own films.  In this economy it seems like a touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films. There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements. There are benefits that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable.

The minstrel betrayed by his concubine? in Crispin Hellion Glover's What is it? (Actors are Adam Parfrey, Ricky Wittman & Lynn Conley) Photo by Robbie Caponneto

The minstrel betrayed by his concubine?
in Crispin Hellion Glover’s What is it?
(Actors are Adam Parfrey, Ricky Wittman
& Lynn Conley)
Photo by Robbie Caponneto

FM: One of the few things most people know about What is it? before they see it is that the film features a cast made up mostly of actors who have Down’s Syndrome. What was the idea behind that approach to casting the film?

CG: I am very careful to make it quite clear that What is it? is not a film about Down’s Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. 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 their self “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 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? 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 this culture’s media. I would like people to think for themselves.

FM: Adam Parfrey (owner of Feral House Publishing and editor of the Apocalypse Culture books among many others), has a particularly memorable role in What Is It? How did he become involved with the film?

CG: I became friends with Adam Parfrey in the late 80’s after he asked me for some illustrations for a book he was publishing at time called “Torture and Torments of Christian Martyrs.” It was a re-print of an antique book of the same title with modern illustrations from various people. I asked Adam to be in the film when I transitioned it from a short film in to a feature film. Adam had positive input on the film What is it? and he played the character of the Minstrel. Adam and I are still good friends.

FM: Do you find it rewarding to discuss your films with the audience?

CG: It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to under-estimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense. The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.

FM: As an independent filmmaker, has the recent changeover to digital projection impacted you at all? Do you still screen them from film prints?

CG: Yes I still screen the films from the 35 mm prints. Some of the venues I have played that were 35 mm are now completely digital. I definitely prefer having the 35 mm prints projected as opposed to digital projection. At the same time I want to keep good relations with the venues that have been great to me.

FM: Do you have any plans to make digital versions of the films to accommodate more venues in the future that may not have the ability to screen film?

CG: We will see as time comes around what will happen. I could be wrong, but I predict that similarly to vinyl records for audiophiles there will be enough cinephiles that will make a submarket for film projection.

As the predator examines his prey the neighbor undresses in  It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE!  Pictured (L-R) are Jami Farrel (Julie the drunk model),  Steven C. Stewart (as "Paul Baker")  and April Hoglund (as "Girl in Nursing Home").  Photo: David Brothers

As the predator examines his prey the neighbor undresses in It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE!
Pictured (L-R) are Jami Farrel (Julie the drunk model), Steven C. Stewart (as “Paul Baker”) and April Hoglund (as “Girl in Nursing Home”).
Photo: David Brothers

FM: On a somewhat related note, given how integral that “film look” is to the style and tone of your films, do you have any plans to shoot future projects with digital cameras?

CG: There are great things about digital technology. I love the grain pattern of film and this is also why I enjoy 16mm as well as 35mm. So far my feature film projects have been shot on film. This is my third feature film production. This will not be “IT IS MINE.” Nor will it have anything to do with the “IT” trilogy. It is not part 3 of the “IT” trilogy.

FM: What are you using to shoot your next film?

CG: I will be showing ten minutes of edited footage from my next feature film which marks the first time I have acted with my father Bruce Glover who has been seen in such films as Diamonds are Forever, Chinatown and Ghost World.  This is my first film to have been shot with 35 mm negative.  My first two features were shot with standard 16mm film then blown up for a 35 mm negative from a digital intermediate.

FM: The production of your next project is considerably different than that of your previous films. Can you comment a bit on the production process for your new film?

CG: I have owned a chateau in the Czech Republic for many years now and it has been in a state of work to get both the chateau ready for housing the crew members and cast when I am shooting my own productions and the 14,000 square feet of former horse stables that are now the areas for the shooting stages where the sets have been built.

The sets for my next film productions were in construction for over two years now. 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. 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. These films will be relatively affordable by utilizing the basic set structures that can be slightly re-worked 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.

There has been an enormous amount of work here. When people hear I am coming to my chateau they always say “Have a great time!” as though I am going on vacation. But I actually have way more difficult work here than at my house in LA. In the last two years I have been at my property in Czech more than LA, but also on the road with my shows and films or acting in other people’s films, more than either of my homes.

FM: What can you tell us about your upcoming film projects?

CG: I should not go in to too much detail for part 3 of the “It” trilogy yet as “IT IS MINE.” will not be the film I shoot next. There are other projects outside of the trilogy that I will shoot next. Czech is another culture and another language and I need to build up to complex productions like “What is it?” and the existing sequel “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” “IT IS MINE.” is an even more complex project than the previous two films put together, so it will be a while yet for that production. I will step outside of the trilogy for a number of films that deal with different thematic elements from the “IT” trilogy.


Crispin Glover appears Friday, January 31st at the Music Box Theatre screening It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE and Friday, February 7th at the Patio Theater screening What Is It?. Both screenings include a performance of The Big Slide Show. Tickets and full information are available through the theater sites. During this tour, Mr. Glover will also be appearing in the following cities:

UICA in Grand Rapids, MI

Alamo Drafthouse in Kalamazoo, MI

Texas Theatre in Dallas, TX

Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY

Mayfair Theatre in Ottawa, Canada

La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas, California

More regional shows and other upcoming events can be found on Mr. Glover’s web site:

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium:

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