is known to movie fans for his roles as George McFly, the father in the first Back to the Future
, The Creepy Thin Man in the Charlie's Angels
films, the title character in Willard
(you know, the rat movie), and can currently be seen supplying the voice of Grendel in Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf
. Glover is taking advantage of the publicity Beowolf has received to showcase his own film, It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!
as well as to perform his Big Slide Show, which is an hour long dramatic reading of books that he has written, and to screen his surrealist film 'What is It?'
It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine! was written by and stars Steven C. Stewart, a man with a severe case of cerebral palsy. It's a fantasy that takes the form of a 70's detective film and allows audience an unadulterated glimpse into Stewart's psyche. Starpulse spoke with Glover about his films, what he hopes to accomplish, and his views on modern mainstream cinema. You describe It is Fine as a fantasy. All these beautiful women with long hair fall for Steven, everyone understands him when he speaks, and he possesses this immense power and charm, but in the Q and A you mentioned that his fantasy also included the actual making of the film and his falling in love with a cast member. How detailed were his expectations of the entire endeavor?
It's not something that we discussed, so I don't really know. These are just things I'm surmising, really. When I talked about the idea of fantasy with Steven, I don't know if the thought registered with him. I think he thought of it as a genre movie, like a detective murder mystery from 70's television, but I'm calling it a fantasy because it's certainly not a reality. It was written as a genre film, but I feel that there's a more revealing element that comes through with the psychology of it that wouldn't be there if he hadn't written in any other way.
The nursing home scenes were filmed in the very same nursing home where Stephen was unfairly kept during his twenties . Was that a difficult place for him to revisit?
I wasn't with him at the moment that we were shooting there, but he let someone know. Someone came up to me and said that this was the nursing home that Steven had been in. I didn't talk with Steven about it at all. The thing about making the film is that the other director, David Brothers, and I were 100% occupied at all times with whatever was at hand that needed to be done to get the film made. My communication with Steven, outside of some side talk, for the most part, was just about things that had to be done to get the film finished. There were certain things, like what we're discussing now, that I would have liked to discuss with Steven, but he died a month after the filming was finished There are just things that I don't know. I certainly didn't detect it. That doesn't mean that it wasn't a significant thing for him. I would assume it was. I know that he did not like it. I know that it wasn't a good experience for him when he was in that home, but I just don't know. I wish I did.He died about a month after the film. Did he take himself off of life support?
Right. He wasn't on life support or anything while we were shooting the film, but he had an operation in the year 2001 because one of his lungs collapsed. Now I don't know all of the details, I don't know if it was the same lung or the other lung, but one of them collapsed. I know that he had the option to have an operation to get it restored, but he would have had to go back to a nursing home, which I know he would not like to do. He was not in a nursing home, but an assisted living center, which is different. I think when people hear nursing home, one doesn't necessarily know what it is, but once one sees the film, and actually that that place is now documented and you can see the people who are there and see the people who he would have as roommates in his twenties, it's obviously no place for somebody in the prime of their life to spend a decade. You can understand why you would have a certain amount of concern about those issues. Once his other lung collapsed and he was on life support, that's when he called and asked if it was okay for him to take himself off of life support. He wanted to make sure that we had enough footage for the film.Steven was said to have a great love of women, but his character's treatment of them in the film suggests otherwise. How did he really feel about women?
We actually asked him to write an outro for the movie. It wasn't something that was originally in the script but was used anyhow. I think there was a slight introduction where he said, "I was born in 1956 and I love the women with long hair" if you recall that. But he had written that as a letter. It wasn't part of the screenplay originally, but was a good introduction. We then thought that it would be good if he had a good outroduction as well. Only a portion of that letter was used in the beginning of the film also. But the outro, he said something to the affect of "I've never murdered anybody, nor do I intend to", which there's something kind of funny about that. He really was a gentleman, but this was written as a genre piece where he was the bad guy. I don't think he necessarily felt that he was revealing things about himself in this screenplay. I think he was thinking of it as a genre movie. He was not an analytical type of person. One can surmise, and think it's part of what's interesting about the film, that there is something in his psyche that's coming out in various elements and that that were things from his life affecting his writing style. But, then again, I think that's part of what's interesting about the screenplay too. What I emphasize is that it was important for David and I to lead the screenplay along, in a certain way. There were just things that one has to do in order to make a film be filmed. But both David and I were very committed to leaving the certain naïve elements that were seemingly revealing of Steven's true psyche.What are some things that were cut from the film?
Different things. The thing that's good about the film is that you don't miss the things that were cut. There were more details of certain elements having to do with some of the nurse aides that he lived with and some of the environment of the nursing home. There's something I always liked in the screenplay that didn't cut together that easily, a scene where a woman comes in kind of dancing and flirting. It's one of the nursing home people in the fantasy area. It was interesting, but it just didn't work out right. Some of it were just details that are long monologues that Steven had said. It was interesting reading, but it was hard to just get what it was that he was talking about because he's difficult understand. There's a written script, there's the footage we shoot, and the footage that's edited, and those are all three different entities and they all have to come together in the end to make a whole cohesive element. All that matters is that it works in the end. That's why I would like to publish the screenplay at one point because some of the ideations that were cut from the film did work as a screenplay.Did Steven revisit the screenplay at all from the time that it was written to the time that the movie was made?
Well, yes. He continued to write themes, which would be variations of meeting women with long hair, and then murdering them. The women would say they would cut their hair, and he would murder them. That was the bulk of the things that were excised, just repetitions of that theme. And there were different and some of which that had something to do with the detective. Certain times certain people were revealed, who caught what, these were the things that were changed. I think there were variations, but he would go in and write these fantasy themes of him meeting women.I imagined you got to know Steven quite a bit throughout this process. Did you know women with long hair who played a significant role in his life?
No. Again he wasn't an analytical type. I did hear him being asked why he liked long hair, and he simply said, "I don't know. I always did." One can surmise that when somebody's fetish is taken that way that it has to do with an early childhood experience. Maybe his mother? I don't know. It's hard to know.
It seems like in the final film that the detectives weren't able to figure out that it was Steven who was committing all these murders.
Right, and as I recall in various screenplays, there were times where he was caught and times where he wasn't. We, obviously, went with the one where he wasn't caught.It was interesting the way that they conducted their investigation; that they kept finding these bendy straws and made all of the suspects drink from them.
[laughs] Yeah, that was humorous. What are some other projects that you're working on independently or thinking about?
There's a number of screenplays that I've written over the years. Of course there's part three of the trilogy, and it will be a while before I get to that one. And there's a number of screenplays I've written over the years, but I'm specifically working on screenplays right now that work within the sound stage I'm preparing in the Czech Republic. That's kind of my most significant project at the moment. Getting that ready to shoot in, and I believe I'll be able to have it ready in 2008 to shoot things. Whether I'll actually shoot something there, I'm not certain. I'd like to, but it has to do with scheduling and all kinds of things. And there are a number of books that I've made years ago. I'd like to publish a great deal of my books, but that also has to do with monetary outlay, and right now my monies are really invested in the films.How is it that you make the books?
I take home books from the 1800's and rework them. Sometimes I will use words from the original books, and sometimes not. I'll take the images and rework the images, and find images to help make stories in my mind. There a lot of different books that have a lot of different ways about having stories. Since I've been doing the films, that kind of creative energy has gone into that. I haven't made one of my books since the early 90's. I want to publish the ones I've made, and maybe some point in the future I'll make some mores. My life is fairly filled at this point and it's difficult for me to have the kind of time I had when I was making the books. I really enjoyed making the books. I look back at that time fondly. What was the genesis for the whole book making process?
Yeah, I was going to an acting class on La Brea Ave in LA when I was 18. It's a fairly well known acting studio; it's called The Loft Studio. There were a lot of well-known actors who have gone to that place, like Sean Penn, Chris Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Nicholas Cage. I was going to that school, and down the street was an art gallery. And upstairs they had a bookstore with a small section of books that had been made by people. One of the books, someone had taken an old binding from the 1800's, and put artwork in it. I liked it and thought it was a good idea. I set out to do the same thing. I had always drawn and I thought it would be interesting to put artwork in an old binding. It's kind of like words in art. I worked with the ink a lot, and left some of the words on the page. Then I let that happen on another page, a few pages later. Then when I was done and flipped though it, I found that it had naturally made a story. So I kept going with it, and it turned into the first book I made. I've made, I think, somewhere between 15 to 20 of them all together. We're they all completed around that time period?
The first one was made in 1983, I believe. I think I was 19. I can't remember if I started making them when I was 18 or 19. The last one I made was in 1991.How would you decide on what images to include in the books?
I would get images from all different kinds of sources and try to juxtapose things in a way that would make whole new world within the elements of the books so that they felt cohesive within themselves and didn't feel desperate. When you see What is It?, there's certain imagery in the film that reflect the themes and thoughts of the books. And when you get right into them, I'm not certainly conscious of them. There were certain things that my mind will focus on. I'm interested in the subconscious, and to a certain extent, that's what works in there. In a certain way, when I perform the slide show before, What is It?, it works very cohesively. When you're looking over the things that you've done, analyzing them in retrospect, do you also learn things about yourself?
I think I learn about what my artistic interests tend towards being. It's not easy to analyze one's own psyche. It's like the surrealists were very well aware of utilizing Freud's free association techniques for artistic purposes instead of analytical purposes, or psychiatric health purposes. It's good to utilize these techniques for freeing up the psyche to get into interesting artistic realms. I definitely believe in that process. I think that the surrealists really hit on something with that.One thing I noticed that might arise when you present something to an audience that they're not used to, for instance with The Big Slide Show, is that there's laughter due to the surprise of what they're seeing. Does the laughter come at similar points in the program or does it vary from audience to audience?
Yeah, it's exactly the same. There is no differentiation as to when and where audiences will laugh, which also indicates to me that it's not only surprise. The books I would also argue are narratives. These narratives bring the people into the certain area where they have to have a common experience for everyone to be laughing in the same place. Laughter itself is a very particular form of communication that deserves a great deal of analysis. It's a form of communication that happens in groups. It's not something an individual experiences as much. That's why it's something that's common between one group and the next. I'm very used to it. I know there are ways to play certain portions of the books so that there is a consistent reaction to that. When you are making the books themselves, was that something you were able to foresee?
No, the books were originally not made for anyone. They were made for my friends to look at and for my own fun. I definitely did not foresee publishing them.When is it that you started doing The Big Slide Show?
1982 was the first time I performed it. I had been asked in the 80 's when I first published Rat Catching to do book readings because authors often do that. But that didn't make sense because you have to have the illustrations in order to understand what's going on in the story. It would be silly for me to say these somewhat random things without the illustrations. I thought it would be a good idea to have a slide show, but it took a while to get that together and to do it. But here in Olympia, Washington, they had put a retrospect of sorts of the work I've done at the time and had a Crispin Glover Film Festival and invited me up. I thought that would be a good time to show it and it was the first time I did it. People liked it, and I toyed around with it along with a film I had been acting in, in a few places. When I started editing What is It? I toured with it in some different adages to get feedback from audiences to see what would make sense to really assure that I could release the film and recoup instead of simply touring with the film and slideshow myself. I then decided not to tour with the film until the 35mm print was done and it took a number of years. I never did the Slide Show in LA or NY because I knew these were media centers, and I wanted to wait until I was officially releasing What Is It? before I started release books and slideshows this way.The books had started as doing something you did for yourself and friends. Are there other artistic endeavors that you have done for yourself that you hadn't made public.
There are other things I've shot that I haven't put out. There are things I've shot on my own, and I don't know if I'll use them in something later or not, but it's not for a single project.Do you paint as well?
I've done very limited painting. Most of my artwork is in the books. Before I did the books, I used to draw, and I used a lot of India Ink, and unfortunately a lot of that artwork is gone.You mentioned a festival dedicated entirely to you, and I know there were fanzines dedicated to you as well. When was your cult status first brought to your attention?
It's just the business of being in film. It's a calculated understanding that if you're in the film industry, as an actor, there will be a certain number of people who are curious to see you in other things. There's not really a differentiation. If you know you've been in a number of films people have seen and liked, you know that you'll be able to draw in a certain audience. I think that any actor who has been in a certain number of films and has grossed a certain amount of money could do everything that I'm doing. I recommend to people to do what I do. It's a good thing to do, but it's a lot of work. Generally, most actors who make their own films tend to do it with corporate sponsorship. When they do that, they don't need to tour with their films because they're being paid outright for their work as a director and actor by the corporation, and then the corporation has to recoup their money. So then there's no reason for an actor to do what I'm doing. But for me in particular, I don't like the corporate censorship, and that's what's happened in the last 30 years. Anything that can make an audience uncomfortable has been removed, or that film will simply not be distributed or funded. I think that's very damaging. When an audience member looks up and thinks "Is this right? Is this wrong? Should I be here? Should they have done this? What is it?" And that's the title of my first film. Is it taboo in the culture, what does it mean? When people are asking the question, they are having a genuinely educational experience. And for these things to be removed in the way they have been removed, is definitely damaging to the culture. That's why What Is It? is a very valuable film to see.Are you seeing people's unease with being pushed out of their comfort zone?
No, I don't think that people are that discomforted in a negative sense. I think that people like having questions asked of them and thinking about things. The trouble is that it's become a kind of corporate understanding that that it's not supposed to be dealt with due to concern that they would not be able to readily sell these things to foreign markets or whatever is at hand. They're concerned that if they have these elements in their films, it'll be more difficult to sell to different outlets such as DVD and television. The fact of it is that there is a giant market for this. There was a time when corporations did make more questioning films. Specifically at the point and time where there was a group that the media labeled the counter culture. It was a well moneyed group, and corporations knew this at the time, and they knew they could fund more questioning films to that group of people. They were right. They did and those movies made a lot of money. But in the last 30 years, in the media, that group has gone away. That does not mean that that kind of thinking has gone away. There are millions of people who want that sort of thing and it's not being satisfied. That's why I'm willingly happy to step into this gap and recoup my investments. The kind of non-thoughtful filmmaking does affect the culture in a non-educational way. Do you think there was a specific event that led to the downplay of such films, or do you think it was gradual?
It's been gradual. There are certain things that have lead to it, and one of those things are, it sounds silly, but the multiplexes. The hippie look was a very specific look. When that was represented in media, it could be pointed to and that it was a group that had more esoteric interests. That dissipated by the mid to late '70's. Also around that time, the multiplexed came in. In the '70's there was an X rating. So movies like A Clockwork Orange and Midnight Cowboy were released under that rating. These were nominees for best picture and are still great films today. But with the advent of multiplexes and the change of the X rating to NC-17 to avoid confusion with XXX, not that it mattered as a multiplex owner you think that a kid could walk right down the hall and go see one of those movies. They would have to have a guarded area, and you know how those multiplexes work. Basically anyone can walk into anything. And a multiplex owner was concerned that they would be sued. So they stopped showing any movie that was NC-17. That now means that any then corporate funding that needs to recoup its money, needs to show films that are shown in multiplexes. And that means you can't make any NC-17 movies. So any corporately funded film at this point in time, must be made for a minor. Which has all kinds of ramifications. There are no corporately funded films made for adults. The most important medium for communication is now geared for all people under the age of 18. Of course it's valuable and I understand that and no one is wrong, but it's just what happened. That's why when I tour, I tour in independently owned single screen theatres. My films are not rated so no one under 18 is allowed. I understand it and agree with it because these are adult films.You've also screened the films and performed the slide show in the Midwest. People in big cities have the perception that people in the Midwest aren't interested in things like this, but I'm sure you're finding it to be very much the opposite.
Yeah, I'm finding people in NY and LA are more tied to corporate interests than people in the Midwest, and they have more concern as to what is supposed to be done for corporate interests than those in the middle of the United States. So, it's the opposite of what is being touted by the large cities. I think I find it more in NY than LA, which surprised me. I was born in NY, but grew up in LA and was around the corporate film industry, so I thought of NY as being the more open artistic thoughtful place, and probably there is truth to that, but I certainly see that certain news outlets are tied to the corporate thought process than those in LA. There is certainly a domino effect that happens in the community. When I'm showing the films, the audience is very appreciative. To a certain extent these are generalizations. It did surprise me. I did feel that there is a certain amount of that particularly in LA and NY.Have you done any screenings of the Big Slide Show outside of America?
I've shown it in Canada, but never in Europe, only Canada. Canada is a great market for me. They're very appreciative and because they're Canadian, it's really a reaction to American thought processes. There's more understanding as to where I'm coming from when I'm outside of the US. I get more aggressive questioning in America. You really should see the film if you can. People have more of aggressive reactions to the film when they have questions about it. But again, it's designed to be a reaction to the corporate restraints. Canadians can see a that certain things are labeled as taboo in the US and that many people have fallen under the influence of corporations, leading to a certain kind of experience in films that are funded and distributed corporately and the messages or non-messages that they have. I feel like that's not a good thing.It's interesting because when the corporations decide what they are going to censor, in a way they are deciding for the public what those taboos are. Whether or not the public actually considered those things as taboo in the first place won't matter because eventually the public will simply accept the label of taboo for certain subjects and the culture will be changed.
That definitely has happened.Would you ever release the slide show on DVD?
I don't want to put the slide show out like that because it ruins it permanently. That's what happened when film came, it ruined vaudeville. I've been doing it since 1992 and many people have yet to see it, and committing it to DVD would mean they couldn't experience it live.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer