Patrons of suburban multiplexes know Crispin Glover for his roles as Michael J. Fox's nerdy dad in Back to the Future and as Arlo, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt's lazy-eyed apprentice, in The People vs. Larry Flynt. The average art-house moviegoer would recognize him from appearances in Dead Man, Wild at Heart and The River's Edge. And fans of Z-grade cinema probably caught him in 1984's Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, wherein Jason, a murderous psychopath with a fondness for hockey masks, punctures Glover's hand with a corkscrew. But this disparate collection of credits only hints at his bizarre aesthetic life. By the time an eighteen-year-old Glover made his film debut, in the 1983 sexploitation flick My Tutor, he had already written his first book, Billow in the Rock. In the years since then, he has produced an oeuvre that includes an album--succinctly titled The Big Problem the Solution: The Solution = LET IT BE--ten books (many of which have not been published), and several as-yet-unproduced screenplays. In short, he is both actor and auteur--separate disciplines that finally converge in "The Big Slide Show," a solo media performance that includes slide-accompanied readings from his collected works and a special showing of What Is It?, a film that Glover wrote, directed and stars in.
In conversation, Glover speaks in a dainty voice that would seem erudite if it weren't so tentative. Likewise, his syntax is marked by odd, childlike constructions that make him seem uncomfortable with his native tongue. But this style of communication seems perfectly appropriate to a man more dedicated to artistic exploration than to commercial success. At a time when tours have become primarily promotional activities that follow on the heels of a "new release," Glover has decided to hit the road to screen a film that almost certainly won't be coming to a theater near you and to read from books that are difficult or impossible to acquire. And he doesn't see anything strange about doing so. After all, he has his reasons.
"I'm interested to be testing the film right now," he allows. "It is the whole film, but not the final print of the movie. There are sound things that haven't been finalized, and it's not the print-to-film at this point. It's something I'll be projecting from video, even though it's of film and with an empty time code. The negative has not yet been cut. But I've shown it to audiences and tested this, and there are new projection systems that make it a viable thing."
What Is It? is not the first film featuring Glover to have appeared in "The Big Slide Show": An earlier version of the presentation included The Orkley Kid, a twenty-minute short in which Glover portrayed a small-town boy who harbors a secret passion for, of all people, Olivia Newton-John. When he started working on What Is It?, Glover expected that it would also evolve into a short, but it quickly developed into something greater.
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"The film came about to promote certain things about another screenplay I've co-written called It Is Mine, which is actually my favorite screenplay I've written," he explains. "Two fellows from Arizona approached me to act in a screenplay they'd written, but in the last several years, I've been very focused on getting things together for myself to direct. I read the screenplay, and there were certain things about it that I liked, and I told them I'd be interested in it if I could direct it. David Lynch became involved as an executive producer on it, but I needed to get investors to get into it. One of the ideas I had was to cast most of the roles with Down's syndrome actors--and to commercial investors, that sounds like a risky idea. So the film that I've made now was initially going to be a shorter film to promote the idea of having Down's syndrome actors, and it turned into its whole own project. But this other project, It Is Mine, is still very much on my agenda."
So, too, are Glover's books, even though he wrote--or, as he puts it, "made"--most of them during the Eighties. However, he insists that the passage of time has not rendered them stale. "If I were to do a book, I'm not sure what a book would be like now. I haven't made one for a while," he muses softly. "But for me, now, because I perform the books to a certain extent, it's a different thing. I'm taking a role on as a performer and not just as a writer, so I'm interpreting my own works that are from a while back. But that's fine. I don't mind that. It would be like--not that I'd be comparing myself to a classic writer--but it would be analogous to me performing a classic play, where it's old writing but that's okay. If something has some interest to it, as a performer, you can perform it. It doesn't matter if it was written yesterday or 500 years ago."
In fact, a significant portion of Glover's books predate their instigator by more than a century. According to him, "The books did come about in an odd way. I had gone into an art bookstore, and somebody had taken an old book from the 1800s and had put artwork into it. And that was initially what I set out to do--to do what that person had done. But I left some of the words in the things, and the words ended up turning into their own story. I liked how it came about and how it finished--and I kept making more of them."
As these comments imply, the manuscripts Glover samples as part of "The Big Slide Show"--Concrete Inspection, Son of Mother, New World, The Backwards Swing, Round My House, Happy Journey and his best-known piece, Rat-Catching--contain far more than sentences on pages. His works are an arduous cut-and-paste collage, a chaotic palimpsest. Snaking, rootlike doodles--the kind that probably filled the margins of Glover's school textbooks--link type-written paragraphs to handwritten passages, blot words out and ornament the illustrations. The story lines, meanwhile, are fractured and impressionistic, pastoral and perverse.
The homemade quality of these offerings suggests that they were not put together with the general public in mind--a suspicion Glover confirms. "When I first made the books, I didn't even consider that they would be something that would be largely, publicly viewed," he contends. "I made them for my own benefit and to show friends. But I made a lot of them and enjoyed making them--and then I published one, and I had an art show they were shown in. So there were interests in the books, and in a certain way, I'm very happy about it."
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Over the years, Glover says, he received frequent requests to read from his narratives, but he feared that spoken-word presentations would not do justice to his heavily illustrated creations. That changed when he was again asked to orate as part of a film-festival tribute to him. "I had been interested in doing the slide show--putting the books on slides and presenting it as a reading with slides--for a while," he says. "And I felt that it would be a good thing to do at this film festival. So I had the slides taken and I performed the slide show, and it went over well. And there was interest in me performing it in other places."
Because of this demand, Glover has had to put another project on hold--the followup to The Big Problem, a recording he made in the late Eighties with Barnes and Barnes, whose song "Fish Heads" became a cult hit thanks to support from novelty purveyor Dr. Demento and MTV, which frequently played the video clip that accompanied the tune during the cable service's early years. Predictably, the platter was an aural freakout: Among its tracks are a wretched cover of "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'"; a rendition of Charles Manson's "Never Say 'Never' to Always"; dramatic readings from Rat-Catching and another book, Oak Mot; and a few memorable originals dealing with topics like masturbation, cleanliness and evil clowns. Glover doesn't go into much detail about the upcoming disc, but he does reveal that he's "had a lot more hand in the music of this new record. But that's a whole other thing."
Maybe--maybe not. No matter how twisted his brainchildren get, they are never too far removed from Glover himself--the embodiment of the delicate, excitable loner. Or, as he puts it, "There's no reason not to make every single thing that you do work correctly. If it makes sense to."
Crispin Glover. 8 p.m. Thursday, March 6, Aztlan Theater, 974 Santa Fe Drive, $11, 573-0188.