by Cathy Illman
I have to admit that this is a net-zine, and the actual interview part doesn't happen until more then half way down. But because of the obviously painstaking recording, it counts as an interview in my mind.
|Last night, February 27, 1998, at about 7:20pm, I
arrived at the 7th House in Pontiac, Michigan to attend
Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show. I was the third
person there, 40 minutes early. Since it was general
admission, I wanted to get a good seat. However, the
doors didn't open until about 8 and by then, there were
about 100 people behind me in line. I did get a good seat
of course - front row, center.
We waited for a long time for the show to begin, so when it did, I was more than ready. We had to wait for latecomers. I'd say there were about 350 people there, give or take. Music was played while we waited. I recognized Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man."
Let me explain the layout of the room. The 7th House is a small place on the second floor of a plaza with a bar and a small stage. Last night, the stage was blocked by a huge screen and there were chairs set out all over the floor.
When the show began, all one could see was a full-body silhouette of Mr. Glover. The shadow seemed to be standing in a hole as if we were looking down upon him. He began by saying, "I'm Crispin Glover and first right now, we're going to show a film that I've directed called 'What is it?' It's a test print... or test cut. It's going to be projected from video, and there is a smpte time code at the bottom of the screen. This is very close to being done. It is not absolutely done, but you're one of the first audiences to be viewing this particular cut. After that, there will be an intermission and then I will come out for the Big Slide Show. The film is 70 minutes in length and now here is the film." (Yes, I had a small tape recorder in my bag. Shhh!) Of course this slowly-spoken monologue was sprinkled with many "uhhh"s and enunciated to its fullest extent, the way Mr. Glover tends to talk.
The silhouette is gone and "What is it?" begins playing on the huge screen in front of me. I must say right now that I cannot explain this film very well because I was a little jittery from the fact that I was actually witnessing it. In essence, I couldn't pay 100% attention to the details, but I will try to communicate it to you.
It begins with close-up shots of snails, moving ever so slowly and looking shiny, as snails do. A rumbling sound is heard throughout.
Next you see a man standing next to a wall on a chair doing something. The first thing you notice is that this man has DOWN Syndrome and as the film moves on, it proves that the majority of the people in the film also have DOWNS. I will let you know when characters do not have DOWNS, otherwise assume they do.
The man takes out what looks like a fancy pen box, or a letter-opener box with red material covering the inside. He uses this as his snail box. He tells a certain snail he loves it. Soon afterward he kills it violently by bashing it, while on his his hand, into a sheet of glass repeatedly.
He then sees another snail which talks to him in a whispery voice. She says, "Perfection is in the eye of the beholder." She also wants to know where their friend is. The man (I will start calling him James since he is never named) replies which is difficult to understand due to the crowdedness of his mouth.
He tries to Super-Glue the snail back together but fails. The live snail sees the dead friend and starts screaming horrific, terrifying and painful screams, over and over again. This causes James to leave and go outside. He accidently locks himself out of his house and so he walks down the street. You can still hear the screaming snail.
Also in that scene there are quick shots of an old lady (she does not have DOWNS) smoking a pipe and blowing the smoke into a tube. You do not see where the tube leads to, but the thought makes James upset.
I believe after this was another snail-killing scene, but this time it's beautifully exposed for all to see. The snail is decapitated by James and it oozes and stretches as the head is being torn away. The audience all go, "ewwww!!"
Forgive me, but I can't remember the order of events now, so I will just tell them to you in an order which will come to me as I write.
James walks into a graveyard where about four or five kids are standing around. They are beating a fellow who is laying on the ground. His face is grossly deformed. One eye is shut with a look of infection and the other is brightly open like a baby doll. His ears are all the way down to his jaw and his mouth is drooling-open. He almost looks dead, but he is alive.
James is watching. They talk to him and he gets out his snail holder, equipped with another snail. He kills it with salt and it bubbles.
James chats with another fellow in the road whom I will refer to as Frank. They ask each other what they're doing and where they're going. They seem to be friendly until Frank pulls out what seems to be the key to James' house. James gets angry and says he's not his friend and goes away.
At some point he gets knocked out by the kids in the graveyard and fantasizes about him and another girl. This fantasy is shown of them passionately standing and kissing. James attempts to take off her shirt, but it gets stuck on her head. They then lay down on each other with his hand all over her crotch.
I believe now we are taken to a woodsy area where there is lingering smoke and nude people with masks running around and coming out of small volcanos in the ground. There is a concrete set of steps which lead to a seat.
Soon, we see Mr. Glover himself (obviously, he does not have DOWNS) walk up the steps and sit down. He has long hair and is wearing a red robe, like a king. He picks up a glass container of some sort, which is dark red. At the bottom of it you can see a swastika hiding. Once you catch the swastika, the screen switches to many instances of swastikas, one including little Shirley Temple standing and smiling cutely in front of a Nazi wall.
Glover turns a crank attached to his seat and out comes a shabby record player. You can hear music and baby voices as this happens. A bald Cabbage Patch doll dances next to the record player. (Audience cracks up.)
Glover pulls out a 45 record and instructs the masked, naked people that they are supposed to listen to this song now. It's an old song, sung by a man with a southern accent with "some niggers never die, they just smell that way" as the leading line in the chorus.
While this is being heard, a cloud comes into the side of the screen holding a Shirley Temple doll. Another cloud/seashell-like, puffy white thing is brought down holding a naked man with glasses. A woman with a mask on is massaging his crotch repeatedly. It makes me uncomfortable because she is doing it so much.
The scene switches to inside a living room of a house where Glover and two ladies and a guy are sitting. Glover's on a big, red leather love seat and the women are lying on other furniture. They are in heavy make up and wearing dresses. The whole room looks very kingly and dark red with a large staircase in the back.
Glover asks them what they are to address him as. The first two replies I did not understand. Nonetheless, neither of them were right. Then the man guesses, "McFly?"
And Glover says, "No."
One girl asks, "Shirley Temple?"
Glover repeats, "Shirley Temple?"
She quickly says, "God?"
He replies, "God? Shirley Temple? God? ...Maybe."
Next, (or before this, I don't remember) we are introduced to a man in blackface. He doesn't have DOWNS. He is injecting his face with slime from a dead snail. He wants to be different than he is. He doesn't want "opposable thumbs" and is complaining about not being masculine. He expresses a large desire to be "inside the snail." Crispin yells at him to shut up. Then you hear, "I kick yo ass. I kick it so hard!" It isn't shown exactly who is saying this. It sounds like Crispin's voice, but it would make more sense if Blackface had said it.
There is then a puppet show with three characters. The first is a white, talking box (from laundry detergent, maybe?), the second is a sock puppet and the third is a white chicken. The box says, "I'm the snail" over and over in a deep, moaning and whispering voice. The sock puppet says, "I'm gonna kill you motherfucker" and other threats like this in an ignorant voice. The chicken speaks in a high, whiney voice saying, "I'm the snail." It's all happening at once and then it's over. Crispin violently claps his hands and gets angry and says they need to do it correctly NOW. The word "now" echoes for a while.
We're then back to James who is singing 'Silent Night,' and untying a girl. Some other people are outside laughing at James and pointing at him. A girl, whom I will refer to as Betty, was one of them.
We are then shown the smoking old lady again.
James talks to Betty about looking at snails. He puts a snail on her hand and pours salt on it. She tells him that it is burning.
Frank is back and shows James the key again. Frank knocks James over onto the street and walks away. A girl with long blonde hair runs up to him and tries to take off his pants as he's laying in the road. She then starts running away and James calls, "Wait a minute! I like you!"
Next comes a praying mantis and snail scene. The mantis kills the snail by pushing it off a rock onto the pavement and James is then told by the mantis to lie down so that she can feed on him. He lays down and the mantis walks onto him and starts feeding out of an open cut in his neck. She also speaks in a whispery voice.
Crispin then asks the women back at the living room if they understood the moral. They say they do, and he says, "Good." One of the girls (Betty) wants to be his boyfriend and he says no, the other girl has him as her boyfriend.
Blackface starts talking about Arnold Schwartzeneger hugging him and about a penis so big it could hurt a woman. A picture of Michael Jackson is shown. Then Blackface talks about how he injects himself daily with the snail slime to be stronger.
Now we see two boys sitting on the grass. One of them is moving his hands around his head like he's "Vogueing" and saying, "Just beat it!" over and over, claiming to be Michael Jackson as he's doing this. His friend doesn't seem to care. This scene is really funny. Blackface asks if anyone wants his autograph because he's a celebrity and that he likes young boys.
Back to Crispin in the living room. Betty still asks him to be her boyfriend. He pesters her saying, "Why would you ask me that?" A laugh track can be heard when they are talking about this.
Then some kids go out on the town to have fun and absent-mindedly leave behind another guy with glasses, using a walker.
Then a rubber chicken and a plastic doll pop up and the doll keeps asking the chicken if she can have its baby. Finally it says no, and the scene ends.
As the movie goes on, we see lots more snail- killing.
The next scene I remember is back in the woods where all the naked, masked people are busy walking around. Glover is back on his seat and suddenly, from up above, a man comes down and begins strangling him. He kills him and now the man gets to sit in the seat. This is the same man that was sitting in the seashell before, getting his crotch massaged. He starts going into fits. He turns the crank at the seat and the Cabbage Patch doll and record player come out again, and the "nigger" song also is played once more. Shirley Temple on the cloud comes back for a second and then we are shown pictures of her in a black leather S&M costume.
Blackface is shown again walking in the graveyard. There's a tombstone that reads something along the lines of "None of us." In the graveyard, the kids there tie up/beat up Blackface and he is very sad. One of the kids takes a syringe and starts poking Blackface's face with it. He injects snail slime into it and then injects it into Blackface's face. Blackface is given a big hug and kiss by the very deformed man from the beginning. Then he is buried alive by the kids.
James is there and hiding behind a gravestone, while kids throw rocks at him. They are also shown smoking a pipe. He finally goes up to them and puts plastic bags over their heads and suffocates them all. Just when he thinks he has gotten rid of them, the deformed kid comes out of nowhere and knocks James on the head with a shovel. He also does this to some other people.
Back at the woods, the new "king" is naked and having fits. He can't seem to move too easily.
I don't know how James recovers from the shovel blow, but he does and makes it back to his house. The screaming snail can still be heard. This time, James has a key and he goes inside. We see the old lady smoking the pipe, blowing the smoke into a tube again, but now we see where the tube leads to. It leads to James' mouth, as he is lying on a bed, nose clamped shut, in bandages, totally unable to move.
We see that the praying mantis is dead and is covered with ants.
We see the snail-decapitating scene played backwards.
Back at the woods, there is a woman wearing an elephant mask, crawling on the ground. There are others, too. I forget what they were doing. I also don't remember what the ending scene of Part One is, but this is close to it.
Part Two begins with the title "It is Mine" and all it consists of is a bunch of women (they do not have DOWNS) dancing around some room to music. They look to be women from the 70's or 60's. That is the end.
Everyone claps and it is intermission. I forgot to mention that throughout the movie, words would flash on the screen saying that 'the people that mocked him were going to pay.' In addition, Indian music was, for the most part, the background music of choice thoughout.
Music was played at intermission which again included "Ramblin' Man."
All in all, it was a somewhat confusing movie but I highly enjoyed it. It was mostly how I expected it to be, judging from what others have written of it. I think the audience liked it, as well. As far as the moral goes, I am still a little fuzzy. I wish I could watch it more times so that I could pay extra attention to the details and to the sequence of events.
After intermission, the lights go out and Crispin hops up onto a black-skirted table. He stands motionless, extending one empty hand, and holding his book, "Concrete Inspection," in the other. A red spotlight is shined onto his face and he begins to read from the book. He was so close to where I was, it was invigorating. As time went on, I could see him sweating profusely under the light which remained red the entire time. He was wearing a suit and tie and had hair about to his ears.
He loudly projected his voice with sharp enunciation and expression. His body moved with his breath and with the words he spoke. I was impressed that he could read so well. Not many people are this fluent at reading aloud. Since he has read it millions of times aloud, it probably wasn't too hard to perfect it this time around. He read fast, too. He knew the next page before he even turned it.
As he read, slides of the pages he was reading from were shown on the screen which he stood directly to the left of. He had control of the projector by a remote in his hand.
I noticed no one was talking the whole time. This was one of the most attentive audiences I have ever seen.
After "Concrete Inspection," he read from "Rat Catching." When he began, the first few paragraphs were all from memory. From that time on, he read everything directly off the screen but always knowing what page came next and starting on it before it was shown.
"Rat Catching" was my favorite part of the show. I particularly love how he says "rat catching." He says the "a" sound in a funny dialect. Crispin always speaks in a unique dialect. He has his own accent, like a wise, old man trying to teach you something back in the 1800's. His voice goes up and down and it always ends abruptly. Between each sentence it's a wonder he can take a satisfactory breath to hold out for the next sentence he says. One could tell he knew exactly what he was doing at all times.
During "Rat Catching," the audience laughed a lot. I thought it was especially funny that when he would get to a slide with a diagram on it, or a picture of rats, he would energetically and rigidly point around it with a look on his face as if he were quickly trying to prove to you something but at the same time, totally enveloped in the story itself. Another part that gave me quite a laugh was when he screamed, "CHICKEE!" right after the quiet "...then I remember my work" line. He put much effort in that monstrous yell.
He read nearly all of "Rat Catching;" much more than what is heard on the album.
After this, he read from a book which you cannot buy, entitled, "The New World." This was about a man named Bob Long. I am not sure if there is any connection between the Mr. Long in Oak Mot or this Mr. Long, however, he did use two pages directly from Oak Mot in the slides that spoke solely of 'Mr. Long.' This story was read in a slower, calmer manner. From what I gather, it is about Mr. Long who is dissatisfied with himself and looking back on his life, sadly.
The next book which he read from was called, "The Backwards Swing." This one also is unable to be obtained. It began with a girl named Milly and a boy named Harry who wondered about her. Milly was a spoiled girl and one could tell the narrator looks on her in shame. Milly and her sister are upset and they are trying to get rid of 'the backwards swing' which burns, as a person named Dexter tells them to be patient. Milly ends up building a shrine to Dexter in the end. I don't quite know what the 'backwards swing' is, but I know it's something people don't want to have. The reading of this one was also a calmer one. There were pictures shown of old gold-rimmed statues and old-looking faces which were in color, contrary to most of the stories.
The next story read was called, "Round My House." This was a longer one. He read it in a louder, more frantic tone. It's told in first person and begins with him telling us about his house and his ideas. Twice he refers to being "free like a skeleton with no skin." It goes on to say that his good friend, Tom Wiswell, betrayed him by bringing other visitors into his house, which ended up in him going to court with the reason being that his house is full of bad things; a 'Negroid slave', a boy that had been tricked with a paper bag over his head, body parts, mollusks in the bathtub, bugs all over the backyard and other 'bad' things that the visitors did not approve of. After going to court, the narrator claims to be free and vindicated. I liked this story. It was strange, however, because Crispin suddenly, for three seconds, slips into George McFly's character and out again. I don't know if anyone noticed that but me.
"The Happy Journey" is next and is another story you cannot obtain anywhere. This story is probably the most confusing of the readings. I think it's about a baby that is killed by its mother and becomes a baby angel. There is much disease and discomfort in the story. It is read the slowest and with the most pauses between words. Its use of handsome illustrations got more of a visual appreciation than an audio one.
After this, the coming-of-age story, "A Son of Mother" is read. It is the one about Tom in Part Three of "What it is, and How it is Done." I won't summarize it since you can read it in the book. One odd detail I noticed was that he purposely skipped over the word "Negroe" in the description of Tom on the first page when he read it.
The last reading is from the second part of "What it is, and How it is Done," with the same title. He read it the same way he read it when he appeared on Dennis Miller's show, complete with the 'specific gestures' part where he mimics the 'specific gestures' picture in the book.
The Big Slide Show has ended and he says, "If anybody has any questions about anything at all, the movie or the books, I will be over here [pointing to a table on the right] in a little while. There are books available over there [pointing] if anybody wants me to sign books or like I say, ask any questions, I'll be over there in a while. And so you can ask me then. [audience laughs, so he does, too.] And thank you very much! Good-night! Thank you!" So, if you can guess, I got in line to talk with him.
It was set up so that there was a table he sat at, and several feet away was the line with a man telling you when you could go. This way, everyone could talk to him in private, one at a time. I liked this idea. However, it took a very long time to get to my turn. I think I waited about an hour. But this gave me time to think of questions to ask, which I wrote down on the paper bag I was holding. I knew I'd need notes or else I'd stand there speechless.
A woman standing next to me in line asked me if I was a stalker. (!?) She said, "You're not a stalker are you? You're not going to take a gun out of that bag and yell, 'Kill Crispin!' and shoot him are you?"
I said, "No! Of course not!" I found this a little strange because it seemed she was being serious.
There were signs everywhere that said, "NO CAMERAS," but of course, there were about six people that had them and made him pose with them. He didn't seem to mind. But he did make funny faces when he was posing for the shot, I noticed. He would smile much like George McFly and look up at the ceiling.
Looking back at the Slide Show, I realized he did not read from Oak Mot. I had hoped he would have, but it was still fabulous.
It was finally my turn. I started up my bagged tape recorder and walked forward, ready to shake hands. My main question I wanted to ask him was when "The Big Love Album" was going to be out, but I forgot to ask so I cursed myself. Oh well. But at least I got to do this:
Me: Hi! (shake hands)
And I walked away and left another 60+ people in line behind me.
Up close, I noticed that he has much lighter blue eyes than I had imagined. He had a smooth face, as well.
I noticed that his eyes darted around the room quickly as he spoke. Although, when I spoke to him, he gave me full eye-contact. Obviously, as he was talking, he was busy signing and drawing a lovely spindle around the picture on the postcard in a silvery-purple permanent marker, and writing the word "Spindle" down the side. He signed the CD cover and wrote "For Cathy" and the word "spindle" directly on the back of the chair in the picture.
He spoke to me in the same tone that he used in his character from Little Noises. I am still reflecting on how well he enunciates.
It was an excitingly memorable and thought- provoking night and I recommend attending the Big Slide Show whenever possible. Mr. Glover is a pleasantly polite and approachable gentleman possessing much original talent and creativity. It upsets me a great deal to see him badmouthed by journalists claiming he is just some loon who cares only of himself. He may be undoubtedly eccentric, but it is an admirable and brilliant kind of eccentricity that is unworthy of these thoughtless remarks. I wish him the best and hopefully I am given the privilege of seeing him again in the future.
Comments, questions? E-mail Cathy Illman (Ethylester) at email@example.com
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