Uncut version! Special thanks to Darius James for providing his original version! The edited version was published in the December 1998 issue of Spin , pages 116-118:
Crispin Glover, Enemy of Snails
by Darius James
"Your order is meaningless. My chaos is significant."
Crispin Glover, Enemy of Snails
by Darius James
"Your order is meaningless. My chaos is significant."
It's boys night out in the City of Angels. Crispin Glover, Feral- House publisher, Adam Parfrey, and I are lounging in the frosty, red-lit inter ior of the Good Luck bar on Hillhurst Avenue; near the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles. The bar has the relaxed, boho-feel of a dive in downtown Manhattan with only a minimum of movie- industry hustle. The drinks are great. The music is unintrusive, thus conducive to conversation. And, best of all, you can smoke.
I 'discovered' it the night before, carousing with my friends Rusty Anderson, lead guitarist for Ednaswap (you know, the band that sent some idiot record exec's kid to college with a song Ednaswap's lead singer, Ann Preven, wrote and Natalie Imbrogilio covered), and Sam Stackhouse, a young screenwriter shopping a script around town about the origins of New York hiphop. And though the place was crowded due to a party for some schlockmeister's direct-to-video production ("Exploding Kung-Fu Carhops Go To College", if memory serves), we three agreed they had some fine-a--ed floozies up in that mutha- ---a, and was worth a second look-see.
The next night, while Adam, Crispin and I drove through the streets of that city which only exists on t.v., considering strip bars with dumb names like Jumbo's Clown Room (where Courtney Love is rumored to have once jiggled her tired tatas but is really noted for its homely, pancake-hootered hoochies, flop-flop ); even stopping, at one point, in the Dresden, a watering hole made popular by the movie "Swingers" (we found its yuppie/fratboy clientele anything but; so we split, throwing much shade. Management was not pleased, hostile even), I suggested the Good Luck.
Inside, Adam and I drank beer. Crispin sat in a corner, empyhanded. Apparently, he doesn't drink to any great extent or do drugs. In fact, when I ordered a Shirley Temple for him-- an ironic gesture on my part in reference to his use of her image in his directorial debut, "What Is It?" -- and the waitress offers him the neon fluids in a pear-shaped glass on a lacquered tray, he waves it away.
"I really used to like them when I was a kid" he says, "But, no. Thank you, though". His smile is sheepish and apologietic.
Ah! I realize. Sugar! The rapid aging agent! A substance more debilitating than cocaine! Crispin's diet largely consists of soybean by-products, some- where in the Macrobiotic-Vegan zone. Tofu. Tempeh. Seitan. Miso. Food- stuffs Ronald McDonald won't be hawking under the golden arches anytime soon.
His no drugs or alcohol pose could be soley for my benefit. I'm 'press'. And film actors, always conscious how their image will affect their careers (as image is their career), have to watch their recreational drug and alcohol consumption in public. Once they get a rep for that s---, producers don't want to work with them. Or, if they do, the actors are difficult to insure. Also, he explains, his last experience with Spin was after "River's Edge". And writer Legs McNeil, he tells me, figured him for a "drug guy", 'cause, uh, well, duh, he lived in a black-walled penthouse on Hollywood Boulevard, he's a man of eccentric demeanor who speaks in a slow and unusual cadence, and his character in the film popped those funny yellow pills.
Now, personally, I didn't read Leg's profile. So I don't know. But I also don't find it difficult to believe Crispin Glover is not a 'drug guy'. He gives the impression of having a wide-eyed and childlike naivete' about the matter. It's an impression later confirmed by his long-time friend, Adam. But the thing that convinced me Crispin Glover was not a 'drug guy' was the moment a distinctive psychedelic guitar solo played over the Good Luck's sound system.
"This sounds pretty good" he said, grinning. "Who is it?"
"Jimi Hendrix" I replied.
Reclusive, thirty-four year old character actor Crispin Hellion Glover was born on April 20th, 1964 in New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital; a birthdate he shares fellow vegan, Adolph Hitler. His mother -- Mary Elizabeth Lillian Betty Krachey Bloom Koerber Glover -- retired from her dance and acting career upon Crispin's birth. His father remains a working actor. Crispin grew up an only child but the actor also revealed-- "I was told that I had a half- brother. My father had a kid when he was 15 or 16. I wasn't told about it until I was older."
Hellion is also Crispin Glover's given middle name. It appears on his birth certificate. The story of how he came by that name is this: his father, Bruce Herbert Glover,whose own father was named Herbert, didn't like his middle name. And, as a struggling actor in New York, in order to provide himself with the confidence and resilence needed to persevere despite his profession's disappoint - ments and heartbreaks, he created a 'mantra' for himself, chanting-- "I am Bruce H. Glover. I am Bruce Hellion Glover. I am a hellion. I am a trouble maker." So, when Crispin was born, his parents decided 'troublemaker' was ideal middle name for their newborn progeny. "It bothers me when people think I made it up. " the actor says, "I've used it since I was a child. I use my first and last name for acting only. I use my whole name for things I create myself."
Before relocating to Los Angeles in 1967, where Bruce had greater prospects for work, the Glover family lived near Riverside Park on Manhattan's Upper Westside. "My first images of life," Crispin recalls, "are of New York City. I remember being in the park; snow; the red lettering of the store signs. I remember a school with a sunken floor. And the look of the people in suits with short hair and Bryl Cream."
"When we moved out to Los Angeles, I remember people with long hair and colorful clothing. That was the difference between the two cities for me. As a child, I liked New York more. I did not like the accent people spoke with in Los Angeles. I've always enunciated my words very carefully because of it."
After arriving in Los Angeles, Crispin attended a small pri- vate school for nine years. It was called The Mirman School. Students weren't graded. Instead, there were parent-teacher conferences; which, according to Crispin, was "much more frightening". "I really grew up at The Mirman School" he says. "Individualistic thinking was very much praised there. It was considered a good thing to be a good student. It wasn't considered 'square' or 'not with it'. As a result, I tend to like people who are truly individual in thought."
His primary hobbies as a child were drawing and writing. At age eleven, he decided on an acting career. "I knew it was something that I would be able to do and I would enjoy doing it."
At the age of thirteen, he had an agent. So, by the time he turned fifteen, having left the Mirman School, attending both Venice and Beverly Hills High School, he began his serious training with acting coaches Dan Mason and Peggy Feury. And found himself co-starring with Florence Henderson in the L.A. production of "The Sound of Music".
After high school, he made his televison acting debut on Happy Days in 1974, also finding roles on televison shows like Hill Street Blues and Family Ties. Not happy with his television career, he shifted his ambitions to motion pictures. In the early eighties, he did a number of teen comedies, like "My Tutor, "Teachers" and "Kid with the 200 I.Q.". And though he's best known for his role as 'George McFly' in Back to the Future (a role he rejected for the sequel, wherein he won a lawsuit against the series makers for the misuse of his image in the film), his break-through performance came in 1986 with "River's Edge". And he has gone on to work with such distinguished directors as Jim Jarmusch, Oliver Stone, Milos Foreman and Gus Van Sant.
But was it wasn't until the night of July 28th, 1987, the actor, wearing a pair of platformed hippie-clodhoppers, achieved national notoriety by nearly kicking David Letterman in his gap-toothed head. As to what really happened (and why), the actor is cryptic.
"I've always left it a mystery on purpose" he says. "The thing that's driven me crazy is that people don't speculate as to the various possibilities of what could have gone on, other than 'Oh, this guys went nuts'. I like surrealism. I like Dada. So I like leaving it a mystery."
I'd always found Crispin an engaging actor, ever since I first saw him in "River's Edge". His performance in that film's final moments -- as he lies in the sand by the river's edge, moving his arms as if a he were a fish, or a bird, or the sea turtle that has lost its way at the end of Mondo Cane -- was beyond 'acting'. It combined the elements of his craft with the metaphorical virtues of poetry, expressing all the alienation and isolation and desire for escape of the outsider in all of us.
After that, I was a Crispin Glover fanboy. I would actually get excited when I saw him in dumb shit like "Happy Days" reruns or "Friday the 13th" slaughterfests, and just knew he was the man after seeing him play the son of t.v.'s first pothead, Bob "Maynard G. Krebbs" in the cable movie High School U.S.A. [though for the life of me, I still can't figure out what the f--- he was doing in that evil piece of rock-n-roll revisionism, Back to the Future]. The book Michael gave me that X-Mas was Rat Catching; a beautifully bound, red-covered volume consisting of found text, photos and india ink drawings printed on thick high-gloss paper. And inside its front cover, Michael had attached a card ink stamped with red and green Champagne bubbles, where he had inscribed in his deliberate hand with a black felt-tip marker: "A Work of True Genius? Or the Narcissistic Bull--- of a Pampered Hollywood Brat? You be the judge!!"
So, as I walked through the short dark tunnel of the stone archway leading to Crispin Glover's three-story Spanish-style villa, the ciderwall surrounding it covered in a abundance of blazing red Bouganvillia blossoms, and stepped into a circular, cobblestoned driveway with a beige Mercedes and a 1962 Studebaker convertible, I knew this visit might solve Michael's six-year old mystery.
Crispin was in the final stages of edit on What Is It?; the first film in a projected trilogy he's been writing and directing over the last three years under his Volcanic Eruptions banner. He told me, before my visit, David Lynch had agreed to executive produce the next two films in the trilogy. The last, Sexcapades, will be written by his friend Steve Stuart. What I was about to see was his latest cut. Other than an item I'd read in Film Threat some years before, I knew little about the film. I saw a couple of stills of some snails. And read he was working with a cast of Down-syndromed actors. It also mentioned Fairuza Balk was involved. Whatever it was, I knew it was going to be strange. Over the telephone, he told me he had done some test screenings of the film around the country as a part of his Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show; but he didn't want to elaborate on its nature because, he said, he didn't want to draw a lot of attention to it. He felt concentrated national media coverage would finish an act he hoped to sustain for years, explaining that this was the reason why he didn't do his schtick in New York or LA. "Many vaudevillians were able to go for years" he said, "doing the same act over and over, just playing small cities around the country. But once they did New York or L.A., because of press, they had to come up with a new act or their careers were over." His reasoning is interesting if odd. One can easily find descriptions of Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show on the web. Crispin greets me at the door and invites me inside. As I enter the living room, the breath is sucked out of my lungs. I've set foot in some joints high and low the world over but this takes the prize. His villa, where he's lived alone for the past five years, isn't decorated like the penthouse he previously occuppied, a place Arsenio Hall once described as "Dracula's bachelor pad". No, his current digs, as Sun Ra's sidemen might say, is a whole other level of Outness! Its elegant, monastic and decadent. It looks like a medieval monastery combined with the expressionistic sets from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. High, vaulted ceilings; a grand sweep of stairs with a wrought-iron bannister; sparse but unique antique furnishings; paintings and art-objects, like the glass-framed medical eyeballs trimmed tiny fluted veils, adorn the walls. There were oddly shaped doorways with narrow corridors leading into a catacomb of rooms. "This is one impressive place" I say, thinking when you die, leave to me in your will. "It was built in the twenties" he informs me. "It belonged to Tom Mix, the silent-era cowboy. He owned a lot of real estate here in Silverlake Hills. I think one of Disney's early designers lived here."
Before we begin screening his film, we're waiting for his friend Adam Parfrey, who was key in bringing us together. Adam is probably Crispin's closest friend in LA. The two have a great deal in common. Both men grew up in Los Angeles with movie-actor parents (Adam's father was in the original Planet of the Apes). Both share an interest in the unusual and the 'fringe'. And both are great believers in the post-punk 'Do It Yourself' ethic -- publishing books, producing cds and releasing videos. Adam is also a featured actor in Crispin's directorial debut, improvising whole scenes in blackface.
While we wait, Crispin invites me into the kitchen, and offers me a cup of Bancha tea. As we chat, growing comfortable with each other, I speak with him about the public's perception of him as a 'weird' guy.
"The first time I ever felt any kind of inkling of what people would call 'weird'" he says, "was when I started working within the media. I did not feel 'weird' when I was growing up. That's more of a judgment in the media than anything I feel in the real world. When I lived in the Fournoy, my apartment was mostly painted black. People reacted to that a lot. And having a black apartment, is it really that weird?"
Finally, Adam arrived, handing out copies of Lords of Chaos, his latest Feral House Press offering about Europe's 'Satanic Metal' underground, and we go into Crispin's bedroom, which doubled as an editing facilty. I sat down on the sofa in front of the monitor. And, for the next seventy-two minutes, with jaw dropped and eyes popped, I was completely agogged.
What Is It? begins with a prologue. Crispin dry whispers: "Let me tell you a story. Before you meet me, we will start with the lotus of the story. The navel, so to speak. All that is forthcoming emanates from this one person, who we shall call the young man." A snail swirls across green spears, trailing its secretions. The young man, who is Down Syndromed, picks up the snail and examines it with a mixture of awe, wonder and miscomprehension. In the following scenes, which flow like a fever dream, the young man retrieves a pipe from its hiding place. And there is a sequence of shots involving a wrinkled old woman and the young man smoking the pipe. As the old woman smokes, she alternates by sucking on a plastic tube . Mexican porno music blares on the soundtrack with much cooing and squealing. Then, in what might be construed as a 'hallucination', there is a visit to an Aztec temple; where another character, also Down Syndromed, holds a bright red rose swarming with lady bugs. A snail is sliced in half with a razor blade. In this film, many snails foam in a shower of salt. Eventually, we return to the young man in his room, professing his love to a snail, whom he betrays by reducing to pulp and shell shards. Guilt and remorse sets in. As the young man attempts Frankensteinian reconstruction on the snail with a tube of airplane glue, the snail's mate slithers over the windowsill and, in the voice of Fairuza Balk, asks--
Where's my friend?
I don't know the young man replies.
Fairuza Snail spots the puddle that was once her friend and wails mournfully. The young man flees the house. The screen fades to black. A red question mark appears. And, finally, we are given the film's title.
In other words, What Is It?, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Special Edition, invites you inside the the musical U.F.O. that is Crispin Glover's brain. "It's the point of view of a neurotic mindset" he confesses."My mindset. It's not meant to represent the mindset of a down syndromed person."
At this point, I'm sure you're wondering: "What Is It?"
Ironically, he insists his film follows the narrative structure detailed by mythologist Joesph Cambell in Hero With A Thousand Faces. "The Hero's Journey" he says, "is the most basic story form. All stories and myths are, on some level, a Hero's Journey. It is almost impossible to relay any kind of story without utilizing some pattern from the structure of a Hero's Journey. One could simply say, "He went across the street". And this would be the hero leaving his normal world to set out upon his quest. It can come forth from the psyche in many different patterns, still work within a greater pattern, and still be good structure as long as it is reflective of an inner psychic truth. I can feel good story structure when I'm acting, because there is a psychological truth is revealed when something is properly structured."
I find his view 'ironic' because the 'hero's quest story structure' is a particularly Hollywood idea (if you find yourself, for example, in a story conference with some studio development people, they're going to talk structure at you. It's going to be either Syd Fields' three-act puzzlebox, the principles of Robert McKee or Christopher Vogler's rereading of Joseph Cambell for the movies). And "What Is It?" is about as far from Hollywood as one can get. It's closer to Werner Herzog's "Even Dwarves Started Small", the films of the Kuchar Brothers and the work of New York's underground genius Nick Zedd than it is sharing a box of chocolates with Forrest Gump.
What Is It? is an act of poetic terror, designed to transmute the mind from lead to gold. It operates on the same associative level one expereinces while dreaming. Rather than formulizing Cambell in the predictable ways of big-budget commericial cinema, the film deconstructs the conventions associated with Cambell, and creates a vibrant mythic structure of its own. And the issues raised by the film's confrontational imagery poses an interesting problem. Given our society's current polite vocabulary, how does one discuss this film in a insightful and non-reactionary fashion? How does one discuss The Minstrel in blackface who aspires to be other than who he is and injects snail's enzymes into his cheek? Or the nude, golden-locked Shirley Temple standing before a National Socialist's flag, m--------ing herself with the handle of a riding crop? Or the naked man with cerebal palsy lying in a giant sea shell, who is m--------ed by a monkey-masked woman, while Johnny Rebel croons N------ Never Die. They only Smell That Way ... ? The dialogue between artist and audience about problems such as these, and their potential resolution, is really what the function of myth is all about. This film may, in fact, conform to the 'hero's quest story structure' of Joseph Cambell's ; but it does so in a geniune way, one that inspires one to active and independent thought, which is what art is all about, rather than simple connect-the-dots story telling designed to sell popcorn. This is why What Is It? won't be screened at a multiplex near you. Instead, like early D.I.Yer 'All-Colored Cast' moviemaker Oscar Micheaux, who traveled around the country in the 30s & 40s, and rented movie houses for the colored folks to screen his self-made productions, Crispin Glover is taking his film on the road in Fall '98, booking it into 'art house' theaters across the country, where he'll personally tear your ticket stub at the door.
As I said, The Good Luck bar had some serious, woodie-inducing, hotties up in there. And that's why Crispin, Adam and I are lounging in the back --'cause, well, to tell the truth, m'man, Crispin, he don't be gettin' out much. He's one of those obsessional-Absent-Minded-Professor-Genius muthaf----s who stays in the house all the time, trying to invent 'Flubber' an' whatnot (which is why I think the cat writes those mini-rap-operas about jacking off). He's about his 'ART', f--- all them dollar-chasin' Hollywood muthaf---as. And I can dig where he's comin' from. They got some hoze out in Hollywood and I ain't talkin' 'bout Heidi Fleiss. This is a reason he doesn't work as much as he could.
"My career has been a mixture of having to make money and doing things I feel o.k. about." he says. "If I didn't think about the contents [of the scripts] so much, if I just went and did alot of things, I would make a lot more money. If I could just get a lobotomy, I'd be better off. I have actor friends who work for money and say other things come from that. Ultimately, I find it ugly."
Instead, Crispin works on his books, cds, paintings and films, and participates in commericial movie-projects he believes in. This doesn't give him a lot of time for socializing. And brings us back to why we're in the Good Luck bar in the first place.
Earlier that evening, we were in some L.A. rock club, attending a party thrown by alternative weekly, New Times. And I watched Crispin try and puts some moves on a woman he saw there. It was not a pretty sight. The woman, obviously aware of who he was, sat at one end of a booth on a raised platform in the club's backyard garden. Crispin sat at the other end with an arm's length of space between them. There was no one seated in the middle. The woman cast shy glances in his direction. He stared into space, slowing edging his way to her side.
Forty-five minutes later, he's sitting next to her. After another forty-five minutes, he's ready to leave with Adam and I. With the exception of Crispin, we're all a little drunk. Outside, I asked him who she was and what happened.
"She's a Mormon" he answered. "I gave her my phone number."
He gave her his phone number?!!! She could've been some deranged celebrity stalker. Might want to rope his intestines around his throat. "What's wrong with you?!!" I say. "Crispin, you gots to learn how to get your mack on!"
Crispin looked me dead in the eyes, his brow furrowed in confusion and asked-- "What's a mack?"
My clock was stopped. This man was in need of some serious education, by The Book. The one by Iceberg Slim.
"Crispin, you a babe magnet by law! You 'pose to say 'I'm a big movie star!'"
"But I'd feel foolish" he confesses. "What if they'd never heard of me or seen any of my movies?"
"Casually slip it into conversation" I tell him. "Be cool. Say--'By the way, I was featured in David Lynch's Wild At Heart'. Just don't tell 'em you had cockroaches in your drawers!"
Though amusing, his reluctance to exploit his movie star status is exceptionally admirable. I've seen Hollywood-celebs set up coke-fueled, motel-room threesomes on the basis of some bone-headed performance in cheesy teen sex-comedies from the eighties. And Crispin, obviously, is trying to keep it all in perspective. Still, celebrity should have its little rewards.
So we're in the Good Luck, trying to activate the man's social life. We're drinking, talking, relaxed. Crispin's having a good time, eye-balling the babes. Says he should do this more often. And three women walk in. One of the women is a pixish double for Showgirls' Elizabeth Berkley, who makes a grand show of preparing a comfortable seat for herself. She stands in front of him, leans over and deliberately aims the soft, rounded curves of her ass in his direction. Then, suddenly, she turns, flashing much cleavage.
When she sits, she tells Crispin her name is Tiffany. And it turns out Tiffany has more than looks in common with Elizabeth Berkley's character in Showgirls. Tiffany is a 'go-go dancer'.
Again, before we leave, he gives her his phone number.
The next evening, I asked if Tiffany telephoned.
"Yes" he answers. "But she said she didn't think it woud be a good idea if she went out with me."
His voice dripped with melancholy.
"Her friends told her I once tried to kick David Letterman in the head...!"
POSTSCRIPT: The following day, I spoke with Crispin by telephone. "What's happening?" I asked. It was early afternoon.
"Oh, nothing" he answered, nonchalantly. "I'm just sitting here chatting with Tiffany"
In the background, there was a loud, dark cackle.