Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Crispin Glover's UK tour is as mad as eggs and you should definitely see it

Last Friday found me at London's deeply sensual Hackney Picturehouse for the opening night of the UK tour of Crispin Glover: actor, director, writer and artist who - whether he likes it or not - will forever be connected to the role of George McFly in Back To The Future. While that role is undeniably magnificently written and portrayed, Glover has a remarkable body of other work behind him, much of which is completely and utterly batshit mental. And I'm not just talking about Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle.

A typical evening on his current tour (which visits several Picturehouses in the UK over the next three weeks) consists of Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show, in which he reads from obscure 19th century books which he's altered for his own ends; a screening of one of two films he's directed (which film you get depends on which venue you book) and a post-screening Q&A. It's a fascinatingly odd experience which will delight as many as it will frustrate; personally I loved it, but the gentleman next to me in the Back To The Future t-shirt was left visibly and audibly frustrated by Glover's insistence on yelling non-sequiturs in German rather than discussing fondly-remembered weekends spent skateboarding with Michael J Fox.

The slide show is the maddest part of the event: less a deconstruction of the concept of storytelling than a total obliteration and subsequent reconstruction of it by a demented force. Glover reads lengthy extracts - often from memory - of stories, manuals and textbooks from which he's removed several passages and, occasionally, added his own contributions. The pages appear behind him on screen, and are annotated and illustrated by what appears to be a deranged spider with too many dark thoughts and not enough friends. Not a second of it makes an ounce of sense, so you have to be prepared to let it happen to you, although towards the end I found myself so immersed in Glover's world that I began to appreciate and enjoy some of the readings. I remember thoroughly liking one called An Egg Farm, but can't for the life of me remember anything about it now except that it was really quite crackers.

Friday's screening was of Glover's second film in his proposed It trilogy, It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE., while some dates on the tour will screen the first film, What Is It?. Part three, IT IS MINE, is some years from completion, although evidently it will continue to employ an avant-garde approach to capitalisation. It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. is a remarkable, surreal and challenging film written by its lead, Steven C Stewart, who was crippled by cerebral palsy (he died a month after filming wrapped). Stewart plays a man who deals with his handicap and his feelings for long-haired, beautiful women in unusual and occasionally troubling ways, and while it's certainly an offbeat film it's much less bonkers than Glover's slide show. A lazy person would probably describe it as almost Lynchian in its wilful weirdness, so I'll simply say that to me it seemed almost Lynchian in its wilful weirdness.
Low on production values but high on originality, It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. feels like a far braver and much more starkly honest version of last year's Helen Hunt / John Hawkes-starring The Sessions. Unrestricted by such annoyances as certification and studio approval, Glover's film dispenses entirely with cheese and goes straight for the jugular with its rage-fuelled protagonist and arguably misogynistic approach. It's probably not one to watch with your mum, but it does give you some insight into what it must be to be so agonisingly frustrated by a disease which renders your body useless but your mind lively and bursting with everyday impulses upon which it is near-impossible to act.

I had to leave the post-screening Q&A early in order to take advantage of outer London's marvellous weekend public transport timings (want to stay out past 11pm on a Friday? Then enjoy getting home via at least four varied and torturous methods, possibly by Sunday if you're lucky), but fortunately Mr Glover kindly agreed to my own personal Q&A via email. So here's a closer look at the musings of a deranged madman, and as a bonus I've included Crispin Glover's responses.


Hello Neil! One usually only says "It is fine!" when something is actually wrong.

How would you prepare someone who's coming to one of your current shows because they loved you in Back To The Future but know nothing else about you? I'm thinking in particular of someone like this chap:
Frankly that is quite rare. I’ve not had many people come to the show that have exclusively seen me in Back To The Future. At least not people that come up to me. I would prepare them in the same way I would prepare anyone. I prefer films that cause the audience to ask questions.

Your Big Slide Show includes some amazing slides: did you make all those annotations and illustrations yourself? How long did the process take?

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 made most of the books in the '80s and very early '90s. 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. The books and films are all narrative. Sometimes people see thematic correlations between the content of my books and the content of the films.

How did you select which books to use as the basis for the Big Slide Show?

Many of the books that are in the show are specifically books that will perform well dramatically or that have a sense of humor. Some of the books that I have not used in the slide shows are books that work more as art objects as opposed to narratives.

Your presentation technique in the Big Slide Show feels like you, as an actor, playing a part. Is that fair? How much of the real Crispin Glover are we watching?

I would assess the slide show performance as a performance and interpretation of books I made not originally meant for performance. That being said I enjoy performing them.

You described It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE as "the best film I'll have anything to do with in my whole career". What is it about the film that you are most proud of?

The cinematic and subconscious emotional catharsis that happens with the protagonist / writer / Steven C Stewart in the film is central to what I am proud of with this film.

You played Andy Warhol in The Doors: as an avant-garde artist do you feel any affinity with him?

I met and spoke with Andy Warhol at the wedding of Madonna and Sean Penn. It was right after Back To The Future had come out which he had apparently seen. I did not speak with him for so long but definitely enough to get an idea about him. He was quite nice to me. After I spoke with him I stood back and looked at him and watched how he held himself and thought he would be an interesting person to play. I had met Oliver Stone previously for Platoon which I was not in, but we had a good meeting and I auditioned for the role and got it.

I would not compare myself to Warhol for a lot of reasons, but I would take any comparison as a compliment. First off, the enormity of influence of Warhol’s art is something that is extremely important to consider. Someone asked me once if I related to Warhol's eccentricities. I feel like Warhol’s "eccentricities" were very different from my own, and frankly I believe that a lot of my own perceived eccentricities are greatly exacerbated by inaccurate media myopia. I do not know what Warhol would say about his perceived eccentricities, although I would say he was much more in control of his media perception during his entire career than I have been of mine for much of mine.

You've also dabbled in music, and I love your song 'Clowny Clown Clown'. How do you really feel about clowns? The lyrics leave one uncertain.

Even as a child I never found clowns particularly amusing. I am a little confused as to why even children find clowns amusing.

'Clowny Clown Clown' by Crispin Glover. Warning: contains clowns

I recently watched Rubin & Ed, the film in which you play Rubin Farr, who also infamously appeared on David Letterman and in your video for 'Clowny Clown Clown'. Is Rubin an alter ego of sorts?
I have neither confirmed nor denied in media whether or not that was me on the 1986 Late Night with David Letterman appearance. If asked I go in to a lot of detail about it at my shows.

You own a 17th century castle in the Czech Republic where you are planning to shoot your future films. Do you know any Czech swear words?


Like me, you are an only child. Did you ever invent imaginary friends as substitute siblings? I mean, not that I did or anything.

No. I did not invent imaginary friends.

Unlike me, your father Bruce played a Bond villain's henchman in Diamonds Are Forever. Are you a Bond fan? Who's your favourite James Bond and what's your favourite Bond film?

I have not seen all the Bond films or all the actors that have played Bond. I think the first Bond film I saw was Diamonds Are Forever so I do like that one. I also like Dr. No. I love Notorious by Hitchcock with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman. That is the movie that supposedly influenced Ian Fleming to write his first Bond novel Casino Royale. I did see the recent Casino Royale and thought Daniel Craig did an excellent job and liked to see the obvious structural influences on that story from Hitchcock’s and Ben Hecht's great screenplay for Notorious.

Would playing a Bond villain be something that might interest you?


Who is your favourite Charlie's Angel?

I do not have a favorite Angel. All three of the actresses were very nice people to work with. Of note structurally, the character I played in Charlie’s Angels was somewhat similar to the character my father played in Diamonds Are Forever. They were both assassins that kept coming back to at least seem to attempt to assassinate the protagonists.

You starred in Hot Tub Time Machine, a film which examined some of the most basic elements of the human condition, such as what it is to be a man, to be an adult, to lose sight of your hopes and dreams, and to find true happiness and a peaceful soul. If you had a hot tub time machine, would you use it to travel in time or just to feel the bubbles?

Time travel would be of course amazing.
Crispin Glover's one-armed bell boy was tragically absent
from the Hot Tub Time Machine marketing campaign.

Finally, as a man who has long contemplated growing a beard, I am impressed by your very handsome facial hair. How do you decide when to grow a beard and when to shave it off, and how do you maintain it?

I have only in the last several years grown out facial hair because it has been appropriate for a number of period films in which I have played characters that it would be appropriate for. I do not grow facial hair or wear my hair for my own personal preference. My preference is probably shorter hair and clean shaven.

Crispin Glover, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you Neil!

Details of the rest of Crispin Hellion Glover's UK tour can be found at his website, CrispinGlover.com.


  1. The journalist did a pretty unsubtle job of taking the piss, not only of his subject, but of Back to the Future fans. Luckily, Glover's unimpressed but polite one word answers dealt with it admirably.

    And the 'Hot Tub Time Machine' question? You're lucky his answer wasn't "You're a douche..." - although, that being said, it was kind of obvious and made even more glaringly so by Glover's charming reply.

  2. The journalist is himself a huge Back To The Future fan, and does not take the piss out of such people but merely uses them to illustrate the point that one needs an extremely open mind to appreciate and enjoy Crispin Glover's shows. Please indicate in which part of the article the journalist takes the piss out of Crispin Glover.

    Furthermore, if Glover's one-word answers (of which there are two) indicate a dismissal of the journalist, his 1500-word answers, which were, necessarily, heavily edited, must therefore indicate the opposite. The journalist can therefore safely infer that Mr Glover found him enormously impressive.