Crispin Glover and the problem of ontology

October 2, 2008

I had the honour to view the two features of Crispin Glover last week at ACMI. It was two amazing nights of cinema with Crispin in person delivering his Big Slide Show parts 1 and 2 and partaking in a detailed Q&A after each film.

Crispin’s two films are What is it? and It is fine! Everything is Fine. These films are unique and completely original and unlike just about anything you have ever seen.

What is it? is set in a world where everyone has down syndrome. Our protagonist, a young down syndrome man, is confronted by a snail screaming after he kills one that he has been playing with. Our hero then leaves his home to go on an adventure involving love, life, a booty call, hanging a minstrel and pouring salt on snails. Inside our protagonists head two sides of his personality are fighting for control. One side is played by Cripsin Glover who sits on a throne emblazoned with Shirley Temple pictures and swastikas. Glover’s character insists on playing a racist Johnny Rebel track with the chorus, “Some Niggers never die, they just smell that way” to his surrounding entourage, made up of naked monkey women carrying around water melons. The other side of our protagonists head is played by Steven C Stewart. Stewart is a writer and actor who has severe cerebral palsy. He is masturbated by the nude female monkeys. Later on puppet shows and other odd events occur involving a minstrel in black face (played well by Adam Parfrey of Feral House), who appears to serve Glover’s character, but escapes the inner world of our protagonist only to be attcaked in the world of the down syndrome people. Does this sound bizarre and cool to you? We’ll that aint the half of it. Glover has constructed one of the best examples of underground transgressive cinema I have seen since Kenneth Anger. The works are luminously bizarre, offensive and disturbing. The title itself, What is It? alludes to an examination of the problem of ontology itself. What is ‘is’, was Heidegger’s main question. Also too, ‘it’. I shall; speak more of the film thematic goals later but I must describe Fine now.

It is fine! Everything is Fine is written by and stars Steven C Stewart and is a masterpiece. Stewart spent ten years in a hospital classed as a mental deffect, even though he has normal intelligence. He has crafted a tale of a cerebal palsy hair fetishist and stud who starts dating an older lady, then cracks onto her teen daughter, then sarts dating all and sundry Hollywood hotties. Stewart’s character is not some PC disabled dude he is a killer, who often strangles or runs over his dates knecks in his wheel chair after deflowering them. The film is a distraught and disturbing primal scream of what it must be like to have a mental problem like cerebral palsy. It portrays in detail the dark negative fantasies of destruction and murder that must lurk behind many of the handicapped’s minds as they are constantly objects of pity and charity. The plain ontological power of this situation has never been articulated before in any medium. It makes Everything is Fine an amazing experience and a true original piece of cinema. Glover’s sets and his camera work are superb and recall a 70’s Kubrickian style.

Glover is concerned with getting at the Ontological problem of characters in his work. His films have a wonderful naive quality of exploration and inventiveness shackled to seriously dark subject matter. Glover’s eccentric personality oft seen on screen is made manifest in his directorial debuts. Glover tried to explain his cinema and what it is? The best phrase he found was ‘ecstatic truth’ that Herzog uses to describe the more transcendental moments of his films. Herzog gets this from Heidegger, and indeed Herzog’s work is closely related to the Master from Messkirch’s philosophy. So, to I would argue is What is it? and Everything is fine. Glover pursues the essence of his subject ruthlessly, throwing off all concepts of morality and what is acceptable in contemporary cinema. He films are provocative but necessarily so, as they attempt to get at the ontolological essences of the films subjects.

Indeed, the films are so raw and powerful that there is something bewitching and genuinely disturbing about them. The truths uncovered are so painful and real that they shock and leave images imprinted on your mind that last long after the films have finished.

Congratulation to Intense Touring and Jeff Halls for bringing Crispin out here to Australia. Glover is an amazing director and we look forward to It is Mine, the third part in his trilogy.

Here are the two posters for the two features played at ACMI:

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