Interview with Crispin Glover

Crispin Hellion Glover brought his Big Slide Show and 35mm film to Cambridge on Wednesday 30 April. He performed a one-hour dramatic narration of his painstakingly embellished books, followed by a screening of  “IT IS FINE”, a Q&A session and a book signing. He also screened a preview of his current project, a film in which he co-stars with his father Bruce GloverTake One last spoke to Crispin back in 2011 and we were very happy to catch up with him in Cambridge.

Leanne Tyers: You have taken your show to many exciting cinemas in London, the Phoenix Cinema being a personal favourite of mine for its 1930s décor; but smaller cities like Cambridge really depend on venues like the Picturehouses for preserving a challenging and exciting arts culture. Do you think it’s important for a community to have access to provocative arts as well as mainstream cinema programming?

Crispin Glover: Yes! It is vitally important. Films that cause questions are imperative for genuine education. Venues that show non corporately funded and distributed films are virtually the only way audience members can see that sort of film.

LT: Author, actor, auteur, performer… is there anything else you would like to add to your already bulging CV once you’ve completed work on your project with your father?

CG: There are many projects I would like to make. It takes time to get to them. It would be faster if I had more funding but it slows things way down, since I have to do so many things that a pre-production and a post-production crew of many would normally handle in even a small film. Even when I have a volunteer crew while shooting there is more for me to do than there is on any kind of normal film production.

“How can I feel guilty about any cinematic experience I truly enjoy?”

LT: As an independent film-maker you take control of all aspects of filmmaking: directing, editing, set-building, marketing and distribution, which is a lot of work for one man. Do you have any advice for aspiring film-makers on how to stay motivated and accomplish their dream?

CG: Joseph Campbell of course came up with the now famous phrase “Follow your bliss.” He was correct about that simple phrase. He followed his bliss by recognising the patterns that he ended up calling Hero’s Journey Structure. Hero’s Journey Structure is truly an endless study and one of the most fascinating ones that can be gotten in to.

LT: I don’t envisage you having much spare time for watching television or movies with your tour schedule and filming schedule, but do you have any pop culture guilty pleasures?

CG: How can I feel guilty about any cinematic experience I truly enjoy? Tod Browning, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Luis Bunuel, Stanley Kubrick, Federico Fellini, Roman Polanski, Milos Foreman, Fritz Lang, FW Murnau and David Lynch I suppose all in specific cultural circumstance have created films that from the point of view of someone in a certain cultural reference have felt that someone else should feel “guilty” about enjoying their work. From some of the reviews that have been written by certain gossip columnist types about my own film WHAT IS IT?, I should feel guilty about liking my own film. [I saw] ERASERHEAD over and over again when I was 16 at the midnight shows at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles. In most cinematically oriented cultures today this would certainly be considered fine, but on the set of BACK TO THE FUTURE in 1984 I remember a particular person that had influence in the wardrobe department saying that they should “walk on the other side of the street”, because of my particular interest in ERASERHEAD. This came up during a conceptual conversation about my wardrobe in the film. I suppose times have changed a bit and that person would be looked at as rather strident and rude. At that point in time, I did not get the feeling that she was considered wrong for saying that. Times and cultural attitudes and cultures themselves do of course change.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAJKX1bDoyk

LT: You’ve worked with some very talented directors throughout your career, but who would you say has inspired the way that you work as a director, and the way that you interact with your actors from behind the camera?

CG: One self funded filmmaker that definitely explored beyond the boundaries of good and evil is Timothy Carey. I went to his home with friends not too long before he died. He showed us his film that had not yet been distributed at the time. His self funded exploration into something that is difficult to describe is absolutely fascinating, as is his amazing presence as an actor. Of all the various great actors’ performances I have seen – Charles Laughton, Marlon Brando, Emil Jannings and many others – there are only two whose process I can not figure out. I always am able to detect what choices are being made by the actor and why, and what style or method they are using to get to illustrate those choices; but that is not so of Timothy Carey or Andy Kaufman.

… the person I was watching was Timothy Carey; not Marlon Brando and not James Dean.

After meeting [Carey] and talking to him I did understand a little bit better where things were coming from, I suppose. I actually didn’t ask him about whether he’d trained as an actor …

LT: He studied the Stanislavski technique.

CG: That makes sense, but I think on top of it there was something else going on. From what he said to me… I almost feel a little bit weird about saying anything, because it would almost feel like gossip. But he said something to me privately that made me realise it wasn’t just about Stanislavskian method, although I’m sure it does make sense that he would employ it. When I was studying acting, I went and saw EAST OF EDEN and ONE-EYED JACKS. Interestingly, in both of those films he had bar-room fights: one was with James Dean and the other was with Marlon Brando. And the thing that I noticed when I was watching the films was the person I was watching was Timothy Carey; not Marlon Brando and not James Dean. And I feel that [Dean and Brando] were working with a Stanislavskian element, which is good – that’s the sort of technique that I learned for acting with. And it does make sense that Timothy Carey would be employing those elements as well, but I think there’s something else in his personal mindset or his personal being that he is slightly different from [other actors who use that technique]. I think he had a different way of thinking from the general populace, and that’s part of what is intriguing about his screen persona.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6p0sr2BejUk

So I’m very glad I met him, because it was something I genuinely thought about, like, what was he up to in terms of his technique and style? And Andy Kaufman, of course, I never did meet. I’ve heard things, but you never really can tell with what people say as being actually true. I’ve seen so many things written about me that are either an extreme exaggeration or something that has nothing to do with reality at all. There are interviews with people that have worked with him, but it’s very difficult to know unless you have actually met and talked to the person.

Andy Kaufman said “Oh yeah, you’re crazy!” to my dad…

My father told me that he spoke with Andy Kaufman on the telephone once, and it was early in [Kaufman’s] career – some time in the mid seventies. I think he’d already started working, and was known. But my father teaches acting, and he had a student in his acting class, a girl who he said had claimed that Andy Kaufman and her used to go to the airport, or whatever, and do what Andy Kaufman would call “scenes”. This wasn’t even in front of an audience. He was just doing stuff, in public [laughs]. I think this was before … I don’t know, I’d have to ask my father what the actual time period was that the girl was doing these so-called “scenes”, which is a curious thing. It’s interesting. My father claimed that she put him on the phone with my father, and Andy Kaufman said “Oh yeah, you’re crazy!” to my dad. He knew my father’s work as an actor and he said, “You’re crazy!”, I guess in a complimentary sort of fashion. But I wasn’t there, so it’s very difficult for me to know the exactitudes of everything.

This is a different story, but it has to do with my father. It was another person. Now, this person I do understand on some level their technique, which would be Dwight Fry.  He was another very interesting actor on screen, but it also has to do with my father. When I was a kid I saw Dracula on television, and Dwight Fry playing Renfield. And you know, it’s a little strange to say, because Renfield is such an iconic performance; and if I say this it almost might seem like something that would be a strong exaggeration of what I view my father to be like…

At this point Crispin had to stop because the post-screening Q&A was due to start. Desperate to hear more, we got in touch with his dad who was only too happy to fill in the gaps! Click here to read what Bruce had to say about Dwight Frye (shown below, as Renfield).

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F5eqkWRWZ7c

Crispin will be touring Picturehouses around the UK over the coming weeks: check crispinglover.com for details. 

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