What Is It? -- Q&A with Crispin Hellion Glover
What can I say about a film where images of Shirley Temple are juxtaposed with swastikas? Where Fairuza Balk's voice comes wailing through a snail? Where there's a scene of a naked man with cerebral palsy lying in a giant clam as he appears to be masturbated by a woman who's wearing a rubber monkey mask while a racist folk song plays on an old record player? I'm not totally sure I didn't hallucinate all these things. The other option is that I did indeed see them in What Is It?, an esoteric, bizarre, unclassifiable film that marks the directorial debut of esoteric, unclassifiable actor Crispin Hellion Glover.
Yes, Hellion is his real middle name. It's a legacy from Glover's father, Bruce Herbert Glover, who as a struggling actor in New York, would often introduce himself by saying, “I'm Bruce H. Glover. I’m a hellion. A troublemaker.” When the elder Glover and his wife had a child (Crispin) they passed it on to him as his middle name. "I’ve always used it, since I was a kid, for writing and drawing," says Glover. "It's a continuation of things I’ve done since I was a kid. I chose to use Crispin Glover as my acting name because I just felt Crispin Hellion Glover was a long name for acting. But somehow to me it’s appropriate that I utilize my whole name for projects that emanate from my soul."
For 10 full years Glover has been working on What Is It?, a feature-length film with most of the roles played by actors with Down's Syndrome. But as Glover quickly points out, What Is It? Is not a film about Down's Syndrome. And in truth the fact that the actors in are mentally handicapped is the least weird thing about this film. To describe What Is It? as surreal would be the understatement of the year. Describing it at all is damn near impossible. Sure, I could string together a collection of images and scenes, but I couldn't being to convey the tone or the "plot" of the film. So I won’t bother. I'll just tell you that What Is It? -- the first film in a planned trilogy -- is playing Dec. 6-8 at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood. The movie is preceeded by an hour-long slideshow narrated by Glover himself and followed by a Q&A.
PS-My cat can eat a whole watermelon.