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Crispin Glover through My F-ed Up Looking Glass

posted Monday March 22nd, 2010

You can throw rotten tomatoes at your computer screen, but the truth is that I didn’t love “Alice in Wonderland.”

It’s my own f-ed up fault.  I let Crispin Glover ruin it for me.

I could blame the fact that, as my dear friend Heather’s 10 year old daughter put it, Tim Burton’s wonderland just wasn’t “freaky” enough. (True.) Or I could mention that despite the fact that I reluctantly agreed to see the movie in 3-D (not my favorite medium; things jump out at you) my husband was so bored he fell into a sleep so deep I had to hit him to make him stop snoring, which is sort of a buzz kill when you’re trying to enjoy a movie. (Also true.)

I could mention that I’m honestly not a huge Johnny Depp fan and that I thought his Mad Hatter was just a little too much like his Willy Wonka. (Very true, and then some.)

But the real truth is that the thing that really kept me slumped in my seat in a movie theater in Ahwatukee (read: suburban hell, for you non-Phoenicians) instead of up and joining Alice down the rabbit hole had nothing to do with any of the above and everything to do with the fact that Crispin Glover’s in that movie.

Damn! I thought when he first appeared on the screen. I totally forgot he was in it. At least I had some Red Vines to keep the night from being a total wash.

You probably know him as that guy from David Letterman, or the villain on Charlie’s Angels. But I know Crispin Glover as the creator of a series of movies, the first of which is called “What Is It?”

And as the guy who refused to talk to me.

You probably haven’t heard of “What Is It?” because, although the movie was released years ago, it’s kept under lock and key. Glover tours with it and says he shows it only when he can be there to explain it. Given the subject matter, that’s smart.  

I’ve been working on a longer piece about this guy and his movie for years (literally, sadly, years) but for today I’ll just give you the short version: Glover made a movie that features — along with naked women wearing monkey masks and smashing watermelons, a man with cerebal palsy naked in a conch shell, and a lot of Nazi and Shirley Temple references — a large number of people with Down syndrome.  (And if you’re confused, join the club. That’s about how haphaazardly those elements are introduced.)

The people with Down syndrome do not appear naked, though one couple does have sexual intercourse once during the movie. One of them crushes snails a lot, and they generally cause some trouble.

The most notable thing about the actors with Down syndrome in “What Is It?” is that they are not playing people with Down syndrome. They’re just playing regular people. Well, regular if you consider murderers (of both snails and people) to be regular people.

I was taken with the notion that Glover would go to lengths (and he obviously did) to include these people in the film. And like any parent of a kid with Down syndrome, I loved the idea that anyone with DS could transcend it — in other words, play a “typical” person, if only in a movie.

I wanted to get a copy of the film for my Down syndrome box (where I collect references to Down syndrome in pop culture) but since I couldn’t buy a copy, I decided to drag my dear friend Kathleen to LA a couple summers ago to see the film. (I still owe you, Kathleen.)

It was definitely an Emperor Has No Clothes On (and neither do most of the stars of the film) moment, and let’s just say that while I might bumble, Kathleen is a sophisticated, published art critic. She knows her stuff; she was not impressed.

We looked at each other as the (I assume) film students in the crowd clapped heartily and piled accolades on Glover, who prides himself on including a lengthy Q&A at the end of the presentation.

One of the first things Glover mentioned was that he only acts in mainstream feature films to fund projects like “What Is It?”

Someone asked why he chose people with Down syndrome, and Glover explained that when he was a child, he went to school with a lot of developmentally disabled kids and always liked how people with Down syndrome looked.

He also mentioned, as an aside, that while few people seemed upset about the possible exploitation of people with DS, when he brought the film to San Francisco, there was a great uproar over the fact that snails were killed in the course of production.

I wanted to know more. How did Glover get permission for these people to act in his film? Could I get in touch with some of the actors and their families? What did they think of his subject matter?

Did this whole endeavor further the cause of people with Down syndrome — or not? I couldn’t decide.

I waited til he was signing books to approach him, explain my situation, and ask if I could interview him sometime.

He was very sweet, agreeing to do whatever he can to “help the Down syndrome community.” Contact me through my web site, he told me, adding that maybe he’d come to Phoenix soon.

I waited, and he did. It was several months later, and something must have transpired, because when I contacted the PR people on the film to ask for that interview (they are local, I actually know them, and they were very apologetic) I was shut down. Hard. I went to the film anyhow, and stuck my hand in the air for a good half hour before Glover called on me — then shut me down again when I tried to ask about Down syndrome.

I don’t get it. And I probably never will, because I can’t imagine at this point that Crispin Glover will ever answer my questions. To be honest (and not very charitable) I’m not so sure, having watched him during two Q&A sessions, that he’s really capable of it. He seems impaired, somehow. (And I don’t use the term lightly.) He’s either acting dumb, or he really is dumb.

Too much acid?

To be fair, I probably would have loved “What Is It?” when I was in college — if only for what I would have called its brave risk taking. But now I’m an old lady with a kid with Down syndrome, and different things look brave to me.  

I wish you could see “What Is It?” (I really wish Matt, the wise man from Welcome to Illinois, could see it.) If you have seen it, what did you think?

And – did you enjoy “Alice in Wonderland”?  

And finally — I can’t resist, I have to ask, even though you really will think I’m as crazy as Crispin Glover, or at least as obsessive. Didn’t you think — c’mon, I know you did — that Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee looked just a little bit like they had Down syndrome? More than a little bit?

See? I can’t escape my own head. No wonder I didn’t think “Alice” was freaky enough.

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Tags: Filed under: arts and crafts, Down syndrome by Amysilverman

10 Responses to “Crispin Glover through My F-ed Up Looking Glass”

  1. I was with you all the way until you got to “the wise man” part. I forgot I had written about that film. That’s such a shame that he wouldn’t or couldn’t answer your questions. As for Tweedledum and Tweedledee, I haven’t seen it but I think its a sixth sense – “I see Down’s syndrome people”.

  2. I love this post. I’m willing to bet that Mr “artsy” Glover doesn’t like his films deconstructed around a social issue like DS- he likes the less traditional feedback (like his fishing for it with the abuse of snails). But you might be right- perhaps a tad much of Acid is really the answer!
    I haven’t seen Alice in Wonderland but I’m not a big Tim Burton fan- I liked the original Willy Wonka best- even though I think Johnny Depp is one of the sexiest boy-men on the planet. I don’t think I’ll spend the money- wait for the DVD.

  3. There are things about Alice that look cool, and though I do like Johnny Depp, he is the least of what appeals to me. I do agree that his Mad Hatter seems to be another Willie though the movie is visually interesting looking (I have only seen the trailers, not the actual movie).

    I usually just like my Johnny Depp as Johnny Depp, he doesn’t need all the wackiness.

    Crispin Glover is and has always been someone that has been completely out of my realm of interest. I think he “tries” too hard and that never looks good to me.

  4. Was hugely disappointed in my all time favorite story/movie Willy Wonka too and I love Johnny Depp but that entire movie made me cringe. I haven’t see Alice yet but probably should on the big screen.

    Glover went off the meter years ago…wasn’t there some bizarre incident on a late night talk show with him? he was sort of interesting as a teenage actor but I think the guy’s gone mental.

  5. sari: i completely agree about the notion of trying too hard.

  6. Haven’t seen AIW but do remember the NT story about Crispin Glover’s movie showing here, and he was livid about something, caused a scene, or didn’t get paid??? I do remember reading long ago that Glover has Asperger’s Syndrome.

  7. yeah, there was a whole separate brouhaha regarding that event in chandler. i have heard others say they think glover has AS but i haven’t heard him say so.

  8. black sheep here, but I enjoyed AIW.

    I’m not a big Tim Burton fan (much prefer Baz Lurhmann films), but this was entertaining and I appreciated the over the top feel of the film.

    I am a Depp fan, but um, this was not his best role. Yes, Glover was creepy even in the film.

  9. [...] month, I wrote a bit about Crispin Glover’s movie “What Is It?” (I’ve seen it twice and [...]

  10. Actually crispin glover has a very high IQ and went to school for the menally gifted k- 9. He likes to do things that 80 year olds do and has a beautiful mind. He listens to post Beethoven music, owns no tv and is a gentleman, very respectful. Just because he does his own things doesnt make him insane. He has never smoked pot and doubt he ever did much drug taking or heavy drinking. Open your minds, thats all he’s trying to do… make you think

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