Ahead of the anniversary screening of River's Edge at a MGM HD Special Event at Sundance London, we caught up with star Crispin Glover to discuss the teen classic, his filmmaking career, Dennis Hopper and Back to the Future.
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How was working with the late, great Dennis Hopper?
Crispin Glover: Dennis Hopper was approachable like a contemporary. He was very complimentary and of course a great actor to work with. I love all the scenes I got to play with him and the entire cast. After making River's Edge he was someone I would run in to now and again. In the 1980s Dennis looked at a number of my books I made at that time. These books I made at that time, and have since published a number of them, are taken from old bindings from the 1800s and I turn them in to different books from what they originally were. Now I distribute my personal feature films I direct internationally. I perform a one-hour dramatic narration of many of my books wherein the images are projected behind me. Dennis, having an interest in art, read these books before I published them and was very nice about them. People can find out about where and when I tour with my shows and films by signing up for my newsletter on CrispinGlover.com. A number of years later, not too long after it was known that Allen Ginsberg was diagnosed with a terminal disease, Dennis had a dinner/poetry reading at his home in Venice CA that he invited me to. Dennis had seen my books and everyone was supposed to perform some poetry. I did end up performing a couple of my books with slides from my shows and Allen was very nice about it. I will never forget an image of Dennis and Allen sitting across from each other both holding cameras and taking photos of each other taking photos of each other. There was a certain humour to that. I am of course sad that Dennis Hopper died too young.
One of the most talked-about moments of your career came during your appearance on Late Night with Letterman while promoting River's Edge; are you happy there's still an air of mystery around that interview?
Crispin Glover: I have neither confirmed or denied in media whether or not that was me on the 1987 Late Night with David Letterman appearance. If asked I go in to a lot of detail about it at my shows which people can find out about by signing up for the my newsletters on CrispinGlover.com
The last time we saw you on the big screen was in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and Hot Tub Time Machine - what appealed to you about those very different roles?
Crispin Glover: I was very glad to work on those films. I had a great time on both of those films. A lot of how I choose films has to do with my own filmmaking.
In what sense?
Crispin Glover: I am very careful to make it quite clear that [my film] What Is It? is not a film about Down's Syndrome but my psychological reaction to the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 20 to 30 years in film making. Specifically anything that can possibly make an audience uncomfortable is necessarily excised or the film will not be corporately funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture because it is the very moment when an audience member sits back in their chair looks up at the screen and thinks to their self 'Is this right what I am watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have made this? What Is It?' -and that is the title of the film. What is it that is taboo in the culture? What does it mean that taboo has been ubiquitously excised in this culture's media? What does it mean to the culture when it does not properly process taboo in its media? It is a bad thing because when questions are not being asked because these kinds of questions are when people are having a truly educational experience. For the culture to not be able to ask questions leads towards a non-educational experience and that is what is happening in this culture. This stupefies this culture and that is of course a bad thing. So What Is It? is a direct reaction to the contents this culture's media. I would like people to think for themselves.
And what you can tell us about the rest of your planned trilogy?
Crispin Glover: Steven C. Stewart wrote and is the main actor in part two of the trilogy titled It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. I put Steve in to the cast of What Is It? because he had written this screenplay which I read in 1987. When I turned What Is It? from a short into a feature I realized there were certain thematic elements in the film that related to what Steven's screenplay dealt with. Steve had been locked in a nursing home for about ten years when his mother died. He had been born with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was very difficult to understand. People that were caring for him in the nursing home would derisively call him an 'M.R.' short for 'Mental Retard'. This is not a nice thing to say to anyone, but Steve was of normal intelligence. When he did get out he wrote his screenplay. Although it is written in the genre of a murder detective thriller truths of his own existence come through much more clearly than if he had written it as a standard autobiography. Steve had written his screenplay in the late 1970s. I read it in 1987 and as soon as I had read it I knew I had to produce the film. Steve died within a month after we finished shooting the film. One of Steve's lungs had collapsed because he had started choking on his own saliva and he got pneumonia. I specifically started funding my own films with the money I make from the films I act in when Steve's lung collapsed in the year 2000 this was around the same time that the first Charlie's Angels film was coming to me. I finished acting in Charlie's Angels and then went to Salt Lake City where Steven lived. I met with Steve and David Brothers with whom I co-directed the film. I went back to LA and acted in a lower budget film for about five weeks and David started building the sets. Then I went straight back to Salt Lake and we completed shooting the film within about six months in three separate smaller productions. Then Steve died within a month after we finished shooting. I am relieved to have gotten this film finally completed because ever since I read the screenplay in 1987 I knew I had to produce the film and also produce it correctly. I would not have felt right about myself if I had not gotten Steve's film made, I would have felt that I had done something wrong. I feel It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine will probably be the best film I will have anything to do with in my entire career. People who are interested in when I will be back should join up on the e mail list at CrispinGlover.com as they will be emailed with information as to where I will be where with whatever film I tour with. It is by far the best way to know how to see the films.
What was your experience of Charlie's Angels like?
Crispin Glover: After Charlie's Angels came out it did very well financially and was good for my acting career. I started getting better roles that also paid better and I could continue using that money to finance my films that I am so truly passionate about. I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other filmmakers to accomplish what it is that they want to do. Usually filmmakers have hired me because there is something they have felt would be interesting to accomplish with using me in their film and usually I can try to do something interesting as an actor. If for some reason the director is not truly interested in doing something that I personally find interesting with the character then I can console myself that with the money I am making to be in their production I can help to fund my own films that I am so truly passionate about. Usually though I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well.
What can you tell us about your tours with your independent films?
Crispin Glover: The live aspects of the shows are not to be underestimated. For Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show I perform a one-hour dramatic narration of eight different books I have made over the years. 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. Some of the books utilise 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. When I was editing my first feature film there was a reminiscent quality to the way I worked with the books because as I was expanding the film in to a feature from what was originally going to be a short, I was taking film material that I had shot for a different purpose originally and re-purposed it for a different idea and I was writing and shooting and ultimately editing at the same time. Somehow I was comfortable with this because of similar experiences with making my books.When I first started publishing the books in 1988 people said I should have book readings. But the book are so heavily illustrated and they way the illustrations are used within the books they help to tell the story so the only way for the books to make sense was to have visually representations of the images. This is why I knew a slide show was necessary.
And how did this develop?
Crispin Glover: The performance of the show has become more dramatic as opposed to more of a reading. The books do not change but the performance of the show of course varies slightly from show to show based on the audience's energy and my energy. People sometimes get confused as to what Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show (Parts 1&2) is so now I always let it be known that it is a one-hour dramatic narration of eight different profusely illustrated books that I have made over the years. The illustrations from the books are projected behind me as I perform the show. There is a second slide show now that also has 8 books. Part 2 is performed if I have a show with Part 1 of the It trilogy and then on the subsequent night I will perform the second slide show and Part 2 of the It trilogy. The second slide show has been developed over the last several years and the content has changed as it has been developed, but I am very happy with the content of the second slide show now. The fact that I tour with the film helps the distribution element. I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the US. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable. In fact it is apparent that it is sorely missed.I definitely have been aware of the element of utilising the fact that I am known from work in the corporate media I have done in the last 25 years or so. This is something I rely on for when I go on tour with my films.
And this funding model is one that works for you?
Crispin Glover: There are benefits and drawbacks about self distributing my own films. In this economy it seems like a touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a very good basic safety net for recouping the monies I have invested in the films. There are other beneficial aspects of touring with the shows other than monetary elements. There are benefits that I am in control of the distribution and personally supervise the monetary intake of the films that I am touring with. I also control piracy in this way because digital copy of this film is stolen material and highly prosecutable. It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, meet people, perform the shows and have interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to be underestimated as a very important part of the show for the audience. This also makes me much more personally grateful to the individuals who come to my shows as there is no corporate intermediary. The drawbacks are that it takes a significant amount of time and energy to promote and travel and perform the shows. Also the amount of people seeing the films is much smaller than if I were to distribute the films in a more traditional sense. The way I distribute my films is certainly not traditional in the contemporary sense of film distribution but perhaps is very traditional when looking further back at vaudeville era film distribution. If there are any filmmakers that are able to utilize aspects of what I am doing then that is good. It has taken many years to organically develop what I am doing now as far as my distribution goes.