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What is it? — The Crispin Glover Road Show

what-is-it-poster-copy.jpgBeing the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic, racist inner psyche.

Ah, crazy ol’ Crispin Hellion Glover. Portrayer of George McFly, near-decapitator of David Letterman, chronicler of clowns, and general surrealist-at-large. His 21st-century project of note is putting his Charlie’s Angels salary into making a trilogy of off-the-wall movies, and touring the world with them.

Actually, the show, which we saw at the Pacific Cinemateque last night, is somewhat more than that. It’s really three shows for the price of one — there’s a slide show (“The Big Slide Show”), the film, and a discussion with the audience. “The Big Slide Show” kicks the whole thing off. Glover showed and performed pages from eight books he had made by taking old books he had found and altered by editing the text and adding pictures and comments. The results varied from hilarious to profoundly disturbing and were the most flat-out entertaining part of the evening. In fact, I really dug them — to the point of thinking I’d like to do something like that myself. I’ve always liked the odd timeliness of old and forgotten ephemera and the idea of layering new things on top of old.

The second part of the show was a screening of the first part of his planned “IT” trilogy, What is it? This is a calculatedly strange and provocative film. Featuring a cast of mostly actors with Down’s Syndrome, a few monkey-headed porn actresses and the screams of Fairuza Balk, It is a piece of latter-day art-filmy surrealism. Unlike a hundred similar film-school projects, though, Glover is able to avoid the pitfalls of pretentiousness (or worse, tediousness) by injecting it with liberal doses of self-aware humour, technical skill and a strong — if not always obvious — vision.

The film was followed by a long — if sometimes rambling — Q & A. While the film is definitely surreal and experimental rather than narrative, Glover made it clear he is no obscurantist — in fact, he was pleasantly open and unpretentious. He talked about how he wanted to create something that would offend and provoke, and give people something to think about, as a kind of antidote to the unchallenging blandness of most modern cinema. To be honest, I think it’s great that he’s trying to do that, as well as personally engaging his audience with his live shows. He claims no plans to ever release this or the other “IT” movies on DVD, both because he wants to use the tour to recoup his production costs, and because he wants to prevent the films from losing the kind of context they get from having the creator accompany them on this kind of road show.

And seriously? This film needs that — What is it? is not a self-contained film so much as a jumping-off point for Crispin Glover to personally engage the audience. Without his exigesis it’s.. well, not a bad film, perhaps — but definitely an incomplete and unsatisfying one. With it, it’s a good night out that leaves you with plenty to chew over on the way home.