Risky Business | Film & TV | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Film & TV

Risky Business

Meet Crispin Hellion Glover—eccentric artist and pragmatic businessman.



For a guy who’s supposed to be the embodiment of artistic eccentricity, Crispin Glover sure sounds like the most pragmatic entrepreneur in the world.

How does he view the end of his 10-year odyssey to complete his freaky feature film, Crispin Hellion Glover’s What is it?, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and which was partially filmed on a set constructed at a Salt Lake City warehouse? “The actuality of it has so much more to do with the business of having a product [at this point] as opposed to an artist excited about his art.”

Why did he create the companion touring performance art project Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show? “In some way, it is a business concept. … Filmmaking is very expensive; you can’t invest without figuring out how to recoup.”

Those might sound like startlingly conservative sentiments from an actor best known for his offbeat film roles (River’s Edge, Charlie’s Angels) and public behavior (the 1987 infamous on-air kick in the direction of David Letterman’s head). And they definitely don’t seem like the thoughts of an eclectic artist who published an amended 1800s text on rat-catching, or created a movie like What is it? filled with images that would be, shall we say, a hard sell in the Red States (see review, p. 47).

But Glover—who will spend a week in Salt Lake City answering questions at screenings of What is it? and performing the Big Slide Show—is nothing if not fully tuned-in to the realities of corporate America, because it allows him to articulate what his art is reacting against. “The thing that was important [in making What is it?] was that … there’s a discussion,” Glover said in a phone interview. “There is no discussion right now. There’s only a pro-cultural film state that exists.”

Glover speaks often of this “pro-cultural film state,” a uniformity of thinking in filmmaking that avoids the risk of misinterpretation or offense at any cost. “When you have films made by committee,” he noted, “you’ll often hear something like, ‘Well, we wouldn’t want to say that. … People could interpret something like that badly, and we as a corporation would not possibly want to have that happen.’

“The culture is really programming us in terms of what is right and wrong,” Glover continued. “That is specifically what counterculturalism needs to address. Whether it’s truly right or truly wrong doesn’t matter as much as countering this sort of cultural totalitarian aesthetic.”

Of course, it’s not particularly easy to get a movie this confrontational in front of an audience, which is why he has taken the unconventional “road show” approach to self-distributing What is it? He wants the film he’s proud of to be seen in a theater, and he’s willing to escort the film from city to city in order to make that happen.

And he enjoys the process—including fielding viewer reactions—even if he knows that an audience won’t necessarily “enjoy” his film (“‘Joy’ is not the word that seems appropriate,” he chuckles). Indeed, he seems to welcome the possibility of multiple interpretations. “Most movies that are made,” he said, “I can very clearly see what the filmmaker is trying to preach. Because of the nature of the imagery [in What is it?], there are things people can put together in their heads that I may not necessarily intend, but I have to be open to that.”

As he takes his show on the road, he’ll have the chance to hear plenty of responses, and he says he’ll continue touring as long as it takes for him to recover his $125,000 investment of his own money. “I basically figured this is a good business model,” Glover said. “I’d like to be funded by corporations. It would make life so much easier for me.”

Spoken like a true businessman—with a counterculture agenda to bring down the pro-cultural film state.

CRISPIN HELLION GLOVER’S WHAT IS IT? and CRISPIN HELLION GLOVER’S BIG SLIDE SHOW Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South. Feb. 25-March. 321-0310. Call for times for specific events