You might remember Crispin Hellion Glover as Michael J Fox’s dad in Back to The Future, and numerous other creepy characters from films as diverse as Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, The Doors and Charlie’s Angels. We’ve known for a while that he marches to the beat of a different drum, but what we didn’t know was that he was removed from the two Back to The Future sequels. Instead another actor wore prosthetic makeup made from a cast of Glover’s face. Glover attributes the whole episode to questions he was asking at the time that made the filmmakers uncomfortable. After 6 weeks Eric Stoltz was fired and Michael J Fox was brought in. The first scene they shot was the alternative future, where we discover the family are doing much better, living the good life, rich beyond their dreams. Glover objected to the notion that the key to a better future lay in $, as opposed to sentiment expressed in the breakout soundtrack by Huey Lewis and the News: The Power of Love. The director Robert Zemeckis confided to Glover that he’d previously made an art film. It made no money. Now he wanted to get rich. The scene played unchanged.
At 20 years of age, Glover recounts this experience to a packed Westgarth cinema, as a watershed moment. He believed in the propaganda effects of film and felt a certain responsibility to audiences. Over the years he watched the corporations step in and films became stupider, significantly more vanilla.
In 1996 after years in the ‘business’ he used the money he made from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to make his own film. The aim was to ask questions, tackle taboos and challenge audiences. So he cast his film almost entirely with Downs Syndrome actors (playing non Downs Syndrome characters) and made them have sex and strangle each other. What Is It? Is part one of his trilogy, of which only the first two are completed. It’s a surreal at times nonsensical assault on the senses. It’s beautiful, wrong and very very challenging. Shirley Temple appears surrounded by Nazi insignia, snail’s talk, mourn and are murdered with alarming regularity, there’s blackface and obtuse references to Michael Jackson. Actually it’s not all Down syndrome actors, there’s also Steven C Stewart from Glover’s second feature It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. Stewart, who is afflicted with cerebral palsy, appears naked in a giant clamshell and spends much of the film being jacked off by a naked woman with an elephant’s head. Then of course there’s Glover himself, playing a peculiar deity, holding court on a throne, playing racist phonographs and wearing a coat of human skin.
Glover travels with the film vaudeville style, a surreal snake charmer regaling us with his deeply poetic cut up books before the screening, then answering questions afterwards
So if you were ever wondering why Glover, the guy from River’s Edge, Dead Man and Wild at Heart would be appearing in Epic Movie or Hot Tub Time Machine, now you know. It’s not a crack addiction it’s something much worse.