By Ray Pride
There is only one way to see Crispin Glover’s “It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.”—with the filmmaker present.
Two reasons: the film, the second in a trilogy that began with the hermetic “What Is It?” (2005), is a strange and troubling immersion into the mind of an extremely twisted character, and does not fully make sense on its own: Glover’s amiable conversation afterwards is necessary for fullest comprehension of the perverse panoply on display. (While Glover says it’s years away, the final installment has a lovely title: “It Is MINE.”) And, Glover won’t let you pry the print from his hands.
Working with cash banked from playing an eccentric baddie in “Charlie’s Angels,” Glover produced and directed a feature from a perspective no one else would likely ever consider. And, cannily, Glover is barnstorming the country with “EVERYTHING IS FINE.” on the heels of the $100-million plus “Beowulf,” in which he is the motion-capture Grendel.
Co-directed with David Brothers, and based on a screenplay by protagonist Steven C. Stewart, who died several years ago after the completion of photography, it’s an excursion into the sexual fantasies of one disabled man, a grand tour inside what turns out to be a strangely opulent imagination that is also deliriously perverse. Likely you haven’t seen another semi-autographical movie with a romantic lead a middle-aged man with severe cerebral palsy, who speaks incomprehensibly yet everyone in the story can understand him. (“That should let audiences know it’s from his perspective, the fact that they can understand and respond to him,” Glover says.)
The movie’s grainy look resembles a luridly lit low-budget 1950s melodrama, “Leave Her To Heaven,” left out in the rain. (It was shot entirely on Salt Lake City soundstages owned by Brothers.) Fassbinder regular Margit Carstensen plays Linda Barnes, a divorcee who is one of Stewart’s inamorata, a middle-earth Gene Tierney, but Stewart prefers younger women, teenagers, perhaps, including Barnes’ daughter, preferably with long hair he gets to touch, and they swoon at his advances, take him into their arms and beds. “You might be handicapped,” Barnes tells the man in the wheelchair, “But you’re still a man. And I will treat you as such!” But Stewart is a sexual serial killer. The on-screen intercourse is patently unsimulated. The fetishism and consistent visual stylization becomes otherworldly, sort of like the perspective of Helmut Newton with no inhibitions whatsoever. Glover has put it plainly in most interviews: he “wanted to show that handicapped people are human, sexual and can be horrible.” It’s likely you will look away several times during the movie, but the strangeness is consistent and singular. “I have never understood why men like long hair, but they do,” Barnes says as Stewart trembles and gurgles in appreciation of her daughter’s presence. The representation goes farther than mere male wish fulfillment: this is a pretty successful attempt at getting into the dark places of the mind of a man “confined” not to a wheelchair, but to his imagination. “Have you made love to mom or anyone else?” is not a line you hear every day. Stewart’s fantasies, as depicted, also extend to strange bandages in odd places on women’s bodies, and bare feet with dirty soles. (Also Newtonesque is a later conquest with a leg brace who is dispatched after sex by wheelchair wheel.)
For the recent Chicago preview screening, Glover offered a truncated edition of his narrated “Big Slide Show,” synchronized to his laptop and external hard drive. In one of his pieces of rolling luggage, he also stored the two cans of film, which he does not let out of his sight: the movie’s income comes entirely from the theatrical presentation of the film, and since Glover is present, he can also eagle-eye any audience for any twenty-first century wisenheimers with cell phones or mini-cams eager to pirate his work. It’s also the first movie I’ve seen in 35mm in the United States that opens with the FBI warning about piracy. (Fortuitously, the end credits were accompanied by the sound of a jackhammer in a nearby part of the building.)
Resplendent in dark yet slightly dandy-ish suit and tie, the 43-year-old actor-artist exudes a charming earnestness and can spend minutes of end describing his business acumen, such as the many books he’s published under his own imprint, which still bring an income more than twenty years after he started making them. It’s also sort of a conversation with his younger self when he sells and signs books after screenings. Glover is a charming man. His movie is a one-of-a-kind curiosity that he believes will be the best work he ever does.
Glover appears with “It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.” and his “Big Slide Show” at the Music Box November 30-December 2. As the notice runs, “No one under 18 years of age will be allowed to the screenings and recording devices are strictly forbidden.”