Crispin Hellion Glover Shows Latest Work

Aaron Botwick

On Saturday, Nov. 21, Crispin Hellion Glover appeared in West Lecture Hall. The room was pitch-black except for a single red-tinted spotlight on his face. Without introduction, Glover began to present his “BIG SLIDE SHOW,” a collection of books from the 1800s that he rewrote for a one-hour dramatic performance.

Delivered entirely with a straight face, this hilarious show chronicles a series of phantasmagoric stories featuring narrators who sound like raving madmen out of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. By combining half-finished sentences with dissonant but eerie photographs, the books written by Glover play out as if they were fragments of dreams that David Lynch might have had long ago.

One of his books, Studies in the Art of Rat-Catching, begins as an instruction manual for students, imparting such valuable advice as “Don’t be bitten,” and “It is to be remembered that plague usually produces notable polynucleosis.” The text quickly digresses into a narrative about a dog, Chance, whose macabre adventures read like an old Lassie serial — except, of course, for the presence of the Sand-Pit Man, a diseased pedophile who once “violated a lamb.”

By the end of the book, the narrator drifts back to addressing its purported subject, but only so he can complain, “I am not much good at books,” and that “headmasters of schools find that the art of rat-catching is so distasteful to their scholars, and so much above their intellect … that they feel obliged to abandon the study of it and replace it once more by those easier and pleasanter subjects, Latin and Greek.” What emerges, then, behind this fractured and surreal humor, is a sharp satire of the narrative tropes employed by gothic fiction as well as an indictment of the myth of American innocence.

Glover’s best book was Round My House, about a scientist who once performed strange experiments on children — they never felt a thing! — and then was later betrayed by his best friend Tom Wizwell.

What It Is and How It Is Done opens with the one-line preface, “There are two types of books,” and then descends into babbling nonsense. At first something like this may feel tedious, but by obscuring most of the book behind gibberish, Glover was able to sneak in moments of disarming beauty, and closed with the lines, “And one day I shall have a daughter. She will be beautiful. And she will know what it is and how it is done.”

Glover followed the “BIG SLIDE SHOW” with his film, It is Fine. EVERYTHING IS FINE! a murder mystery in the style of a ’70s TV movie of the week. Written by and starring Stephen C. Stewart, who lived with cerebral palsy before dying in 2001, It is Fine did an admirable job of depicting disability without the usual patronization, with Stewart playing a sex-obsessed serial killer with an unusual appeal to women.

By allowing Stewart to speak incomprehensibly, and by depicting scenes of full-frontal nudity and sex, Glover did an excellent job of making the audience uncomfortable, and making us question whether what he has filmed is offensive or simply the kind of honest depiction we never get from all the Oscar-winning garbage.

Nevertheless, It is Fine became quite monotonous after about 30 minutes, and the kind of vagueness that makes Glover’s books so successful fell flat on screen. After all, film is an entirely revealing medium, and is therefore much more difficult to imbue with this shadowy, nightmarish quality.

The night was also not without its missteps. Halfway through his BIG SLIDE SHOW, Glover paused everything, stormed into the audience and snatched a cell phone from a student taking pictures.

Later, he discovered two-thirds of the way through It Is Fine that his digital copy was missing a reel. Though the movie was already disjointed and seemingly didn’t suffer much from the absence, Glover was devastated, and stumbled through a Q&A that otherwise could have provided insight into his strong views on the nature of mainstream media and the de facto censorship that occurs because people are too frightened to tackle taboos.

Fortunately, Glover was met by an understanding crowd. West Lecture was packed with a supportive audience whose roaring cheers punctuated each of his eight books, and who appeared to be grateful for the genuine attention he gave each person who asked for an autograph.

Glover is a very precise artist and probably overreacted to the event’s minor disasters. Getting an opportunity to see this unique performer, who only makes his “BIG SLIDE SHOW” and film available when he happens to be on tour, was a challenging and enjoyable experience.