Make no mistake--artist/performer/filmmaker Crispin Glover intends to provoke his audience. There's an intensity of vision, a crazy-quilt of references, and an unflinching candor to Glover's work, and underlying it all is a true desire to change the way his audience engages with film and art. Being afforded the chance to see him speak & present one of his films at Philadelphia's International House this past Monday, I cashed in some comp time* and headed southwards for the experience.
*I love having the kind of boss who is zen with the idea of my taking time out of the office to see cult films. There's a special place in heaven for him.
The majority of Glover's fame comes from his appearances in front of the camera, an acting career defined by the portrayal of off-kilter outsiders. Although Glover sees these roles as jobs that finance his pure-art projects, there's a link between his acting roles and the art and film he showcases in his live appearances. Realizing at an early age that the monetized releases coming out of the American studio system didn't provide him with the kind of creative expression he wanted, Glover began to make altered books in his late teens and studied the craft of filmmaking in order to bring his own vision to life.
Glover's artistic landscape is one in which context is key. Beginning his show with selected readings from his books provides some aesthetic framework for the film screening to come. The books exist as altered copies of preexisting vintage publications, with large sections of text obscured, handwritten notes included to change the narrative, and images clipped, glued, and transposed throughout. "Concrete Inspection," a handbook whose original purpose was to aid in industrial applications, becomes a mysterious poem when the pages are blacked out to reveal small windows of words, while the children's cautionary tale "The Backward Swing" takes on new levels of meaning with the inclusion of religious and political imagery. Copies of the books are pocket-sized, canvas-bound art objects with a beautiful hand-feel that both embrace and challenge the very book-ness of the source material. Glover's readings are carried out with the overstated physicality of a character in a Murnau film, and come off as instructional vignettes aimed at the insane, narratives veering wildly and sometimes collapsing into a jumble of only-semi-related words.
The centerpiece of the presentation is the film screening. With no plans to make his films available on DVD, Glover travels with his productions, based on the vaudevillian model. With the inclusion of the book sale at the end of the evening, the show is a bit like an arthouse version of Kroger Babb's "Mom and Dad."
"It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine" is the second installment of Glover's planned "It" trilogy, a series of films focused on its creator's fixation on creating films that encourage--even force--their viewers to question the contents and meaning of the material portrayed on screen. "IIF!EIF" is a more focused exploration of this concept than its predecessor, "What Is It?," a Dadaist creation that includes cast members with Down syndrome, snails salted to death, blackface, swastikas, and graphic sexuality. While "WII?" could be dismissed by some critics as for its aggressive controversy-bating imagery and deliberate ugliness, "IIF!EIF" is more sophisticated in its world-creating and in its message.
Based on a script by Steven C. Stewart (who also stars in the film) and co-directed with David Brothers (art director of "WII?"), "IIF!EIF" follows the story of a man who engages in romantic entanglements with beautiful, long-haired women, only to snap and murder these women when they threaten to cut their hair. What makes Stewart's story different from other misogynistic lustmord tales hinges on one detail--the writer/actor has a severe case of cerebral palsy, with the limited movement and speech problems that accompany the condition.
Filmed almost entirely on indoor sets created by David Brothers**, "IIF!EIF" is deliberately artificial in its presentation. According to Glover, Stewart's script was inspired by the crime dramas and soap operas that he would ravenously consume, making the sometimes-stilted delivery of the actors feel appropriate. Glover's father, Bruce Glover (a veteran actor in his own right), puts in a comedic turn as a jealous ex-husband and Margit Carstensen (best-known for her work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a director who was himself no stranger to controversy of a similar variety) is disarmingly sensitive as Stewart's character's first love interest. What's most remarkable about all of the performances is that, while Stewart's dialogue is for the most part indecipherable to the audience, his cast mates exchange lines with him in a natural manner.
**Delightful trivia moment: according to IMDb, Brothers' main set-design credits are attached to the Disney "High School Musical" franchise.
That's not all that the actresses in this film exchange with Stewart. There are multiple sex scenes, ranging in nature from "fully clothed" to "extremely graphic," in which the human body is pushed front and center. Stewart's body is on display as much as the bodies of the actresses are on display, forcing the viewer to fully digest the scope of sexual activity that might be left implied in a different film. It's a challenging decision that is simultaneously alienating, intriguing, shocking, poignant and perhaps even blackly humorous.
Making this kind of movie from the perspective of a man with a pronounced disability opens up a whole world of dialogue, none of it comfortable. Is the movie a freakshow take on Hitchcock's "Frenzy?" Is this an important document of an individual's internal monologue, a voice that would have been heard by few and forever silenced at this person's passing? Is this an attempt to normalize visibly disabled people by proving that they can be just as petty and id-driven as those without disabilities? Matters are only complicated by the bookending scenes of Stewart in a nursing home (shot on-site in a hyper-realistic fashion), alone and unable to communicate with those around him. There's a lot to analyze--I've been mulling over this movie for the past two days and I'm not finding any easy answers.
In the Q&A following the screening of "IIF!EIF," Glover was candid in responding to inquiries about his film. He discussed the financing and production of his work, including the fact that both "WII?" and "IIF! EIF" took numerous years to produce. His art is very clearly a labor of love, and the professorial attitude he adopted during his two-hour-plus talk reflected his desire to make audiences ponder what they've seen. It's a remarkable privilege to hear a creative person talk about his or her work at all, and it's particularly fascinating to hear from someone as articulate and passionate as Glover. It's fantastic and inspiring to know that there are true originals out there, making the world a stranger and more beautiful place by sharing their singular visions.
For more information on Crispin Glover's art as well as upcoming performance dates, check out CrispinGlover.com
Addendum: Yes, I stood in line for close to three hours for a book signing and the opportunity to shake the man's hand after the screening. Mr. Glover--thank you for sharing your vision and your time, and for making people think. You're an inspiration.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
High on the list of text messages a person does not want to receive while already gloomy about the holidays is the simple yet devastating memo "Jean Rollin R.I.P." When I saw this note yesterday evening, I was saddened on a level much deeper than what I've experienced with the passing of other celebrities I admire. Rather than being a charismatic face on the screen or a distant auteur blessing his audience with flashes of brilliance, I feel a profound connection to Rollin's body of work.
While working on a response to a memo from a friend expressing her grief at Rollin's passing, I started to get closer to the heart of what Jean Rollin's films mean to his fans.
Simply put, Jean Rollin's movies taught me how to watch genre films.
Shortly after reading Pete Tombs' essential "Immoral Tales," I logged on to eBay and set about bidding on a lot of video cassettes produced by Video Search of Miami. Sweating through a power outage in the last minutes of the auction, I wound up winning the videos at great personal cost (this has become a running theme in my Rollin fandom). Far from being the acquired taste I'd expected to be, I felt an immediate joy in watching "Frisson of the Vampires," a movie whose clever dialogue, psychedelic visuals and dreamy structure mirrored the brand of surrealism I was studying in my fine art training. Rollin's eye for beauty--in shot composition, soundtrack, and setting in addition to the physical forms of his cast members--was so distinct and so consistent in its execution that I never noted the low-budget nature of his productions. Some directors make the best of their budgets, others hide their budgets, but Rollin always seemed to be filming in a world that had nothing to do with such financial matters. In the same way one wouldn't look at a painting and remark on how the artist's application of oils in terms of cost, I never viewed Rollin as a "low-budget filmmaker."
This isn't to say that Rollin didn't have his missteps or commercially-motivated efforts. There's something very real about an artist who works on commercial projects in order to fund more personal efforts. I find it grounding on a personal level to see that for every "Frisson," there were several projects like "Zombie Lake," "Emmanuelle 6," or even hardcore pornographic titles. Rollin was a working artist--not a product of family money, aggressive networking, or lavish praise from colleagues.
Appreciation for Rollin's work has grown enormously over the past decade or so with the release of his films in beautifully-restored DVD editions from distributors like Redemption Films. People who might not have had access to the dredged-from-the-ocean-floor, fan-subbed VSOM editions can now get copies of Rollin's movie's via mainstream retailers and even DVD rental services. Even so, Rollin's films haven't achieved the same Horror Film Canonization as the works of, say, Dario Argento. The process of discovering Rollin's work tends to be a personal one--the product of active seeking-out--and I think that's why the viewers that go on to be fans feel a true connection to his work.
Several years back, a friend was working on an interview with Rollin and I had the opportunity to sprinkle in some of my own questions. Unfortunately, I suspect something got lost in translation and I never had my inquiry as to Rollin's own background in the arts answered properly. His connection to fine art is clear, as he made no secret about his appreciation of the Surrealists, specifically of French painter Clovis Trouille, whose work he referenced in his films. This marriage of fine art and genre cinema is what resonates with me in Rollin's work, and I love seeing echoes of this in his movies.
It saddens me deeply to know that I'll never be able to shake Rollin's hand and tell him how much his work affected me. For influencing my art, teaching me new ways to engage with the works of other artists, and leaving the world with a remarkable body of work--thank you, Jean Rollin.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
I know my fellow trash cinema fans will empathize with me when I express my frustration at lousy film prints. I don't mourn grainy, Nth-gen VHS copies, nor do I pat myself on the back for unearthing a copy of some obscurity that looks like it's been dredged from the bottom of the ocean. Sometimes the only way one can watch a particular title is in a compromised format, and such is life. The thing that grieves me the most is that I feel like I can't properly appreciate some titles due to crappy prints. In a genre like the giallo, where style leaves substance in a cloud of dust, it's especially vexing to not get the full, glossy impact of a film.
That having been addressed, I'm not sure that "Amuck!," also known by the equally lurid title of "Leather and Whips," would've fared much better had I seen the most flawless print in the world. This is a movie that managed to fuck up the perfectly excellent combination of (stunning and lesbonic) Barbara Bouchet and (stunning and predatorially lesbonic) Rosalba Neri engaging in (lesbonically) mysterious intrigue set against the backdrop of (stunning but lacking in a sexual orientation on account of its being a city) Venice.
"Prepare to get hurt. Real bad. In the brain."
In the same way that the press materials for "Last House on the Left" urged the viewer to repeat it's only a movie, I urge you to append each sentence of the following review with it's actually pretty boring.
Barbara Bouchet plays Greta, a young woman working as a secretary to an American author Richard Stuart (Farley Granger) who lives in a stately Venetian mansion with his wife Eleanora (Rosalba Neri). As it turns out, Greta is trying to track down the whereabouts of her lover Sally, who was last seen in the employ of the Stuarts. The Stuarts are one swinging duo, hosting drunken parties that include the viewing of pornographic films, and it becomes clear early on that their lecherous activities have an even darker side.
"But Tenebrous," you may rightly ask, "how can you bag on a movie that offers up a delectable lesbian scene with two fully-nude, fully-gorgeous actresses within its first ten minutes of screen time?" Well, imaginary enquirer, for an admittedly-titillating five minutes of steamy sex, one has to slog through a mystery plot that one does not care about (if you saw this and you say you care, you are a filthy liar and beneath my contempt) that commits the following giallo sins:
- Dishwater-dull soundtrack. Seriously, I'm here for the sounds and the scenery--ENTERTAIN ME, MUSIC MAKER!
- Duck-hunting sequence that has almost no music behind it: a jammed gun has never created less cinematic tension. Watching an eight-year-old play the Nintendo game is a nailbiter in comparison.
- Quicksand. Fuck quicksand as a plot device--fuck it right in the ass.
- Psychic subplot that appears in one scene midway through the movie, never to be spoken of again. That's just insulting.
- NO leather and NO whips. Don't think I wouldn't notice that shit, title-writing jerk.
I hate the fact that I'm making this movie look so much better than it is.
Where Sergio Martino would have gone full-on crazy with the material, adding swooping camerawork and a lushly romantic score while eliciting downright-perspiring performances from his leads, director Silvio Amadio takes a rather direct approach, creating a movie that leaves the viewer praying for the next nugget of naughtiness. "Amuck!" is just short of dire--were it not for the erotic sequences, this movie would be like an unbuttered English muffin.
"Hahahah--can you believe that all those jackasses are going to watch this movie now? It's like WE WIN!"
I just couldn't manage to care about this movie, and kept hoping that its piles of wacky material might coalesce into some sort of sleazy wonderfulness. While Ms. Neri brings it--as she always does--in the form of arched eyebrows, sinister cigarette-smoking, and plush sexiness, her presence doesn't redeem this lackluster thriller, which is characterized in large part by its general air of non-inspiration. Bland camerawork, sleepwalking performances, and a criminal lack of suspense undermine what tawdry tingles this film has to offer.
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
New York is my favorite city for a number of reasons, not least of which being that a taxidermy show in Brooklyn on a Tuesday night can become a hot ticket resulting in a packed house of fellow weird art enthusiasts. This year's Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest, sponsored once again by the Secret Science Club, was another rousing success with enough fairytale animals, exotic critters, and Black Forest creepiness to sate even the most jaded fans of animal preservation.
Each year, creators and collectors of mounted animal specimens gather at Brooklyn's Bell House to show off their beloved beasties. Each presenter is given a few moments to describe his or her piece of taxidermy, and the stories run the gamut from the purposefully comedic to the surprisingly informative. It's nice to be in a room full of drunks "woo"-ing for an ornithologist from the Bronx Zoo as if he was a rock star!
Before the contest began, journalist Melissa Milgrom gave an opening presentation on her experience creating a mounted squirrel specimen. Her seven years of research in this strange world for her recently released book "Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy" helped her develop a reverence for the artform and its creators that set the tone for the evening. Keynote speaker Mike Zohn of Obscura Antiques and Oddities presented an amazing slideshow detailing the development of taxidermy from, as he put it: "High-Brow to Hillbilly to Hipster." Last year, Mike's incredible songbird automaton earned the grand prize at the Carnivorous Nights contest, and his knowledge about the subject of taxidermy was absolutely vast. Isn't it a damn fine thing that those of you not fortunate enough to be able to stop in to Obscura can catch a glimpse of its magicalness via the new Discovery Channel series "Oddities?" I highly recommend you folks check that out--it's one of the few things I'll recommend here that you can safely watch with family!
Many of the items on display were part of the owners' respective collections, and were found in charity shops, on eBay, and in exotic European locales. This two-headed squirrel was the spoils of a particularly bloody bidding war.
The majestic beast above is an example of a gag taxidermy from Bavaria. Known as Wolpertinger, these Jackalope-like creations are proof that anything we can do, the Germans can do in a far more disturbing manner. This little guy was wearing a blinged-out butcher knife around his neck and had bright red duck's feet. Amazing.
This gentleman's arctic fox stole looked super-stylish. I may actually prefer white fur stoles on men more than women, in point of fact. Bonus points for his flawless pronunciation of various Icelandic locations. I may have a tiny bit of a crush!
Where else in the world could I go and find TWO examples of stuffed, bipedal foxes carrying stuffed chicks under their arms? These adorable dudes above as well as the photo that kicked off this entry feature that motif. A motif, by the way, that I was completely unaware of until last night.
For me, the highlight of the show are the pieces shown by their creators. The big winner at this year's show was Beth Beverly, an artist from Philadelphia who traveled via public transportation with her princess-themed chicken and rat terrier, along with an amazing hat made from a hen. Check out more of her work at Diamond Tooth Taxidermy.
Takeshi Yamada made another amazing showing this year with a group of alien skulls.
This beastie rolled across the floor like a children's toy. The effect was alarming, and yet not un-adorable.
When asked why his goat, Bob, was covered in jewels, this fellow answered that it was "to make him look sexy."
To see all of the images from the 2010 Carnivorous Nights Taxidermy Contest, check out the Flickr gallery here.
As always, if one of your pieces is showcased above, I want to give you credit! Please let me know & I'll update accordingly.
Video of some of the entrants from the Wall Street Journal:
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Did you ever want to see former United States President Lyndon B. Johnson discuss the film career of Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy? I bet you want to see that now. Click the video above and prepare to be cockslapped with excellence.
Not safe for work due to naughty language spoken in a robot voice.
This entry is part of the Paul Naschy Blogathon sponsored by Mad Mad Mad Mad Movies. Go check out the rest of the entries, won't you? I understand there's actual scholarship going on over there...!