A review with a question: is it really fine?
That’s right: Crispin Glover.
Known best as George McFly from Back to the Future and Creepy Thin Man from the Charlie’s Angels Series, Crispin Glover visited the Mayfair in the flesh. Proudly eccentric, he prefers small, artistic shows to what he calls “corporate” films.
Glover appeared on stage shortly after 9:00, illuminated by red light and dressed in a three-piece suit. His performance was titled Part 2 of Crispin’s Big Slideshow (with Part 1 the next day). It consisted of a series of projections taken from his books and narrated – performance art meets book reading. The pages of these books/slides are drawn on, their text occasionally handwritten, their plots vague. Somewhere in between poetry, childish nonsense, and the illustrations of Edward Gorey, these were charming, yet disturbing, works to see and hear.
My personal favourite was a short piece entitled Egg Farm. Allow me to paraphrase the entire book: “Are you in your home? / No. You are at an Egg Farm. / Where? AN EGG FARM.” Now imagine Crispin Glover yelling this and gesticulating wildly. Brilliant.
After the slideshow came our feature film: It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. The plot is simple. The main character, Paul has cerebral palsy. Beautiful, large-bosomed women throw themselves at him; he has sex with them and then, for no apparent reason, fetishizes their hair and murders them.
I won’t spoil the plot by mentioning more than this – all of which is implied in the very sexual trailer anyway. Crispin’s explanation during the Q&A was essential for making sense of the thing. The screenplay was written by Steven C. Stewart, who played Paul. The film was meant to be a fantasy of sex and murder unhindered by disability. Glover was drawn to the idea of having what he considers a contrary idea: a handicapped villain.
I have some issues with this.
Unlike Glover, I don’t find the idea of a handicapped villain to be shocking and interesting. I find it all too conventional, in fact. Physical disability is often associated with moral deformity, with limping Igors or hump-backed witches as the bad guys. When you create a film in which a handicapped man stalks drop-dead gorgeous women, it comes too close to reiterating the same old norms of inequality – gendered and bodily – that we’re all just so sick of. It was too much for comfort for me, and too superficial: good and bad, able and disabled, man and victim.
The plot might have been redeemed if the characters were more fleshed out, but they just weren’t. Paul’s speech was almost incomprehensible, which made dialogue almost entirely nonexistent. With the exception of Paul’s first partner Linda, most of the characters are exceedingly one-dimensional. They barely introduce themselves before taking their tops off and jiggling their luscious breasts around for Paul’s amusement.
The discomfort of the film did make me think – I’m just not sure it did so for the right reasons. After having watched the feature, all of the disturbing imagery of the earlier performance, which I enjoyed, was cast into sharper relief. There are images that stand out to me still: a “negroid” slave, a body on a table, a glimpse of a swastika. When combined with the violence against women and images of disability of It Is Fine! they come too close to unironic, unquestioning, depictions of hateful ideas.
As thrilled as I was with the evening’s performance art, I have to ask the question: Is this kind of reiteration of inequality really just fine?
At least I got to see Crispin Glover.