Crispin Glover talks about directing his debut film, "What Is It?" in this week's Conversations (see a clip of the movie on his site -- warning, NSFW). In production for nearly a decade, the movie features a cast made up mostly of young actors with Down syndrome. It's a surrreal tale and nearly impossible to describe. Glover sums it up as "the adventures of a young man, whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe and how to get home, as tormented by a hubristic, racist inner psyche" -- but then explains that it's also his reaction to what he sees as the negative influence of corporate control over the media.
He has been touring with the movie this fall for the first time since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, and despite the many potentially troubling aspects of the movie -- graphic sexuality, people in blackface, Nazi imagery -- he says the harshest criticism has been directed against the snail deaths depicted in the film. (Several snails die on-screen from being smashed, sliced up or having salt poured on them.)
I recently came across that old "David Letterman" video [a 1987 interview in which Glover arrives in a woman's wig and challenges Letterman to arm-wrestle him], and that was a fascinating moment -- and was in some ways reminiscent of the feeling of the film. What were you doing there -- was there a larger comment that you wanted to make?
It is similar to the film. There are certain things about the film that I'll often get asked about: "Specifically, what does this particular thing symbolize?" I don't mind talking about what I'm generally reacting to, I think that's a helpful thing, but I don't like to dictate what people are supposed to interpret about each individual thing. I think it's better to step back and let certain things be mysteries. And I also feel that way about the "David Letterman" appearance.
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