Sunday, October 22, 2006

WTF is "What Is It?"

The Castro Theatre presented "An Evening With Crispin Glover", which included Mr. Glover performing his "Big Slide Show" along with a screening of his "What Is It?", which would be followed by a Q&A. 'Castro Bob' informed, or is that warned, us (JimmyD and I) that it would be a long evening, particularly if one were to hang around for the book signing afterward. We left in the middle of the Q&A.

So, to begin, Crispin Glover's "Big Slide Show" is a performance piece, sort of, in that he reads selections from his EIGHT books while the pages are projected on the screen behind him. There is some significance to the projections, as the actual text is thoroughly illustrated and fonts and format of the text itself is poetically typeset, handwritten and drawn. His literature could best be compared to William S. Burroughs, perhaps, if you think about "Naked Lunch" at it's most surreal moments. However, the performance as a whole is not so surreal as it is Dadaist. Sigh.

The inanity of Dada makes me laugh, sometimes. However, the inanity of Dada can be tiresome, also. As Mr. Glover proceeded along in this opening hour, I was amused at points, but then became worried about his sanity. Though by the end of the performance, I came to realize that the joke really is on the audience, which is the heart of Dada, as far as I am concerned. To present anti-art as art is the inherent contradiction of Dada, and the reason why it can be so annoying, which is when Dada is at its most successful.

And "What Is It?" (dir. Crispin Glover, US, 2005, 72 mins.) can be annoying. It is also absurdly and scandalously funny! The film's infamous reputation is based upon the fact that the cast is made up almost entirely of people with Downs Syndrome (with the exception of Crispin Glover (as an underworld king of some sort) and Fairuza Balk who is the voice of the snails). However, that is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the exploitative and offensive quotient of the film is concerned. I usually do my best to avoid discussing plots so to keep from letting spoilers slip in, or to plant expectations into the minds of potential audiences. However, in the case of "What Is It?", the plot defies discussion, though his Q&A (which he insists upon at every screening of the film - it is part of the performance piece which he is touring with, actually) would let you believe otherwise. So, allow me to describe what was (for me) the epitome of the Dadaist vision Glover created in a single shot in the film. Glover appears as a devil-like character and is seated upon a throne, which is adorned with swastikas and a scepter with a photo of Shirley Temple in front of a swastika. In front of this throne, is a nude man with cerebral palsy, inside a clam shell (in an homage to "Venus Rising") who is being masturbated by a nude woman wearing a monkey mask. During this, the soundtrack is playing a song by Johnny Rebel called, "Niggers aren't dead, they just smell that way". So, what artistic purpose could such a scene serve? None. It is Dada. So any further discussion of the film itself and its anti-production qualities are pointless. (There was much discussion during the Q&A about the killing of the dozen or so snails, but...)

I can not in good conscious recommend anyone to go see this. However, it is a brilliant example of Dada anti-cinema and Crispin Glover can be quite entertaining. That is, if you are one to be into that kind of thing...


Maxxxxx said...

"Is it bedtime?"

Paul said...

Can't recommend it? How odd. It seems MY kind of film!