Onward, Crispin Soldiers

Six years ago, Ryan Page and Mike Pallagi were high school kids who idolized eccentric actor Crispin Glover. Now they're producing films with him.

"They're very, very normal, and I think Ryan came from a very normal situation as well, and I think your minds get claustrophobic in that situation, and that's what pushed us to other things," Pallagi says. "Being exposed to nothing but television until we were at the age where we could spend three dollars at a movie theater and stay there all day, like we used to do."

Pallagi's need to escape his mundane environment pushed him into the world of fiction. He wrote his first novel at 12, a Star Trek story, because he was too insecure at that age to create his own characters. Since then he's tirelessly worked on one novel after another, primarily for his own enrichment, not even considering sending them to publishers until recently. It's the kind of discipline that would be hard to imagine from Page, who says he won't even begin a film project unless he's sure he'll be able to find distribution.

If Pallagi is more earnest than Page in his work ethic, the same could be said for the way he expresses himself. Pallagi crafts his sentences with utmost care, reflexively falling back on simile and metaphor to convey his ideas. For instance, this is how he explains the creative inspiration he and Page took from their mundane childhoods: "It's like holding back the fist. Our fist is our interest in things. And the thing holding it back is that sterile environment, and once adolescence hit, when we could actually move about freely, the fist flew forward and we really lashed out and became interested in a lot of things."

To hear Page and Pallagi tell it, they owned Horizon High School in their senior year. By that point, their interest in David Lynch had spurred them to seek out wilder, more unconventional films and books. These discoveries only made them more convinced that their teachers were dull-witted hacks with nothing useful to impart.

Page had tried taking a film-appreciation course, but was amused to find popcorn-movie fare like Dirty Rotten Scoundrels offered up as a classic of the cinema. Pallagi confronted history teachers, asking why the students were merely being taught dates behind important events, and not what motivated those events.

"We were trying to develop our minds and our vocabularies and the way we presented ourselves, so when we would feel rebellious, we would be taken seriously," Pallagi recalls. "So we could actually talk to these teachers. It was really interesting. The kids who were causing the problems--us--were also the kids who were talking like the adults. So it threw them off.

"It wasn't just these pot-smoking, cigarette-smoking little ruffians. We really were honestly serious about not liking the teachers and thinking they were hacks: 'You don't know what you're talking about, and we know it.' We'd tell them, 'If you really knew what you were talking about, you'd be teaching at a university.'"

By this point, Page had quit the football team. He says he'd realized his interests were elsewhere, and besides, he didn't get along with his coach, Doug Shaffer. Recently, Shaffer recalled no problems between himself and Page. He remembers Page as a player with considerable ability, who simply couldn't crack the starting lineup because he was stuck behind the talented runner John Clayton, who later went on to play for San Diego State. Shaffer describes Page as a "nice kid, easygoing, kind of quiet." Perhaps predictably, he doesn't remember Pallagi at all.

Page and Pallagi's reign of intellectual terror at Horizon reached its zenith in their creative writing class. At one point, Page left a line drawing of a naked dwarf on his teacher's desk. Next to the drawing, Page had written the name "Peter." By some strange coincidence (Page insists he didn't know), the teacher's son was also named Peter, and she regarded the drawing as a personal insult. She removed Page, Pallagi and a friend from her class.

"We went to the vice principal," Pallagi says, "and I tried to use all my vocabulary that I could, and he went and talked to her and we got back into the class."

They say they both ended up with an A for the semester.
"One thing Mike and I did share, we were united in this strong desire to get the hell out of high school," Page says. "Most people love high school--and not to say that we didn't have fun there--but we wanted to get going in making movies and things like that. Junior and senior year, Mike would pick me up for school, and every day I'd beg him not to go to school."

Page's early films were shorts that he now dismisses as "lame, surrealistic stuff." The one running thread between these films was the prominent role of Mark Trombino, a local dwarf who Page and Pallagi had befriended. "We started out thinking, 'surrealism equals dwarves,'" Page says with a shrug. "We'd kind of learned that off David Lynch.

"The thing that first interested us in Mark was that he claimed to have magical powers. That's how I met him. He claimed something real interesting to me: that over the course of time, when magic was no longer necessary for dwarves--because they didn't have to ward off angry men or beasts or whatever--little people forgot their powers. But he thought that they could get them back, and he claimed to have them. We did this documentary on him, and he told all these stories about throwing fireballs, but he never did it, of course."

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