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.

Page thought about studying film in college, but his summer experiences at UCLA had soured him on higher education. "I kind of had an idea of who was there, what kind of people were there, and I wasn't really interested in doing that kind of thing. It seemed to me to be breeding really bad ideas--a lot of people whose parents were really wealthy sending them there, and they were ultimately going to go on and make Free Willy or something. There was nothing at all creative."

So Page concentrated on learning the art of filmmaking on his own, while Pallagi enrolled at Arizona State and studied writing.

The big question about Page is how he manages to make a living on the meager budget of a producer for an indie film that has yet to be released. Even Pomerenke and Karnes seem mystified by his ability to throw money around on expensive hotels or frequent airline flights. He tends to skirt any specifics on the subject, but it's reasonable to assume that he's been getting at least some financial assistance from his parents over the last five years. Page insists that he's lived on money he's paid himself out of One Tree's budget.

"We've been paid for our work there," he says. "I've kind of spaced it out well. We were paid for working on What Is It? and it tided me over to this new film we're doing, so it kind of worked out."

Crispin Glover elicits a weird devotion among his fans. Because he brings an unhinged, neurotic quality to even his most conventional parts, he has a way of cutting through the conventions of "performance." You could see it as far back as 1985, when he played Michael J. Fox's father, George McFly, in the blockbuster hit Back to the Future. George McFly was so outside the bounds of the movie that he almost seemed to be commenting on it.

The sense of uncertainty about where Glover ends and the character begins is ultimately what makes him so creepily magnetic. It's telling that among his acolytes, Glover's talk-show appearances are at least as prized as his film work. What Glover diehard can forget the nervous, stuttering, perspiration-filled Tonight Show rant that earned an almost paternal sympathy from fellow panelist Gore Vidal?

The Citizen Kane of Glover's talk-show canon, though, has to be his July 28, 1987, appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. He walked out in a long, unkempt wig, with striped pants and black platform boots that would have been considered over-the-top in the disco era, clutching a briefcase that he said contained news clippings about him. After babbling incoherently for a few minutes, Glover flexed his arm and assured Letterman: "I'm strong. I can arm wrestle. Do you want to arm wrestle?" Before Letterman could respond, Glover jumped out of his chair and did a karate kick in the close proximity to Letterman's head.

It was a debacle, but a brilliant debacle, the kind that American TV hadn't seen since the death of Andy Kaufman. In fact, Glover handled the incident in pure Kaufmanesque form, subsequently claiming that a look-alike friend had impersonated him on the show and that his friend had consciously tried to make Glover look bad by acting so strangely.

Such gonzo mythmaking probably explains why the 35-year-old Glover can fill art houses whenever he tours with his oddball slide shows/book readings, or attract devoted listeners to the kind of childlike psychobabble found on his 1989 Restless Records CD, The Big Problem.

"He's actually one of the only people I would have been star struck by, and I was at first," Page says. "I don't want to meet Marky Mark. I like actors like Crispin, who's also an artist. I'm not really a big fan of actors in general. For me to be really interested in someone, they have to do all kinds of things. Crispin records, he writes books, he's a filmmaker, an actor, he does it all. And he has an amazing mind that always has to create something."

Page doesn't hesitate to call Glover his "mentor," and the actor's influence over both Page and Pallagi manifests itself repeatedly. When Pallagi drops by Page's apartment, he brings with him five titles by the late, great German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder, because "Crispin has been talking about him lately." Page also praises the unrelenting style of Harmony Korine's indie film Gummo, a picture he saw with Glover in L.A. when it was released.

Glover has continued to act in recent years, doing likably oddball turns in such well-received films as What's Eating Gilbert Grape? and The People vs. Larry Flynt. But he's expressed growing frustration with the quality of scripts he's sent. For years, he'd been looking for a chance to get his own vision on screen, and he saw something in Page and Pallagi's screenplay that offered him that chance.

The film they started working on together, What Is It?, was originally intended to be a short prequel to the Page-Pallagi screenplay, It Is Mine--something to attract potential investors for the full-length film.

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