Off-Off-Off Broadway

Crispin Glover doesn’t want to be misquoted. He’s worried that journalists don’t understand his peculiar new film, What Is It?, so he asks that interviews about the movie be conducted via e-mail. In fact, Glover is so concerned that his oddball movie will be misunderstood that he only allows it to be screened when he’s present, so he can explain to viewers what they’ve just seen.

“It is by far the best way to know how to see [the film],” Glover says of his in-person presentation of the movie. “I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville . . . has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element is no longer viable.”

Better known as a film actor (Back to the Future, Charlie’s Angels) than a vaudevillian, Glover would these days prefer to be known as the father of What Is It?, the first of a trilogy of movies featuring actors with Down Syndrome. Originally intended as a short film to promote the concept of an all-Down’s film to financial backers, the movie, a surrealist story about a young man obsessed with snails and salt, evolved into a feature once Glover began editing it. Aware that certain scenes would be deemed unacceptable by investors and audiences alike, he began to see the film as an opportunity to address what he calls “the corporate restraints that have happened in the last 30 years in filmmaking. Anything that makes an audience uncomfortable is excised, or the film will not be funded or distributed. This is damaging to the culture.”

Glover screens What Is It? at 7 each evening; a Q&A, slide show, and Glover’s hourlong “dramatic narration” What It Is and How It Is Done follow each showing.

May 9-11, 7 p.m., 2008
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela