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AT THE MOVIES

Unusual suspect

Whatever the project, maverick Crispin Glover finds a way to stay out of the mainstream.

November 15, 2007|Chris Lee | Times Staff Writer

"You couldn't put another person with cerebral palsy in this film because it had to be the documentation of this man living this particular fantasy," Glover said. "Even though it is not a documentary, it is a documentation of his life. And it makes for a very unusual category."

"I felt that if this had not gotten made, I actually would have felt like I'd done something wrong," he continued, his voice quivering with emotion. "I would have felt guilty. I would have not felt right about my life."

Then, in 2001, a month after principal photography on the $200,000 film was finished, Stewart called Brothers and Glover from the hospital where he was suffering complications from his cerebral palsy. "He wanted to know if we had enough footage," Glover recalled. "I had to tell him, yes, we do. To say goodbye to that person, that was a heavy day. A heavy responsibility."

Added Brothers: "Steve said, 'OK, if the film's done, I want to be taken off life support.' That effectively let him kill himself. That really affected Crispin."

Glover says problems with the film's digital transfer and blow up from 16- to 35-millimeter film stock delayed the final edit for six years, although he is cryptic on the specifics. On Dec. 7 through 9, the American Cinematheque will screen "Fine" at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre in conjunction with "Crispin Hellion Glover's Big Slide Show" (as his rollicking recitals from the six books he has written and self-published have come to be known), followed by a book signing and Q&A session (interested parties should consult www.crispinglover.com).

"Fine's" provocative subject matter certainly sounds like the stuff of shock cinema -- an association Glover has had to live down since casting actors with Down syndrome in "What Is It?" But he defends his casting of actors with physical and developmental disabilities as part of a larger intellectual framework -- a personal aesthetic that's more often than not misunderstood. "I have a certain obligation to get good thoughts across," Glover said, "my concept of educational thoughts. How other people might define it is 'eccentric' or 'odd.' But I do believe that unusual things can be genuinely educational."

The movie won a special jury award at the Sitges International Film Festival in Spain this year and has already garnered a smattering of surprised critical praise when it screened at Sundance. "The statement Stewart makes in his script -- that handicapped people can not only be as sensitive as everyone else, but just as horrible -- is made eloquent, if bizarre, via Glover and Brothers' otherworldly vision," said a review in Variety.

"To say the film is weird would be a cliche," wrote a critic for Film Threat. "The odd thing about it all -- it works."

One of Glover's biggest points of pride is that he was able to finance "It Is Fine!" with money he earned working within what he derisively refers to as "the corporately funded and distributed film industry." To be specific, he used the wages he earned playing the creepy Thin Man character in 2000's "Charlie's Angels" -- the actor's biggest payday to date -- to finance his own movie passion project.

The process not only changed Glover's whole mind-set when it comes to acting, but presented him with a new business model.

Anyone seeking proof of Glover's new attitude toward Hollywood need look no further than "Beowulf." Zemeckis got it in his head that Glover would be perfect for the part of Grendel and made an overture to the actor. "We started describing the character as the embodiment of human suffering," recalled "Beowulf" producer Steve Starkey. "And Bob said, 'You know who would make the perfect Grendel? Crispin Glover.' I said, 'Bob, there's only one guy who can make that call.' "

Problem was, in 1987, Zemeckis cast another actor wearing face prosthetics to play George McFly in "Back to the Future II" after Glover declined to reprise the role. Glover famously sued the production (including executive producer Steven Spielberg), won and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

Glover was initially wary of working with Zemeckis on "Beowulf" but realized his participation could lead to him actualizing his own projects, among them the third "It" film, for which Glover says he has written the script.

"I had to think about it," Glover said. But he wanted to buy a chateau outside Prague, "where all the physical production for my films is going to take place. And things were working this way: Now, psychologically, instead of trying to act in films that reflect my interests, I was acting in films to make money to continue putting into my own films. That made much more sense than what I had been doing.

"I went in and met with Robert Zemeckis. We went to the work at hand and we did have a good working relationship. And I'm proud of the final product. I'm not angry or bitter."

So does that mean Crispin Glover has finally learned to stop worrying and love the blockbuster?

"It actually makes me much more grateful to be working within this industry," he said. "It makes me have a much better attitude. I am a professional. It's ever clearer that I'm doing it right."

chris.lee@latimes.com

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