Crispin Hellion Glover: Forward to the past

By Shane Gilchrist

The cult star formerly known as Marty McFly's dad is coming to town to display his experimental side in a narration performance of reworked old books. Shane Gilchrist reports

Actor, director and author Crispin Glover. Photo / Supplied
Actor, director and author Crispin Glover. Photo / Supplied

Over the years, Crispin Hellion Glover has played some interesting characters, from George McFly in Back to the Future and Thin Man in Charlie's Angels to an animated monster (Grendal) in Beowulf.

Yet none of those films come close to being as strange as his own creative efforts as a director.

Take Glover's first release as a director, What is it? (2005), which features a cast largely comprised of actors with Down's Syndrome, even though the film is not about Down Syndrome. Rather it is about "the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are snails, salt, a pipe and how to get home, as tormented by an hubristic racist inner psyche".

Hmmm. Glover is bringing What is it? and its 2007 sequel to Auckland next week, but the films are only one part of the show. They will be preceded by the "Big Slide Show", a concept Glover has been taking to audiences around the globe since 1992.

"The live aspects of the shows are not to be underestimated," Glover explains via answers to a series of emailed questions.

For his Big Slide Show, Glover will perform a one-hour dramatic narration of eight books he has published.

"The books are taken from older books from the 1800s. They have been changed into different books from what they originally were. They are heavily illustrated with original drawings and reworked images and photographs.

"I started making my books in 1983 for my own enjoyment without the concept of publishing them. I had always written and drawn, and the books came as an accidental outgrowth of that.

"Sometimes people see thematic correlations between the content of my books and the content of the films.

"I consider what I am doing to be following in the steps of vaudeville performers. Vaudeville was the main form of entertainment for most of the history of the United States. It has only relatively recently stopped being the main source of entertainment, but that does not mean this live element mixed with other media is no longer viable."

Glover takes no small pride in the fact that he goes to great lengths (sometimes many hours) to answer questions from audience members on both his slide shows and films.

"It is enjoyable to travel and visit places, to meet people, perform the shows and have an interaction with the audiences and discussions about the films afterwards. The forum after the show is also not to be underestimated, as it is a very important part of the show for the audience.

"In this economy, it seems like touring with the live show and showing the films with a book signing is a good basic safety net for recouping the money I have invested in the films."

As a teenage actor in Los Angeles, Glover took any work he could, including TV commercials. At the age of 20, he landed the role of George McFly in the 1985 Michael J. Fox blockbuster Back to the Future, which led to a leading role in River's Edge the following year.

About that time he began to finance his own films with the proceeds of his successful work. And he's occasionally dabbled back in the mainstream since, with roles in Charlie's Angels and Beowulf.

"After Back to the Future came out and was such a commercial success, I felt a certain obligation towards finding material that somehow reflected my psychological interests.

"I have been able to divorce myself from the content of the films that I act in, and look at acting as a craft that I am helping other film-makers to accomplish what it is that they want to do.

"If, for some reason, the director is not truly interested in doing something with the character that I personally find interesting, then I can console myself that the money I am making can help to fund my own films, ones that I am so truly passionate about.

"Usually, however, I feel as though I am able to get something across as an actor that I feel good about. It has worked out well."

Who: Crispin Hellion Glover
Where and when: SkyCity Theatre, Tuesday, March 19
Buy tickets.

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