Red Lecture Theatre, Dunedin

16/03/2013 - 17/03/2013

Dunedin Fringe 2013

Production Details

Actor, director and writer Crispin Hellion Glover brings his unique live show to the Dunedin Fringe Festival for two nights. 

The evening begins with The Big Slide Show, a dramatic narration by Glover to projected imagery from his “profusely illustrated” books. This is followed by a special screening of his independent films It is Fine (16 March) and What is This? (17 March). These provocative, surreal and challenging films are followed by a Q & A with Glover and book signing opportunity.

Known primarily for his eccentric acting roles in films such as Back to the Future, Charlie’s Angels and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Crispin Glover Show provides an insight into Glover’s unconventional personal projects.

This highly unique event has never been to New Zealand before. Both evenings are unique featuring a different slide show/performance and film.

16 & 17 March,
Red Lecture Theatre,
7:00 pm,
Strictly R18  

Surrealist scratching

Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 17th Mar 2013

After rising to acting prominence as the hopelessly square father of Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future 1, Crispin Glover has made a side career out of various outré occupations. These include directing and producing “cult/experimental” films such as It Is Fine and What Is This? And self-publishing surreal illustrated books purportedly made out of a pastiche of elements cut out of 19th century and early 20th century texts, to which Glover adds scrawled images, words and marks. In addition to this, Glover gives live slide shows where he narrates these texts whilst the images are projected beside him, punctuating the performance with typically stochastic, jerky, isolated or repeated gestures. 

Whilst not altogether without precedent, Glover’s take on the slideshow is highly individualistic. As noted above, the live performance depends in large part on emphasis, on the absurdly tautological reinforcement of words and images that are already fairly strange and free floating in the actual books. The emphatic performance delivery of this material unhinges it from literal meaning, causing the evocative words, images and concepts summoned up to almost pulsate within the brain like neon signs announcing the end of the world.

Much of the text has clearly been sampled, but when whole pages (including blacked out sections, annotations and bizarre diagrams) are shown, one cannot help wondering if the source material is just too perfect, too odd in the first place, to in fact be real. Photoshop after all makes it relatively easy to falsify such a source. 

Strictly speaking though, it does not actually matter if all of this text has been produced from found text, or if the source material has been doctored before being reassembled into new configurations. It is the illusion that it has been made that way which is such a potent device. There are always at least two texts in the mind of the audience when listening to these tales: the new text which Glover has made, and what one imagines the source itself might have actually been – and could it really have existed?

Glover looks like an old world preacher or snake-oil salesman, dressed in a black suit with matching waistcoat, lanky hair and beard. The texts are a collection of Theosophical and spiritual texts (including naïve colour pictures of swamis and brain waves moving between enlightened minds), 19th century instruction manuals (one apparently slavishly devoted to the total description of the act of ‘inspecting’), 1930s and 1950s photography, surgical illustrations and photographs (post-war facial reconstruction, amputations, eye operations, and so on), turn-of-the-century children’s books, and slow moving novels – complete with that wonderful tradition of outlining what is to happen in each chapter before one gets to the full text. Needless to say, Glover ensures that these précis prove both mystifying and inaccurate. 

In Dunedin, Glover reads from eight of his short works, including Oak-Mot (1991), What It Is and How It Is Done (1998; one can see a clip of Glover performing this piece at the bottom of, The Backward Swing, The Land of Sunshine, Concrete Inspection (1992), Round My House, and other works. Egg Farm is particularly concise, consisting of about 6 instances where the author says: “For a time I thought I was here…” (a suitably strange image accompanying this), “But no! I am at an egg farm!!!” (represented by a woman feeding pigeons for some reason). 

The German language Land of Sunshine is a particularly intriguing piece, moving quickly from a cover taken from a Boys Own Paper – a thrilling adventure set in colonial South Africa; a statuesque lion featuring prominently in the slide – to then immediately jump to a giant image of a strange, eyeless beast with wormlike extensions coming from its back, as drawn by Glover. The author emotes in Deutsch loudly at this vision, as though he is describing the coming of the New Christ or warning us how to recognise Lucifer in the Last Days, and we return to this wiggly beastly critter at the conclusion.  

Due to the language difference (I cannot understand German myself), this is the most abstract work, and it does feature relatively little projected text alongside the images, with Glover here reciting his words mostly from memory (and with some speed and passion, one should add). Here, therefore, it is entirely our messianic guide who is to act as our interpreter to the obtuse spectacles of things lurking beneath the surfaces of our world. Reading the text ourselves provides no help.

In other instances, notably Oak Mot, considerably more text is projected than is recited, pages replacing each other before the eye can do much more than pick out a phrase, or locate a site where Glover’s own hand has inscribed the work with a warning. Yes, “THE WORMS WILL GET IN”! Words, then, here exceed our understanding, both in terms of their meaning, and their number, projected type transforming into a kind of layered music which one skims over, searching for a dominant melody.  

In short, Glover’s material is surrealist in the proper sense. It reflects not simply a dream-world or a nightmare, but a way of associating thoughts and sights which creep and curl deep within the unconscious mind, unconcerned with normal narrative, and scratching away at scabs and dark thoughts which coat the patina of reality. 

Thus although the historicist, aged, and somewhat Edwardian ambience of Glover’s material allies it to that of Edward Gorey (another author-illustrator who has worked in the world of live performance), his work is actually closer to that of painter René Magritte – notably novelist Alain Robbe-Grillet’s appropriation of Magritte’s works for the illustrated book of La belle captive (1975) – as well as other similar surrealist conjunctions. One could also list as appropriate comparisons the dadaists (Tristan Tzara and Hugo Ball were famous for their emphatically mad, shouted poems delivered at the Cabaret Voltaire), or indeed any follower of pataphysics (the science of contradictions, exceptions and imaginary or impossible solutions, founded by Alfred Jarry in 1895). 

Also notable in the series is Glover’s Round My House, which, if one attempts a rational interpretation, seems to be composed of the ramblings of a serial killer who fed anaesthetised children to newly hatched crocodiles and other beasts which he secreted about his home and which are listed and detailed for us. Here and in the other works there is a strong sense of what Freud called the unheimlich, or the “unhomely”: disturbing visions and thoughts which intrude into the space of our minds and which are disturbing precisely because they seem familiar and banal, but also horrible and radically out of context. 

At times Glover insistently draws our attention to various details. The slide is enlarged, and a space of uncertain significance is thrust into magnified view. One can only describe such a viewing experience as obsessional and neurotic in the best possible sense. 

While I am personally less convinced by Glover’s self-made films – which feature gorgeous rich colour and designs pieced together from other cultural detritus, in this case a sort of Days of Our Lives meets Vertigo – the slideshow itself not only offers a rare opportunity to attend to his difficult-to-obtain, self-published writings, but also recontextualises these works through live performance which makes them even more like a series of small but brutal blows applied to a quivering, receptive mass of gelatinous nervous goo.

Definitely a Dunedin Fringe revelation. The worms do indeed get in.


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