Kind of a dark movie, as Depp moves west towards nothing good, becoming a killer of white men before/after being killed by one. But it’s also possibly Jarmusch’s funniest and most beautiful movie, with great music.

Nobody: Gary Farmer (how did I miss him in Adaptation?)

Thel: Mili Avital, whose film career didn’t take off after Stargate

This was possibly Robert Mitchum’s final film:

Two Marshalls named Lee and Marvin:

The Kid: Eugene Byrd, a regular on Bones
Conway: Michael Wincott of Alien Resurrection and Basquiat

Benmont Tench (at right): Andy Warhol in I Shot Andy Warhol

Crispin Glover played Andy Warhol in The Doors. This movie has two Andy Warhols!

Whahappan:

Another great performance/film/discussion by Glover (he calls it “Vaudeville Distribution”), who is indeed weird, but also seems smart and dedicated to art in ways that very few commercially-recognized filmmakers are. And he’s not really a commercially-recognized filmmaker but a commercially-recognized actor who makes movies outside the system. Thankfully with his second feature he seems more comfortable with his position. What Is It? and its ensuing discussion focused so hard on breaking free from the commercial system, on purposely causing a disturbance, that sometimes Glover came across as one of those condescending IMDB reviewers commenting on black-and-white movies, “if you’re the type of brainwashed consumer who thinks the Transformers movies are pretty good, then you’ll have no use for this slow-moving masterpiece.”

This time Glover is celebrating his position as outsider artist by adapting a screenplay by Steven C. Stewart, who appeared incidentally in the previous film, and lived (Stewart died before the film’s completion) with severe cerebral palsy. Stewart wrote the screenplay as a dark sexual fantasy for himself to play lead. In a way, the content is worse than some of the commercial crap Glover considers himself above: a thriller in which a guy sleeps with and murders a string of beautiful women, complete with an “it was all a dream” ending. But since Stewart is the lead actor, speaking lines that are completely unintelligible to most audience members but perfectly understood by the women in the film, it brings new levels to the typically misogynistic murder-sex story – because here’s a guy with a lifetime of real frustration (Glover explains that Stewart, an intelligent guy who struggled his whole life to be understood, was locked up in a hospital and treated like an idiot/inmate for years), not just a hack screenwriter getting revenge on a college ex-girlfriend by murdering her repeatedly in his movies.

Stewart’s character is in an institution (filmed, painfully/coincidentally, in the same place where he’d been imprisoned), falls and smacks his head. Later, a lovely woman picks him up, takes him out a few times. Their relationship is evolving, he has stood up (so to speak) to her ex-husband (Bruce Glover) and one night in the car he proposes marriage but she turns him down. So he strangles her to death. Later he has (graphic) sex with her daughter and strangles her too. Moving on, he tries to get a date with a wheelchair-bound woman who doesn’t want to be with anyone like herself. He goes out with a condescending woman whom he drowns in her bathtub, then wanders next door (these scenes were shot in a grand, open set) to visit the girl with leg problems. Even more graphic sex, then he knocks her down and runs over her neck with his chair.

This could go on indefinitely, and Glover says that in the original script it did, for hours. But smack!, sad Stewart wakes up on the hallway floor of that first scene, goes into his room and talks to someone but they can’t understand him.

The color (esp. the reds) seemed gooey and gluey, like the film would have to be scrubbed off the Plaza’s screen the next morning. Crispin seemed pleased to get a question that deviated from his prepared speeches on the films, about the use of music, and answered it more knowledgably and completely than anyone would have expected – and he again alluded to his Czech castle where he hopes to shoot another trilogy (partly involving his father) before making It Is Mine. I hope if he continues with the vaudeville distribution model, he brings them all back here – if not, I’m willing to travel.

Now that I’ve seen some exciting, excellent/horrible Argento movies from his peak period (Suspiria, Inferno) and some depressing, horrible/horrible movies from his more recent period (Giallo, Pelts), it’s safe to say I never need to watch these three all the way through (although I’m still undecided on Mother of Tears), so here’s The Last Ten Minutes of them:

Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005, Dario Argento)
First thing I see is a black-gloved hand. First thing I hear is an unconvincingly delivered line. It’s an Argento movie, all right. Looks like I’ve stumbled into a crap remake of Rear Window. Police chase the black-gloved girl onto the rooftop, where she falls, hanging Vertigo-style from the gutter while the crippled Giulio (Elio Germano of musical Nine) watches across the alley. But a minute later everyone is friends? So there was no killer? Down on the street a shopping cart lady puts on a wig. Huh? Anyway, months later, Giulio watches a hot nude girl across the alley and enters a confusing flashback montage. One of the girls was Elisabetta Rocchetti, who later appeared in something called Last House in the Woods (oh Italian movie industry, how you amuse me).

The Card Player (2004, Dario Argento)
“I’m sorry, I had to kill him,” says a dude with a cellphone (and disappointingly, no long mustache to twirl) who has tied a girl to the train tracks. He cranks up a CD of funky electro music and lies on the tracks with her playing cards on his laptop, while she taunts him instead of smashing the computer into his face like it seems like she should do. He gets run over by a train, and she shoots out his car stereo, mercifully stopping the electro music. Someone in the movie was Liam Cunningham of Wind That Shakes The Barley – hopefully not the card-playing killer, because that guy was terrible.

Phantom of the Opera (1998, Dario Argento)
Oh no, it’s a period piece. Asia Argento is pretty convincing as an opera star until a sewer troll interrupts the performance and handsome Julian Sands (Warlock himself – the description says he’d not physically disfigured in this one, but was “raised by telepathic rats”) sweeps Asia away. It is very dark, and a man with a funny mustache stumbles upon an enclave of dead bodies. Long-haired hero Andrea di Stefano (star of a Marco Bellocchio movie) shoots Julian and escapes the bloodthirsty search party (wasn’t he part of the search party), as Asia screams in horror (she’s good at that sort of thing). This looks a ton better than the last two movies, though it has the lowest rating. Maybe that’s from people thinking they were getting the Joel Schumacher version. The rat-squealing sound effects over the finale got my birds very excited.

First Snow (2006, Mark Fergus)
This dude Vince says he still considers Guy Pearce his best friend, but says that Guy has fucked up and pulls out a gun. Vince goes off with a long, tortured speech then tries to kill them both but only manages himself. Guy Pearce is sad, flashes back to a pretty girl in a cowboy hat as it starts to snow. The writers/director worked on Children of Men and Iron Man, so I suppose this should’ve been good. Didn’t look awful, but I’m not saying I wanna see 90 more minutes of it.

Noise (2007, Henry Bean)
Tim Robbins’ car is making a ton of noise and William Hurt is angry, then he makes it stop, then start again, then he has some kind of noise-epiphany as judge Chuck Cooper smashes his car with a golf club. A Baldwin tackles the judge, who is arrested under suspicious of being Tim Robbins’ anti-noise vigilante. A way unrealistic court scene follows, in which Tim helps Chuck win in order to set precedent that noise can be considered assault and battery. High on his success, Tim considers joining a pimply militant in blowing up city eyesores but chooses not to. He smashes cars Michael Jackson-style as the credits roll. Overall the movie looks pretty fun, if kinda silly. From the writer of Basic Instinct 2.

Lakeview Terrace (2008, Neil LaBute)
Controversially interracial couple Patrick “Little Children” Wilson and Kerry “Last King of Scotland” Washington come home to a mess of a house, then dude goes out back to thank Samuel L. Jackson for helping him for a break-in. But Jackson knows that Wilson knows that Jackson knew the guys who broke in, and now Jackson’s on the attack. Much punching and many gunshots ensue. I wish Samuel L. had the integrity I always imagine he had. Ugh, his character name is Abel. Cops shoot Sam a bunch, the couple turns out semi-okay and family values are protected. Besides rogue cop Abel, the rest of the LAPD force is portrayed as remarkably restrained and competent. Follow-up to The Wicker Man by Neil LaBute’s doppelganger – the one who killed the real Neil and replaced him in 2000, halfway through production of Nurse Betty.

Obsessed (2009, Steve Shill)
Beyonce catches Ali Lartner (Resident Evil 3) in bed surrounded by rose petals, presumable waiting for Idris “Stringer Bell” Elba. Girlfight ensues! So which one of these girls is “obsessed”? I think it’s Lartner, who plays it weirdly affectless. Generic thriller music, fight scene, camerawork and everything. Lartner is killed by a falling chandelier and family values are protected. Idris Elba comes home just in time for the credits, dammit, the only reason I watched this was to see him.

It’s Alive (2008, Josef Rusnak)
Thought I’d peep tha remake since I recently saw the original and more recently saw Splice. Oh it’s the ol’ flashlight-into-the-camera trick from X-Files. This is taking place in a very dark house, not a sewer – the movie probably couldn’t afford a sewer. Father Frank (TV’s James Murray) catches the baby (how? we don’t know) in a trash can and creeps off to a very dark outdoor area, then unwisely opens the can and gets savaged by the baby (played by an out-of-context CG effect). Motherly Bijou Phillips (of Hostel II, here with the horror-in-joke character name Lenore Harker) catches up with them and takes the baby into a burning house where they both perish… or DO they?? Hmmm, no cops – the movie probably couldn’t afford cops. That seemed longer than ten minutes.

Simon Says (2006, William Dear)
Key phrase from the description: “Simon and Stanley (both played by Crispin Glover), backwoods twin brothers with a fondness for booby traps.” That’s all you needed to tell me! Helpless Stanley is being groped by some girl – but he’s got a knife!! She’s got a bigger knife! Did he just headbutt a corpse? Now he’s screaming with a fake southern accent in the woods, wounded and toting a scythe. Could this be the end of Crispin Glover? Yep, got a knife in the skull by a girl who I assume is Margo Harshman (good name). Where’s the twin brother? Maybe there never was one. Oh Crispy is still alive and gets the girl, twist ending. They said “you forgot to say simon says” about four times. I missed the epilogue bit since someone knocked on the door, but I saw a bunch of mirrors and I’m guessing there was never a twin brother, which is disappointing. William Dear, also the writer, once made Harry and the Hendersons.

Nic Cage goes to jail. Twice.

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Harry Dean is a lovestruck sucker, gets killed by three characters who are far more prominent in the deleted scenes: Quiet Dropshadow (Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks), talky, over-friendly Reggie (black islander Calvin Lockhart, who played “Biggie Smalls” in Sidney Poitier film Let’s Do It Again, which I must see sometime), and creeeepy cane-walkin’ woman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie, even creepier in Inland Empire, also Laura Palmer’s mom). Álex de la Iglesia made some sort of a sequel featuring these three characters called Perdita Durango or Dance With The Devil. I guess it’s not really a sequel, but both films are based on novels by Barry Gifford, who also cowrote Lost Highway and Hotel Room.

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Lynch has plenty of contenders for Creepiest Character In Film History – there’s Robert Blake in Lost Highway, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet… my personal pick is Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart.

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Crispin Glover also gets a bigger part in the outtakes, including the scene below where he’s almost discovered by our heroes working at a gas station. I can’t remember if the revelation that he impregnated cousin Laura Dern when they were younger was in the movie or not… I’m thinking it’s from the outtakes too.

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“How many stars you think are up there, baby?”
“There’s a couple.”

People in line behind me:
– “You know I’ve seen this movie already, saw it last year.”
– “So… ‘What Is It’?”
– “I’m still not sure.”

Actor Crispin Glover (not to be confused with director Crispin Hellion Glover):
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CH Glover brought his travelling show to our fair city, and hopefully attendance was high enough that he’ll return in a couple years with the follow-up. Started around 8:15 with The Big Slideshow, an actual slideshow during which Glover narrates from eight of his books. This was the highlight of the night – the books were fun, and the performance was mostly great (sometimes it seemed like he was speeding through a page as fast as he could make the words come out). Crowd seemed to like it – big applause after each book. I’d definitely watch that again. Then the notorious cult film What Is It? followed by a 90-minute Q&A.

I did not bootleg the film – all images are from the trailer
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The experience of watching the film was unique. As far as I could tell, CH Glover was not in front of the theater scanning the audience for cameras during the whole screening, as I’d heard rumors that he’d do. There wasn’t enough story or atmosphere to make the film totally engrossing, so it felt less like something I am watching, more like something I am looking at. Certain parts seem intended for laughter or revulsion, for some audience reaction, but our audience was all cool cats, cultists, tattooed giant-earlobed punk hipsters (and there would’ve been even more of them if not for Drive-Invasion), so we got some of the laughter but little of the shock. Truly, I’ve sought out shocking movies before, some very good (Simon of the Desert), some very bad (Salo, Cannibal Ferox) but most bizarrely entertaining (Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Sex & Zen, El Topo, etc). This has got actors with Downs syndrome making out in the park, snails being killed on-camera, a blackface minstrel, the Johnny Rebel song “some n**gers never die (they just smell that way)”, Charlie Manson and Anton LaVey contributions, weirdo Glover himself playing some kind of underground king, S&M fantasies of Shirley Temple, and a man with cerebral palsy being masturbated by a topless woman in an animal mask. So nothing uniquely shocking except for that last one.

The inner sanctum:
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Only “name” actor besides Glover is Fairuza Balk (the intense girlfriend in American History X), who plays the voice of a snail, distraught when her snail friend is smashed to bits by our hero. Ah, our hero, an actor with Downs syndrome playing a character who does not necessarily have Downs syndrome, he goes on a minor snail rampage then heads for the park, where he kisses a girl and gets in a fight. Tries to get back home but there are problems with the key. Finally he gets back home. Looking over the press notes, there’s also the outer sanctum (I guess that’d be the cemetery and other outdoor locations) the inner sanctum (where Glover sits above the masturbating of Steven C. Stewart, who plays “the young man’s uber ego”) and hangs out on a couch with two concubines where he presides over the killing of unfortunate Eric Yates (the far-out-looking guy wearing a garland in the press photos). Stewart topples Glover from the throne towards the end, which both represents the young leading man’s triumph over his difficulties with the key and the insects, and sets us up for the next film, which Stewart wrote and stars in.

The minstrel, injecting his face with snail juice:
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The Q&A was very good and in-depth. CHG has some vocabulary tics though – if you removed all the times he said either “actors with downs syndrome playing characters who do not necessarily have downs syndrome” and “corporate-funded and distributed films”, you could shave twenty minutes off the talk. Discussed, in no order: the complete history of the making of What Is It?, the trilogy and the next film, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. (we watched the trailer for it), Glover’s future as a director (he’s going to make some small films in his new Czech studio before tackling the third trilogy feature It Is Mine), the disparity between his commercial acting and non-commercial directing careers (says he came to embrace the big-studio acting jobs after his Charlie’s Angels paycheck enabled him to shoot Everything Is Fine), Glover’s day narrating Brand Upon The Brain, and so on.

I think this is the basement of the inner sanctum:
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So, back to the film itself, the camera and sound work were not stunning, the acting and story were not stunning, the symbolism and meaning were obscure, and ultimately it was just a weird movie. But it’s not necessarily a bad movie, like I’d feared it would be. I’m very glad I saw it, and seeing it around the same time as fellow outsider film Brand Upon The Brain and fellow critique of corporate media product La Commune makes it seem more interesting and important. Still, I’m hoping its just an introduction (like CHG said, he’s getting all the taboos out of the way now so people won’t focus on them in his next films) to two even better films.

From the director’s notes:
“Most of the film was shot on locations around my house, in my house, or on the set in SLC. One Graveyard was a location in Downey and one Graveyard was a set made with a backdrop in front of my house.” David Lynch may be an uncredited executive producer, or maybe that’s for part three, I’m not sure. The final edit of the film got caught up at an uncooperative post-house for five years! This is a good answer: “I will often be asked why I chose to work with people with Down’s Syndrome. I would say there are quite a few reasons but the one of the most important is that when I look in to the face of someone that has Down’s Syndrome I see the history of someone who has genuinely lived outside of the culture. When peopling an entire film with actors that innately have that quality it affects the world of the film.”