WHAT IS IT? Beowulf may be raking in box office bucks worldwide, but its monster has been making his own rounds. Crispin Hellion Glover and I holed up in Chicago's House of Blues to wait out a snowstorm and talk about the second installment of his It trilogy, It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine.
Twenty years ago Fine codirector David Brothers handed Glover a script penned by a man with severe cerebral palsy. This wasn't a touchy-feely autobiographical affair nor a trite story about overcoming diversity to make the world a better place. No, this was a sinister genre spin into the mind of a sociopath; the gentle hero was a villain. "He didn't like the idea that handicapped people were always portrayed as these good people," Glover explained, careful to point out that the screenwriter, Steven C. Stewart, preferred the term handicapped. "He wanted to play a bad guy."
Protagonist Paul Baker, played by Stewart, has a hair fetish. He falls in love with a weathered divorcee played by ever-luminous Rainer Werner Fassbinder muse Margit Carstensen and her lengthy locks. She purrs at Baker, "You might be handicapped, but you're still a man. I'm going to treat you as such." And she follows through, right until he strangles her. We watch as he charms, beds, and slays his way through the female cast. "The women are his allies, but there's an antagonism within them as well," Glover explained. "It has to do with the hair." Indeed, anytime a woman threatens to chop off her mane, we know she's on her way out.
"The fact that he had these particularities that he wasn't a good guy, that he had this hair fetish this is what made it interesting," Glover said of the Baker character. It isn't long before we learn that it's OK to hate the guy in the wheelchair. The cerebral palsy becomes moot. It's all about the hair.
Despite the fact that the speech of Fine's leading man is nearly impossible to decipher, the audience never loses track of what's going on. As the screenwriter, Stewart could have given himself any worldly talent; instead, he chose a fantasy in which everyone understands him with ease. It's this naïveté that attracted Glover to the script, and the directors made strenuous efforts to preserve it throughout the film.
After the death of his mother, Stewart spent 10 years locked in a nursing home, penning the script on his release. Glover read it shortly after. "I don't know how he got me to make this film, but I'm glad I did it," said Glover, who told me several times that he believes this is the best film he will ever be associated with. "If this film didn't get made, I genuinely would have felt like I'd done something wrong."
Although Fine was originally slated to be the third installment of the It trilogy, a turn in Stewart's health sparked an urgency to start shooting. Glover accepted his role in Charlie's Angels to bankroll Fine, and filming began in Salt Lake City in 2000.
A month after shooting wrapped, Glover received a telephone call from Stewart, who asked if it was OK to take himself off life support. "It was a very heavy responsibility to say, 'Yes Steve, we have enough footage. You do what you need to do,'" Glover said.
Without Stewart around to field questions about his script, the codirectors had to interpret the writer's intentions on their own and audiences and reviewers will keep asking questions that can't be answered. Did Stewart write the script to be surrounded by beautiful women, graphic sexuality, and the artistic attentions of Glover and Brothers? Did he understand the important, albeit off-putting, nuances presented for unassuming audiences to chew on?