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Crispin Glover’s next big thing

On tour with his films and books in ‘Slide Show’

Curtis James (left) and Tahir Kljucanin in “It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!’’ Crispin Glover directed the film in 2007. Curtis James (left) and Tahir Kljucanin in “It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!’’ Crispin Glover directed the film in 2007. (David Brothers)
By Geoff Edgers
Globe Staff / September 4, 2011

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Since his breakthrough as George McFly in 1985’s “Back to the Future,’’ Crispin Glover has acted in small films and big films, recorded music, created books, and even tried to kick David Letterman on national television, an appearance he still, nearly 25 years later, refuses to confirm even took place, despite the broadcast evidence. Glover is heading to the Brattle Theatre Friday through Sunday night for the Boston area premiere of his “Big Slide Show.’’ He will read from his books, take questions, and show his feature-length art films - which he refuses to put on DVD or online for fear of piracy. We spoke with him by phone from his home in Los Angeles.

Q. I wanted to see your films before we talked. But I guess you don’t want DVDs getting out to anyone, even the press.

A. It’s a real problem. Once something is digitally up, it is so easily and readily copied. It’s like you put $200,000 into making a film and essentially there’s no way to recoup on your investment. With the way that I tour, I keep the films as an exclusive [which] makes it something where people come and pay for the shows. I actually bring in more money from the live appearances than I do from the box office. I’ve broken it down. I started touring with “What Is It?’’ in 2005 and “It Is Fine. Everything Is Fine!’’ in 2007. I just broke even. When I break it down, I have recouped 50 percent from the live performance of the show and 25 percent from the books and 25 percent from the box office.

Q. When you say you’re pushing a new distribution model, you mean that you go around with your films, right?

A. That’s distributing. In the 60 years since the demise of vaudeville, we have stopped the model of live distribution. But this is really the model I’m working with. I also see that what happened with the music industry in the ’80s and ’90s is very clearly what is about to happen with the film industry. I don’t see why the film industry is not far more concerned with the piracy.

Q. Why do you sell your books and records?

A. A book is very different because you can’t copy it in the same way you can copy a film. [My] books are all art books. They’re all books taken from the 1800s and reworked. Somebody would have to scan each page of the book and put it on the Internet. If something like that happened, that would be a prosecutable offense.

Q. You sued the producers of “Back to the Future’’ when they used your likeness for the second movie.

A. The lawsuit was not about the use of my image. . . . The illegality is that they had hired another actor and used casts of my head from the first film and made molds of my head to make the other actor look like me. They then interspliced a very small amount of footage into this other actor’s performances in order to fool audiences into thinking I was in the film.

Q. Had they asked you to be in the film?

A. There was a negotiation. What they offered me was less than half what the other returning actors of the same sized roles [were getting], meaning Lea Thompson and Tom Wilson were going to make more than twice what I was going to make, which seemed unreasonable. What I was offered was $150,000 originally and then they went down to $125,000. But what [writer] Bob Gale claimed on the DVD is that I asked for what Michael J. Fox was asking for - which is a total fabrication. He said that to obfuscate and not talk about what they did. . . . They did this very illegal thing and they did it, frankly, because they didn’t like me.

Q. Does this experience and your feelings on piracy and the fact that you use film, not digital technology on your movies, mean you’re a bit of a Luddite?

A. Absolutely not. I think the Internet’s incredible. There’s nothing Luddite about copyright infringement. “2001: A Space Odyssey’’ is one of my favorite films. That couldn’t have been made without technology advances and it was made in a beautiful way without any copyright infringement. In certain ways, digital is an easier way to work. I just have aesthetic interests in film. It makes me very concerned that this is your stance and you’re writing this article. That no matter what I say I’ll come off as a Luddite.

Q. No, not at all. That’s why I ask the question. And you get to answer it. Let’s shift the subject a little. Do you have a family? Kids? What’s a typical Sunday afternoon for Crispin Glover?

A. The last six years has really been about traveling. I was raised as an only child. I don’t have a wife or children. I spend much of my time away from my home in Los Angeles. I have another home in the Czech Republic, an old chateau that’s from the 1600s. I’ve made the horse stables into a small shooting stage.

Q. Your first film, “What Is It?’’ features actors with Down Syndrome killing snails, somebody in black face, and what was described on the Internet as an “awkward full frontal of a senior with cerebral palsy.’’

A. I don’t sell the film that way. Whenever the film is critiqued, people who want to say negative things about it will list off things that are in the film that will be seemingly outrageous. I have no interest in shock. What I am interested in is what does it mean when taboo has been ubiquitously excised? When an audience member looks up and thinks, ‘Is this right what I’m watching, should the filmmaker have made this, should I be here? What is it?’ That’s the title of the film.

Q. Well, I’m describing it because I haven’t seen the film. Going back to where we started, I would have loved to have seen it ahead of time. And I promise I wouldn’t bootleg it.

A. I would like to have an organized screening situation, but of course, you work in the industry. You know how it is. Journalists’ budgets have gone down and in some way, journalists have to be bribed. It has to be a nice situation for a journalist to see the films. In Los Angeles, I’d show the films at my house.

Q. I would not need to come to your house or be bribed.

A. I’m going to write your name down and put you on my list and I’ll come to Boston and have a press screening.

Interview was condensed and edited. Geoff Edgers can be reached at gedgers@globe.com.

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