Actually, if you're interested, you should read the play-by-play kleenexwoman wrote. It's more a detail of our own movements, as well as impressions of Crispin. I'm just babbling about his work, for the most part, and detailing the short conversation we had.
Before the show: someone played a medley of songs from Chicago on an organ. Now that's my kind of pre-show entertainment.
Okay, moving on to... The Big Slide Show!... lovely. Crispin in a red spotlight, reading his various books, the pages of which were projected up onto the screen. It is so fun to hear him read. I love his voice, the way he clips some of his end consonants and tends to stretch out the 'ou' sound. ghostgecko does similarly, actually, and I adore it. Anyway, he stuttered and stumbled a little, but not enough to be distracting; it's just how he talks, of course. He read from ten different books, my personal favorite being "Round My House", which is clearly just about the funniest thing ever. I was actually very pleasantly surprised by how incredibly funny he is. Onscreen, his humor tends to come off as vaguely surreal when it's contrasted with the more average actors... onstage, by himself, reading his own work, he is just hilarious. But, seriously, “Round My House” … it has a very self-righteous, persecuted tone—“They are going on a witchhunt and I am the witch!” sort of character. It’s almost what you would expect of Crispin, if you were being particularly cynical about his eccentricity: they don’t understand me, my work, or my house! And yet, it is completely satirical, completely over-the-top in its use of language, accompanying images, events, and even its main character. Read aloud by Crispin, the overall absurdity of the writing and the story as a whole is laugh-out-loud hysterically funny. Actually, most (if not all) of his books have bits and pieces that are very funny, but “Round My House” is the most cohesively satirical, I felt.
Other highlights from The Big Slide Show: “CHICKEN!”; “I love you… I love you”; “… Almost”; “The sandpit man violated a sheep”; Lou, the negroid slave; “My penis fell off”; “Mr. Long thought about his childhood… and the sex”; “It didn’t hurt him at all”; “We thought that was the end of the big show.”
And then… What Is It? Oh my, oh my. Well, to put it succinctly, I give it my two thumbs up, five out of five stars, perfect ten, what have you. To the casual viewer, yeah, it’s probably going to come off as a confusing mish-mash of odd, startling, and disturbing imagery… but it’s so much more than that. Honestly, I’d need to see it at least one more time to actually get my thoughts to coagulate… and, really, kleenexwoman and ghostgecko (without having even seen it yet!) have both already put forth analyses better than my own, so I’ll try to just give some sort of general overview of my impressions on several themes.
- On disability and the lack of a self-conscious social mask
The lack of a social mask was something Crispin touched upon in his Q&A session in accordance with using actors with Down’s syndrome. It’s an interesting concept; he noted that the removal of the social feelings of self-censorship and self-consciousness was something that acting classes attempted to achieve. This is interesting to me because I genuinely think that, for quite a long time, I lacked that social veneer of restraint that most people apparently have (I suppose due to the autism). And this allowed me to be a fairly good actor, I guess. Now that I’ve learned a certain amount of social restraint (nowhere near what most people have, nor do I restrain myself for the same reasons), I’ve fallen away from acting as something I enjoy or even feel proficient at anymore. Then again, I have no idea whether one is a direct result of the other or whether it’s a combination of factors. In any case, using actors with Down’s syndrome for their innate lacking of self-consciousness is, I think, a rather brilliant idea. Beyond that, these actors are not actually playing people with Down’s syndrome, and so they have a greater sense of dignity and realism than, say, Sean Penn in I Am Sam or Dustin Hoffman in the ubiquitous Rain Man.
- Love and hurting those that you love.
One of the most interesting scenes to me was one in which a man and a woman, both with Down’s syndrome, were kissing quite passionately and eventually escalating to sexual activity. Again, I find it interesting because of my own views on love and attraction and sex… this idea that there are many forms of sex, of love, and of ties between the two. Also, the rather obvious issue of people with disabilities being sexual, which seems to make a great many people profoundly uncomfortable. It came up in my creative writing class, actually, in conjunction with the story I’m currently working on, that parents frequently are able to love and will gladly care for a mentally retarded or autistic child until he begins to reach sexual maturity, when he may abruptly become very frightening (as is mentioned also in this essay on changelings in folklore). There are also people who are disturbed by autistic people who procreate with other autistics, and so seem to have a high probability of producing autistic children. I suppose these feelings of discomfort are somewhat foreign to me; I thought the scene in What Is It? was almost lovely, and certainly very thought-provoking. And, certainly, love and sexuality among the disabled isn’t a new topic for me… it was actually something I’d thought about touching on when I was trying to write the Charlie’s Angels fic in which the Thin Man is actually a severely autistic young man from a Romanian orphanage who was adopted and ‘trained’ by Eric Knox.
As for hurting those that you love, here we come to the infamous scenes of the snails being doused in salt, dashed against a glass cage, and decapitated. In the very beginning, just before the young man smashes his first pet snail, he says, “I love you.” And then, following what is apparently a sincere sentiment, a burst of violence. When one of the other snails finds what has happened, it begins to wail in agony. I found this scene to be very nearly as hard to watch as Socrates’ death is in Willard (and, for me, that is a very difficult scene to sit through). It is intensely disturbing, made all the more so by the “I love you” lines. It is an uncomfortable reminder of how humans inevitably seem to hurt the things they love, or are meant to love.
- Spielberg wouldn’t like it.
At the very end of the credits, there is a disclaimer noting that the film “does not advocate the assassination of Stephen Spielberg.” Someone asked during the Q&A whether Spielberg had seen What Is It? and what, if anything, had he thought? Crispin replied that he didn’t think Spielberg had seen the movie, and that he probably wouldn’t like it if he did. *grins*
- Death and permanence.
Lots of people die in What Is It? As in, seriously, almost everyone, plus a significant number of snails. And yet, the only deaths that actually felt 'real' to me were those of the snails. This is not only because of Crispin's limited budget for special effects (which I love; I'd be more hesitant to see What Is It? with a bigger budget) and the stylized sort-of violence/gore, but because we see the young man 'die' and then come back pretty much inexplicably. Also, the deaths of the snails are the only ones we see really mourned... making the deaths of the people seem less real, less permanent. The line “We thank the snails who gave their lives,” followed by an almost execution-style decapitation of a snail with a razorblade really hits this point home: their deaths are not fake or special effects. And yet, there seem to be an unlimited number of snails.
- Shirley Temple, Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the cult of personality.
There is so much about this that I could babble and ramble about. Suffice to say, the sequence with the minstrel (“I’m famous… I’m famous… do you want my autograph?”) makes me wonder what, exactly, Crispin thinks about his own fame. And, yes, also about us obsessive freaks who have given him the opportunity to make quite a nice living. Well, Crispin, I do love you, but you don’t have to sign my snail… and I’d prefer to have a conversation with you than get your autograph. You’re just another person, after all.
And then… the Q&A session afterward… well, I’ve already alluded to it a couple of times, and there’s a pretty good thread on IMDB that has some reactions of other people at the show. But, for the most part, I wasn’t impressed by the questions that were asked or the people who were trying to be clever or antagonistic or… surrealist. I guess that’s really expected, though, when what I really want is to hear Crispin talk. About, you know, pretty much anything. Frankly, I would have liked to have been able to sort of steer him toward a particular topic rather than asking a direct question (which feels a little too much like school). But I guess that’s the sort of thing that works better in a private conversation. Which, trust me, I would love to have with Crispin… even better would be to go out to dinner with him and ghostgecko.
Other highlights from the Q&A: “In a crowd this size, about five to seven people generally leave within the first half hour”; “I went out in the middle and got something to eat…”; “My parents live in Los Angeles… they’re married”; “My mother’s seen parts of [the film]. It’s not really something for mothers”; “What is the answer to creation?” “Forty-two!”; no more references to the counter-culture; “They were going to get married, but then they didn’t.”; “I began acting because I knew it was something I could do” (that’s funny, for most aspiring actors it’s exactly the opposite). And, of course, his lovely twitchy movements, rocking back and forth, rambling and circular answers… Crispin, I think, answers questions in a spiral: beginning with something that’s on the very outside of relevance and working his way into the point. Frankly, I like that way of talking, because of all the information you end up with; I heard some other people grumbling, though. Well, screw ‘em.
And then… a nice, four-hour or so wait, complete with one very loud drunk woman. But that was okay, because it gave me a chance to reread Shadow of the Thin Man and drool like a maniac.
Meeting Crispin? Okay… so, he was dressed in black, a lovely three piece suit (ummm, so gorgeous in a vest) and nice shiny shoes (yes, I’m so lame, I actually checked). Even at three in the morning, he looked very pert, very composed and put together. His hair was regular brown, not black, but it had this grayish shine to it… I don’t know, it might have been the lighting, but it looked very nice. (I would, of course, be overjoyed if he was beginning to go gray, but I don’t think that’s really the case.) I forced myself to meet his eyes, and oh… such a very, very pale blue. Anyway, we gave him the little bits and pieces we’d brought: SotTM in full, Terrier, a print-out of one of my sketchy Willard drawings, and a new drawing of Jules from Fast Sofa that I managed to finish just before the Big Slide Show started. So I apologize for the quality of the .jpg, but it’s a digital picture and not a scan. He saw the drawing of Jules and asked, “Oh, did you see this on DVD?” He also recognized SotTM right off the bat, and said he’d already read bits of it. :3 Oh my. Anyway, then he asked where we’d heard about the showing and where we were from (and seemed a bit surprised that I was there from Ohio), and then what we thought about the film. I talked to him a little bit about his use of insects, and about the snails as sympathetic characters. He was very interested in what about the scenes of snails’ deaths disturbed me, made me want to cover my eyes and ears. He signed the books I bought, and actually asked whether it was Stephanie with an ‘f’ or a ‘ph.’ Smart man. And I got him to sign Oak Mot for Lew too. And he asked where he lived, and when I said Maryland, he said that was an area he’d been wanting to take What Is It? to, and that Lew should email him if he knows of any venues in the area that would be interested. (Lew’s response was something like: “Yes, I can think of a venue… my living room, and it seats two. Crispin can move the cats off the footstool.”) Still, if he made in to the Maryland area, that would be simply awesome, because ghostgecko obviously must see this. Must.
After all that, we left around 3:30 in the morning and I started hallucinating things on the road on the trip back to kleenexwoman’s dorm. Non-existent cars and a family of gnomes trying to cross the road, that sort of thing. Well, I’d been up for about twenty-four hours at that point. So… yeah. TA-DA! One life’s goal accomplished, I suppose. Blow some trumpets; my mother has been saying rosaries for McFly, my poor dead rat. Love. Real life has begun to pale in comparison.