I attended the show with my friend BJ Rubin, whom ostensible readers of this diary will recognize as being the host of the BJ Rubin TV show (on which I appeared last year), and who also accompanied me to the Derek Del Gaudio magic show a couple of months ago.
The evening began at 7 p.m. with the slideshow, and by the time the lengthy Q&A session with Glover was over, it was 11 p.m. I decided to leave before the book signing, but my friend BJ stayed and waited in line until it was his turn to get a book signed and a picture taken with Glover at 12:30 a.m.
The first is that the show exists at all. A filmmaker will have screenings, and an author will go on a book tour. Both are for a set period of time, and they are sponsored by the corporation that is funding them. Glover, on the other hand, has been independently touring with the same film(s) and books for twelve years! Who else does that?
Another remarkable aspect about Crispin Glover's show is that his films can only be seen at his screenings. They do not exist in a digital format (except for the trailers), and Glover made it quite clear that he would be more than willing to take legal action against anyone who attempted to reproduce his work without his consent.
The aspect of Glover's show that seems to get the most press attention are the films themselves. I will not go into the content of the films except to say that they are enough on the fringe, so to speak, for Glover to not be able to find distributors for them. He truly laments this state of affairs, although it is apparent that he has come to terms with it, as evidenced by his consistent touring to recoup his personal investment.
As I said, much attention is paid to Glover’s films (they are of a unique nature that deservedly prompt critique, reflection, and often heated discourse), but in terms of this diary, it was Glover’s slideshow performance from the evening that I, Smallini, enjoyed the most.
Dressed in a vintage showman-style of a black coat, vest and pants, with a white stiff-collared shirt and tie, Crispin Glover mounted the dark stage with only a dim red light barely illuminating him. For the next hour he dramatically read/performed his eight books while slides of the illustrated pages accompanied him. I felt like I had stepped back in time and was witnessing a Victorian-age author on a lecture tour, only the material was delightfully, surrealistically, incomprehensible. In fact, there were no ‘tells’ in the presentation to place it in any modern contextual time frame. The slides themselves could have been projected by a magic lantern.
It made me reflect later on that these “lectures” were once so common in the days before celluloid and electronic media. In a review of what appears to be a fascinating book on the subject, “Performing Authorship in the Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Lecture Tour” by Amanda Adams, Matthew Rubery states,
“Seeing the enviable list of victorians who crossed the Atlantic to lecture on everything from the evils of slavery to the right to privacy makes me wish the phonograph have been invented a few decades earlier. Then we could hear those speeches for ourselves.”
In magic, Houdini is famously remembered for giving lectures about spiritualism later in his career. There was even a “Lecture Bureau” called Coit-Abler that managed Houdini along with,
“...such middlebrow intellectuals as the naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews, who discovered some of the world's great fossil-fuel fields, and the critic Carl Van Doren, literary editor of The Nation.”
[Houdini: The Career of Erich Weiss, by Kennet Silverman].
Houdini, it was reported, could ramble, his lectures lasting two hours or more (Glover acknowledged during the Q&A that reviewers commented that sometimes he could “go on and on” with his answers, and indeed, it seemed like he could talk the whole night).
Along these lines I would be remiss not to mention the live magic shows of Ricky Jay, whose magic performances are peppered and interspersed with verbose and articulate stories and descriptions. Like Crispin Glover, Jay is a throwback to the lecture circuit days of old.
There is no lecture component to the suitcase of Wonders. However, Mr. Widdle did used to talk quite a bit as part of the show, although he stays quiet these days, content with his cigarette and side flask, while I entertain on stage.
I admit I feel a little bit of a kinship towards the Crispin Glover “experience,” not in the content so much as the existence and structure of his show. When I began the Suitcase of Wonders (co-incidentally twelve years ago), I imagined it as something ongoing and only to be seen live. A creative choice for me, but for Glover, as he mentioned, it also was a financial requirement, albeit one that he enjoys on an artistic merit.