When I initially viewed the trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine, I had very little interest in going out to see it during its theatrical run. The viewing public has been subjected to far too many movies of late about a group of men going on an adventure together where bonding and hijinks ensue (i.e. The Hangover and pretty much anything starring Vince Vaughn). But then, I learned of the involvement of the eccentric character actor Crispin Glover, and suddenly the scales tipped. I’m thinking I might actually go watch this for the sheer pleasure of seeing what it is Mr. Glover might do with his small part but inevitably big character.
This got me thinking about Glover’s role as an actor in shaping films and the ways in which actors in general challenge the idea of the auteurist director. While some folks might argue that casting in fact proves the premise of auteurism since it demonstrates how a director’s casting decisions impact a film, I would challenge that assertion by suggesting that casting is not simply a director selecting players from a variety of choices; ultimately, actors (and their agents) must agree to a project, granting them some degree of agency (though certainly this would not have been the case in studio system in which actors were contractually obligated to perform in a certain number of pictures). Furthermore, actors clearly exercise agency in their performances; otherwise, why would we feel the need to honor them during award season? Ultimately, then, the actor contributes to the end-product of a film and as a result has some degree of authorship.
Glover specifically has developed a star persona that embues the films he performs in with a particular charm. You can see this energy in one of his earliest film performances in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. Without Glover, the film would be just another formulaic installment in the series; with Glover, you get awkward dance sequences and one of the best kills in the series preceded by one of the best lines in the series:
Of course, Glover may be best known for his role in the 1980’s sci-fi comedy classic, Back to the Future, in which he played the nerdy, timid George McFly, father of protagonist Marty McFly. While credit is due to the screenwriters of the film, Glover’s delivery of lines like “Lorraine, my density has bought me to you,” “I’m just not very good at… confrontations,” and “Hey, you! Get your damn hands off her!” make for some of the most memorable moments in an already terrific film.
It seems, however, that Glover’s early work merely hinted at the potential zaniness of the actor. His turns in River’s Edge and Wild at Heart, for instance, are some of the strangest characters I can remember:
What’s more, Glover fueled his reputation as one of the strangest personalities in the industry with his bizarre appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, on which fans continue to speculate to this day. Here’s the original clip and then the follow-up appearance:
With a reputation for weirdness, Glover has built an odd filmography, combining smaller roles in mainstream films (The Doors, the Charlie’s Angels remake and sequel, and more recently, Alice and Wonderland and the aforementioned Hot Tub Time Machine) and “independent” features (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) as well as a few starring turns in Bartleby and Willard. Below, the trailer for the latter:
Having seen neither film, I’m not sure what to make of Glover’s use of racist imagery and actors with down syndrome. I would probably find all of the above problematic in some way. Still, the bizarre content and especially the exhibition of these films (Glover presents the films in person and follows the screening with a slideshow and q&a session) intrigues me nonetheless.
In a career full of fascinating turns, I find Glover’s work as an author most compelling. Glover takes hardback books that have become public domain and turns them into stories by redacting passages and adding new ones. One book called Rat Catching is based on a 1896 manual for capturing rodents. Below are a couple of pictures:
These books encapsulate what Glover does in all of his performances: he takes the content he is given and puts his own spin on it, dramatically impacting the text as a whole. He becomes one of the text’s many authors through his presence on screen, like so many actors whose names may not make the marquee.