Viddy Well Recommends: What Is It?
What Is It? is a bewildering, unnerving, surreal, darkly comic film from the singularly bizarre mind of Crispin Hellion Glover, who many know as George McFly from Back to the Future. The film is the first entry in a planned trilogy directed by Glover, followed by It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine. and continued with the yet to be released It Is Mine. It won’t disappoint fans of Glover’s offbeat sensibilities and eccentric taste, but it’s likely to repel just about everyone else with its many blatant affronts to political correctness.
Featuring a cast comprised almost entirely of Down Syndrome-affected actors, the film is a Dadaist experimentation that tells the inner and outer struggles of a young man facing villains and demons on multiple planes.
More of a surrealist audio/visual art piece than a film, it’s an interesting experimentation, but not a particularly enjoyable one. It’s a lot of weirdness for weirdness’ sake, but its audacious vision can certainly be applauded, as can its want to be the absolute antithesis of the sterility of modern Hollywood films. It is intentionally designed to repulse and oddly intrigue, provoking you to ask questions and find meaning — if meaning can even be extracted in its deliberately murky construction.
It is absolutely bizarre and relentlessly uncompromising, unafraid to mount onscreen what others would judiciously edit out, constructed to shock and baffle. Basically, it’s a film about everything you never see (nor want to) in a movie. There are scenes with naked women in elephant masks, Nazi Shirley Temples, blackface minstrels, gratuitous handies, salted snails, and Glover being lowered into a scene deus-ex-machina style.
With an incoherent narrative and inaudible dialogue, What Is It? is heavily reliant on its imagery, similar to E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten or David Lynch’s Inland Empire. The images are pretty striking, as are the sets by David Brothers, but the film is devoid of much entertainment value. Without a character to latch onto there’s nothing to really emotionally connect you to any of it’s edgy proceedings.
Some of it is so weird that it’s humorous, but more often than not, it’s too weird to be anything else but weird and uncomfortable. Glover uses societal taboos as a mirror to reflect humanity’s dark and ugly tendencies, and it is successful in making you think… and question. Most everyone will find themselves asking the title’s question: WHAT IS IT?!
For the most part, it’s largely unclassifiable, one of those films that kinda defies words or explanation; it just has to be experienced — once and only once. You can only catch the film via Glover’s traveling roadshow, so seek it out if you’re a junkie for the strange. You can see if Glover’s rolling through your city here.
Rating: 3 konks on the nog outta 5.
What do you think? Have you seen the film? If not, does it seem pertinent to your cinematic interests? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!