Crispin Glover I can understand, but . . .
In the “traveling extravaganza” that film pasticheur cum homagist Guy Maddin has managed to concoct (11-piece live orchestra, an alleged “castrato,” a trio of Foley artists goosing up the sound—door rappings, foghorns, et cetera) as Sensurround accompaniment to his latest quasi-silent coup de theatre, Brand Upon the Brain! (playing through May 31 at the Music Box, though the live-action garnish was limited to last weekend), he’s also designated a “special guest narrator” to comment on the action and insert whatever voice effects seem necessary or desirable . . . like a modern benshi, I guess. Filling this slot so far have been Isabella Rossellini, Geraldine Chaplin, Eli Wallach, Lou Reed (who apparently balked at Maddin’s invitation to “turn [the] melodrama dials to 11”), and of course Glover, always a prince, camping it up like crazy at assorted venues along the show’s itinerary. Not to mention Pulitzer-winning versifier and all-around literary goof-off John Ashbery . . . like, say what? How’d he get in there?
“I just asked him and he said yes,” Maddin, who calls Ashbery “my new friend,” explained in an interview with Jessica Winter at poetryfoundation.org (as linked through GreenCine Daily). “What a great sport, what an honor! We are also trying to collaborate on another film, though, as screenwriting partners. . . . Ashbery thrills and excites me more than any other poet. Perhaps he and I are both effects of the same unknown cause. Or he’s the cause and I’m the effect. For some reason we both love Rin-Tin-Tin, that I do know. (So does Isabella Rossellini, I’ve found out recently, and yet she might not like John’s poetry at all—I’ve never asked her. Did you know that Rin-Tin-Tin died in Jean Harlow’s arms?) . . .
“Now, John Ashbery has never been anything but the sweetest and most agreeable man, but I wouldn’t dream of asking him to change his reading persona one iota. I’ll direct him to stress, in his own shrewd and microscopic way, certain expositionally vital facts, and other than that he will be the public John Ashbery you know. Very unmelodramatic, I imagine, but with plenty of sublimated Rin-Tin-Tin.”
And what does Ashbery have to say about all this? “It is such a beautiful day I had to write you a letter / From the tower, and to show I’m not mad: / I only slipped on the cake of soap of the air / And drowned in the bathtub of the world.”