Sunday, January 23, 2011

The night that I made him laugh.

For the past few months, I have been crawling around in search of all manner of wonderfully weird things. It started with a desire to find out more about my neighbourhood in the time that my house, which now a century old, was built. I have found out all sorts of interesting things about my beautiful city, but still nothing about my house, or the neighbourhood it sits in, other than it being close to a trolley turn-around, when trolleys still rolled over the streets. I will never know why they did away with them in favour of just pavement... especially now that they are bringing street cars back to the city, and making things somewhat miserable for those of us who have to traverse the city on a reasonable timetable. Even if this was explained to me, I wouldn't be able to wrap my head around it.

One of the things that I found particularly intriguing had to do with an 1866 Plat Map of Portland. The bridges were not yet built, and people crossed the river via ferry in those days. But the most interesting thing I came across was a section of the map that just said: "Lunatic Asylum Grounds".

I wasn't able to find any more information about it at that time, other than speculation about a parking lot being built over the graveyard that served the asylum, but I decided to keep looking for a few months. Finally, I was able to find more information about it, and was glad I did. The Oregon Hospital for The Insane was built in 1862, housed over 300 inmates, (most of whom were indigent, and unable to fend for themselves,) and was founded by a Dr. Hawthorne, and a Dr. Loryea. I'm still unclear as to whether or not Hawthorne BLVD was named for this doctor, but given the location, I'd have to guess this was the case.

Reading about their model of care was a trip! They recommended a healthy diet, and lots of time outdoors as a means of promoting a soothing effect on the mind. The hospital also had running water so inmates could bathe and be kept comfortable. The interior of the building was meticulously kept, and well ventilated. Pretty radical, given the time frame.

In 1883, when the Oregon State Hospital was completed, They closed that hospital, and sent over 300 inmates by rail to the newly constructed asylum in Salem. Not sure when they leveled it, or even of exactly where it sat, since many things have gone up in that area since that time, but I am still fascinated by it. I wouldn't mind taking a trip to the archives for a little more insight on this bizarre piece of history that for some reason, is not well-documented for public perusal at this time.

In the past week, I had an interesting conversation with my shrink about this discovery, when our appointment had ended. I was her last client for the evening, so she had a little time to talk.

She said that she also recently learned more about it, and by the description of the model of care, concluded that it was built around the time that most doctors were still naturopaths.

She told me about her time working at Dammasch, and how different their model of care was from this antiquated one. They did have access to some meds in the mid-to-late 19th century, but that model of care was obviously not nearly as heavily reliant on them as the model of care we see today, where institutions just load 'em up with meds. Very interesting, to be sure, especially considering that she went from working in an institution like that, to promoting amino acid and talk therapies in a private practice. I'm glad she did, because I feel like I am finally in recovery from the nightmare that has been my emotional state of the past few years.

With institutions on the brain, I went and saw one of my favourite actors in a performance art/film presentation/discussion forum/cinematique setting this past week.

Crispin Glover, a man who definitely appeals to my bizarre, depraved side, came to town for a few shows at Cinema 21. He did his big slide show, reading from books he had written, with fabulously random old photographs and creepy penmanship, as well as a few others he hadn't written.

Then, he promoted and showed the second film in his trilogy that he is currently producing titled: "It Is Fine! Everything Is Fine!"

If I had to give an honest first impression; to say that film placed me on a rollercoaster of conflict would be quite an understatement.

This film; the screenplay for which, was written by Steven C. Stewart, a man with Cerebral Palsy, which while debilitating, is not degenerative, or mentally disfiguring in any way. I can't even begin to imagine how frustrating that must be for people who carry this particular handicap.

Steven also starred in the movie.

Steven is severely handicapped and when he speaks, he is quite difficult to understand. The film; though demented, is pretty brilliant and funny. Crispin purposely did not add subtitles to this movie because he felt that it would condescend to our sensibilities too much, and you would not get the feel of what it is like to communicate with someone in this condition. I thought that was smart, and a good choice. It was easy enough to pick up on the context of what Steven would say while he acted out his part, and the actions he took in his role were certainly bold enough to understand. He wrote himself into the role of serial killer, with the theme of the movie being that of a 1970's murder mystery movie of the week.

He played a man who lived in an institution. This is not too far from the life he was forced to live for a decade, in which he had been institutionalized, and treated like someone with mental retardation, which I could see being an honest mistake, given our culture, and historic lack of exposure to people with these differences, thanks to... institutions.

In the story, he... does a lot of killing, but manages to be seen in a sympathetic, protagonistic light; especially when the end leads back to the whole thing being pure fantasy on his part.

There are elements in the movie that I wasn't expecting, such as graphic, explicit sex scenes, bordering on pornographic. Crispin said that had the movie been produced the way the screenplay was written, it would have been rated XXX. He did say that he didn't really have a problem with that, but worried he would not be able to find actresses of the right caliber to perform in such a way, so a lot of that was edited out. Someone just happening upon the movie without knowing any background could easily be disturbed for this reason. One would have to wonder if Steven was being exploited, or molested.

Obviously, he wasn't, and the film was so important to him, that despite being gravely ill during the last month of filming with a collapsed lung due to pneumonia complications, he was on set when they needed him, and gave everything he could to the production. He died shortly after filming had been completed, and even called Crispin to see if there was anything else he needed from him, because he was otherwise ready to be taken off of the ventilator.

This was something that had been in the making for a long time. Crispin read the screenplay in the late '80s, and decided he wanted to make the picture. He used the money that he made from the first "Charlie's Angels" movie to fund this film, and it has taken quite a few years to get it out to an audience. I'm glad he did though, and I think the message I took away from it was Steven's desire to be treated and recognized as the brilliant person he was after so many years of that not being the case.

For that reason, I think this really was a very important work, and I really admire Crispin for what he did.

After the movie, there was a discussion forum. For the most part, it was respectful, although there was one heckler that the audience got pretty annoyed with. Crispin handled him with about as much respect as one could be expected to extend in that situation, and the man finally left. He did admit though, that he was glad those questions were asked, because there probably were a few others with the same thoughts, who may have been afraid to ask. That was part of the purpose of taking on such a project; doing something that makes people think, and have questions is an important task. As long as it's handled in such a way that is respectful, it can be a beautiful thing.

And really, where would we be without that?

I was glad the discussion forum took place, because he did answer a lot of other questions people had about the film, gave lots of pertinent background, and it all made sense by the time it was over.

It was so nice to finally meet this man I've had a bit of a crush on for the past 26 years. I of course, didn't tell him that part, but I did let him know that I thought he was one brilliant freak, which he got a laugh out of. I made Crispin Hellion Glover laugh. Yes. Yes, I did.

And to think, I never would have even known he was in town had it not been for a couple of friends who clued me in! What a great night!


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