What Is It?

Director: Crispin Glover
Screenwriters: Crispin Glover

Institute History

  • 2005 Sundance Film Festival


After 10 years and numerous incarnations in the making, we are euphoric to present the world premiere of Crispin Hellion Glover's What Is It? What it is, is an aptly titled film that defies easy summarization but is a triumph of cinematic irreverence and uncompromising creativity.

The film (which contains graphic sexuality) flows between controversial imagery and story lines: a minstrel in blackface who aspires to be an invertebrate by injecting snail enzymes into his cheek; a Shirley Temple dictator in Nazi garb; a naked man with cerebral palsy lying on a giant seashell, being fondled by a naked woman wearing a monkey mask; talking snails getting repeatedly salted; and watching over all, an enthroned Glover in a full-length fur coat.

What Is It? is a Dadaist deconstruction of the hero's journey as well as a hallucinogenic trip deep into the mind of its bizarre creator. It is a thoroughly challenging visual experience as well as a compelling allegory for society and its outcasts. As the visual absurdity of the film rides along at a fever pitch, Glover's innate humanism injects the seemingly inhuman scenario with a deep pathos that captures the viewers' attention and consideration. Truly one of the most original films ever created, What Is It? will shock, intrigue, confound, disturb, and amaze even the most jaded viewers.

— Trevor Groth

Screening Details

As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]