“You might be handicapped, but you’re still a man”

The title It Is Fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE. works as a declarative statement from co-directors Crispin Hellion Glover and David Brothers that what you’re watching is ‘normal’. Written and starring Steven C. Stewart, the film depicts a fantasized world of sex and violence—physical manifestations of the inner psyche of a man afflicted by Cerebral Palsy. Glover and Brothers want to make us aware that Stewart was not exploited; their film is not a gratuitous exercise in insensitivity or art house pornography. Instead, It Is Fine! serves as a final coda to the life and struggles of a man once left to languish in a nursing home during his twenties, dismissed as mentally retarded when really an intelligent man trapped inside a body the world was unwilling to understand. By no means is it a feel good film, or anything I would jump at the chance to see again, but, contextually, you can’t help buy into the background history and deem it a success. As a piece of visual performance art, it may be a masterpiece; as a film to be enjoyed, however, it’s not something anyone could label entertaining. I’m not sure whether those two aspects of the medium should be mutually exclusive, but unfortunately they are.

Stewart’s story is a tragedy, no question, and it is central to understanding what’s happening onscreen. As such—and because the endeavor was self-financed by Glover—Crispin travels the country on an independent roadshow to expose audiences to this singular vision along with a slideshow of his up-cycled pastiche novels and an extensive post-screening Q&A. He relays the tale of this handicapped man and how he was banished to a nursing home, (the same location used to bookend the film), full of neglect, ignorance, and horror for a 20-year old who had just lost his mother. It was at this time he wrote the screenplay, rife with the anger he felt and an outlet for his aggressions, transforming himself into a pulpy, womanizing serial killer. Glover himself first read the script at 19, knowing it was a project he had to see made and probably fund since the subject matter didn’t necessarily lend itself to mainstream channels. It took him a decade to be ready and the timing couldn’t have been more important since Stewart became quite ill with a collapsed lung, passing away a month after principal photography concluded.

After the film, Glover relayed to us a story from Brothers of Stewart’s impassioned declaration that the making of this movie was the best time of his life. After everything that happened, he was now finally being treated as an equal and an artist with a story to tell. Glover is well aware of the cathartic experience he gave his friend and the importance of the work itself. Unafraid to say that this will be the most important thing he’ll ever work on, you believe his words and know they’re truth. It is easy for us to watch the final product and laugh at the absurdity of it all—an unintelligible leading man, a soft transfer showing its paltry budget, and questionable acting from attractive women hired for their willingness to be filmed in the nude and, in the case of April Hoglund, engaging in sexual intercourse with Stewart—but that attitude belittles the process and the meaning behind the visuals. If I viewed the film at home or at the local multiplex, I would have been the first to label it pretentious, exploitative, and grotesque in its seemingly amateurish result. But seeing it in context made me pause and contemplate, understanding the motivations and realizing how it is a 20-year gestational project, not merely a 74-minute film.

A thematic sequel to Glover’s What Is It? and the middle portion of a planned trilogy, It Is Fine! builds on the director’s mission to bombard the public with taboo, making them question their intrinsically prudish ideals on why aspects of life are not deemed ‘appropriate’ to depict on film. Stewart’s script wasn’t written with the same idea in mind, but it contained the elements to make it fit the psychological world in play. We are always shown characters with mental retardation or Cerebral Palsy, etc as good people, often pitiable and used for emotional bravado rather than as human beings. Being a self-labeled handicap advocate, Stewart wanted to subvert all that and portray himself as an unlikely sexual creature, disarming women to get them in his bed for carnal pleasure and to satiate his homicidal tendencies. Each woman he meets internalizes that they’ve met an unfortunate soul worthy of their compassion, never suspecting his love of their long hair and beauty only feeds into his fetishistic mind. His victims are very much a type and once they reject his love or talk about trimming their locks, his interest fades into murder, severing ties to find his next conquest. Stewart’s Paul possesses all the power his real life counterpart was stripped of in his youth.

The directors decided to begin and end the story with scenes of their lead trapped in a nursing home—reliant on the staff, surrounded by ancient invalids, and completely unintelligible to those around him due to his disease—in order to bolster the idea of fantasy. They then display the events of the film as a bitter dream of freedom, autonomy, and normalcy. All the women he meets in the hyper-real world, (shot on sets expertly crafted by Brothers), carry on conversations with him while we in the audience fight to comprehend his words; they make the first move sexually, giving Paul an air of machismo and desire; and they almost willingly let him take their lives as a sort of karmic retribution for false emotions and lies of love masking their pity. Even in his fantasy, Stewart can’t escape the crippling toll of human cruelty—Margit Carstensen’s Linda hiding from her feelings due to societal opinion, Jami Ferrell’s Julie only with him because she can’t refuse a man’s money or deny his want for her body, Carrie Szlasa’s Karma only looking for a man to replace her abusive father (Bruce Glover), and Lauren German’s handicapped beauty Ruth unable to love someone as broken as her—so he compensates by taking retribution.

Many scenes are shot from afar, utilizing the vast rooms constructed to express Paul’s isolation. We hover above the action with him as he manifests the delusions in order to accept his place in the world. The psychological inter-workings of It Is Fine! cannot be denied; Stewart wrote these pages from a place of deep introspection, frustration, and longing. He used writing as a therapeutic way to stay alive, putting all his anger on the page—Glover says the film is only half of the script, the rest containing more women to meet, bed, and kill with extremely pornographic prose—until he could finally earn his freedom. The film’s existence becomes a fitting memorial to the man behind its genesis and Glover’s traveling keeps Stewart alive in artistic spirit with his message of acceptance and compassion screaming forth in its fearless depiction of sex and violence at the hands of a marginalized member of society. Can it speak that message on its own? I don’t think so. Without Glover’s tales and candor on the subject, it devolves into farcical, uncomfortable exploitation. The experience is what truly matters, the end result merely the easily misunderstood product of artistic success.

film—5/10 | ★ ★; experience/artistic worth—8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] As the predator examines his prey the neighbor undresses in It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! Pictured (L-R) are Jami Farrel (Julie the drunk model),
Steven C. Stewart (as “Paul Baker”) and April Hoglund (as “Girl in Nursing Home”). Photo: David Brothers
[2] Anna Stave (as “Girl On Street”) and Steven C. Stewart (as “Paul Baker”). The predator propositions his interest in It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE! Photo: David Brothers
[3] Lauren German as “Ruth” questions things in “It is fine! EVERYTHING IS FINE.”

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