50 Movies for 50 States: Week 46 – Utah, Film – Rubin & Ed

Week 46 – Utah

Rubin & Ed (1991), a Working Title Films production, directed by Trent Harris, written by Trent Harris, with Crispin Glover, Howard Hesseman and Karen Black, cinematography by Bryan Duggan, original music by Fred Myrow

Do you like Crispin Glover? Your answer to that question is probably a good gauge of whether or not you’ll like Rubin & Ed. It’s is a strange early-1990s bit of oddness starring the perennial weirdo alongside Howard Hesseman. I fondly remember Hesseman as teacher Charles P. “Charlie” Moore of the television sitcom Head of The Class. It also has Karen Black. There’s quite a bit of history behind this film, which in some ways is more interesting than the film itself. So sit back and allow me to fill you in.

Rubin & Ed began taking shape at least as far back as 1987, when Glover appeared on David Letterman’s late night talk show in what has been described on many a YouTube clip as “Crispin Glover appears on Letterman on acid.” I don’t know if Glover was on drugs during this Kaufmanesque 1987 guest spot on Letterman, but I can see how he may have given that impression.

For starters, Glover comes out wearing a long wig and eyeglasses, a polyester printed shirt, striped pants and platform shoes. He’s carrying a display of some sort. It looks like he’s playing a character in a movie that doesn’t exist … yet. Glover rambles on about being a movie star and all the different talk shows on which he’s appeared, as Letterman unsuccessfully tries to get a question or two in. He appears to be growing more and more agitated. An audience member (a plant?) yells “Nice shoes!” and Glover completely loses it.

“I knew this would happen!” he yells.

Glover goes on a rant about “the media,” punctuating his diatribe with a high kick that nearly catches Letterman in the face. Letterman walks off-stage, awkwardly ending the segment.

Two months later, Glover is invited back to the show and refuses to talk about what had happened.

“It was a thing,” is all he will say.

Indeed, Glover had been playing a character during his initial Letterman appearance. That character was named Rubin Farr. Of course, nobody had any idea who Rubin Farr was except for Glover of course. Glover was supposed to be there to promote the release of River’s Edge, a 1986 drama co-starring Keanu Reeves and Dennis Hopper.

Some argue whether this was a step in the development of Rubin Farr, the character; or rather, did Rubin Farr, the character, grow out of this appearance?

I suspect the latter. Glover refers to himself by his real-life persona during his 1987 appearances. It’s only years later that Letterman asks Glover again about the incident and Glover begins explaining to Letterman that there is a man who looks like him named Rubin Farr who has been impersonating him. He continues this version of the story in a more recent YouTube video in which he’s dressed as Rubin Farr and denies being Crispin Glover. The woman interviewing Glover asks why he’s living in Crispin Glover’s house and “Farr” explains that he’s Glover’s house guest.

What it comes down to is that Crispin Hellion Glover is a weird guy, which was never apparent to those who only know him as George McFly from the original Back to the Future. Those same people probably never heard his 1989 album, The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution, The Solution Equals Let It Be, produced by Barnes & Barnes of “Fish Heads” fame. Watch the video he made for “Clownly Clown Clown,” which features an appearance by none other than Rubin Farr.

It took director Trent Harris to finally give Rubin Farr a full-length feature film and thus, Rubin & Ed was conceived, born and sent directly to video. To this day, VHS remains the format with which Rubin & Ed is associated. The copy I saw was obviously ripped from a videotape. However, Harris offers a DVD of Rubin & Ed on his website, so do the guy a favor and send him a few dollars and maybe check out some of his other movies or maybe pick up a Rubin & Ed t-shirt.

What surprised me the most about Rubin & Ed was how pretty straightforward of a movie it was. Yes, it was weird. Yes, the character of Rubin Farr is kooky and eccentric. But Rubin & Ed was hardly what I would consider avant garde or experimental. It’s a buddy movie, in simplest terms. If there’s any message you can take away from it, it’s that, no matter how much of a weirdo you are and no matter how much the world doesn’t seem to “get” you, there’s probably at least one person out there that you can call “buddy.”

A synopsis: After an opening credit sequence accompanied by a synth and theremin score that sounds like it could have been lifted from a UFO movie or a Danny Elfman film, we are introduced to a gray-haired man we soon learn is Ed. When we meet him, Ed is participating in what appears to be a type of motivational seminar having to do with real estate. (Later in the film, we learn that the group Ed belongs to is called “The Organization.”) Some summaries of the film that I have read have described the group as a “pyramid scheme,” but what The Organization IS isn’t as important as long as you remember their mantra, which Ed recites to himself throughout the movie: “I am an incredibly powerful salesperson who continually climbs higher and higher up the ladder of success.”

We then get introduced to Rubin, who is staring at a photo of a woman in a bikini in his home – the room of a motel which is owned by his mother. After imagining the woman swimming in a pool, Rubin glances down to a picture of a cat, then picks up a squeak toy shaped like a mouse and begins dancing around to classical music playing on a boombox. Rubin’s mother comes upstairs and yells at him for making too much noise. She tells Rubin to take out the trash. In the alley by his house, a man (teenager?) taunts Rubin, so Rubin kicks one of his platform shoes at the man and scares him off. Rubin resumes playing with the squeak toy and is yelled at again by his mother. She tells him to go outside and make a friend or else he wouldn’t be permitted to listen to his music anymore.

“It’s for your own good Rubin. You can’t stay in this house the rest of your life,” Rubin’s mother says.

“Yes I can!” Rubin shouts.

Meanwhile, Ed has called his ex-wife (played by Karen Black) from a pay phone. Ed attempts to exchange pleasantries but his ex-wife blows him off. Although it may not be a match made in heaven between Rubin and Ed, even now we see they have one thing in common. Both men an unhealthy attachment to women who – I wouldn’t go as far as to call uncaring – certainly don’t reciprocate their neediness.

Rubin and Ed meet while Ed is attempting to solicit strangers for The Organization. Unlike most people who shrug Ed off – one man even growls at him — Rubin agrees to answer questions from a survey Ed is taking — questions like, “Are you 100 percent satisfied with your earning potential 100 percent of the time?” (Rubin answers, “Yes” to Ed’s surprise.) Rubin then agrees to go to a “free introductory seminar” and Ed arranges to pick him up at his motel around 6 p.m.

Of course, Rubin has no intention of going to a seminar – he only wants to bring Ed to meet his mom so that he can get his music back. But when Ed shows up at Rubin’s motel room, Rubin’s mom isn’t around. Rubin invites Ed into his kitchen for a glass of water, obviously to stall for time, but is distracted when a phone rings, so Ed helps himself. When Ed opens up Rubin’s freezer looking for ice, he is appalled to pull out a frozen dead cat, which we learn is Rubin’s pet cat Simon.

“Why don’t you keep your hands off other people’s refrigerators!” Rubin yells.

Ed offers to take Rubin somewhere to bury his cat, provided Rubin comes with him to his seminar after. Rubin agrees but insists on driving. The two drink beer together and Rubin drives off the road, stranding them in the desert.

Rubin and Ed argue. Rubin, who is carrying Simon around in a water cooler, frets over finding “the right spot” to bury his cat. The pair split up. They get back together. They come across a shack with “ANDY WARHOL SUCKS A BIG ONE” written on it in graffiti. Rubin passes out and hallucinates about the bikini woman and Simon water-skiing. Ed nearly dies in the desert. Eventually, the bury the cat in the “cave of the echo people.” They escape the desert and run into Ed’s ex-wife. Ed, in one of the funniest lines in the movie, tells her she was lousy in bed and all the times that they had sex “he never had an orgasm.”

Oh yeah, they make it to the seminar. Should I have preceded that with a “spoiler alert”?

There are some very funny moments in this movie and a wealth of quotable lines — “My cat can eat a whole watermelon!,” just to name one. Crispin Glover is at his quirkiest, even weirder than he was in Willard. Howard Hesseman is an excellent companion. It’s certainly original.

Of course, originality only takes you so far. Case in point, Idaho Crossing. There were moments where I wondered if Rubin & Ed was too quirky for his own good. What is Rubin’s problem anyway? Is he supposed to be autistic? If Rubin is some kind of social disability, that’s the only way I can explain why he would take such care of his own appearance and yet not think twice about drinking water from a cooler that has melted off of a dead cat. Are we supposed to just accept that Rubin is “weird”?

Are we supposed to just accept that Crispin Glover is weird?

If the answer to the above question is “Yes,” then – congratulations – you will probably enjoy Rubin & Ed.

Other movies filmed in Utah: There have been a lot due to Utah’s proximity to California. Movies primarily filmed in Utah include any one of the many “Mormon movies” including The R.M. and The Singles Ward; the monkey scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey; the High School Musical series; Footloose; SLC Punk; Silent Night, Deadly Night (for real!); Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours and A Life Less Ordinary; Three O’Clock High and, the “best worst movie” Troll 2.

Next week: Vermont. Beautiful and boring.

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