A table, a chair and a guy sitting there talking: These are the essentials of performance for brilliant monologist Spalding Gray. Gray, whose wonderful conversations about life and love and the whole damn thing were captured in such films as Monster in a Box, Swimming to Cambodia and Gray's Anatomy, is now the centre of a film about his life, And Everything is Going Fine. The documentary, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is 90 minutes of Spalding on Spalding, a beautifully organized gem that tells the man's life, and in his own words.
It's funny. It's inspired. It's heartbreaking.
Gray grew up in Rhode Island. Some of the monologues Soderbergh has included at the beginning of the film pertain to Gray's earliest memories; he talks about sitting on the back of his mother's bike, mentions the clapboard house he grew up in and describes the neighbour who ran over his cat. Central to his early memories is his mother's suicide in the '60s, and Gray even manages to be witty and ironic while describing how his father told him the death had taken place.
Gray's film performances, TV interviews and stage work are seamlessly woven together to present an intricate portrait of the man. He describes the stage work he did with the Wooster Group in New York in the 1960s, and the discovery that an early biographical monologue helped unlock all sorts of other memories -- further fodder, if you will. Smart, funny and a superb storyteller, Gray established himself in a special sort of performance art.
He could make a walk to the corner store sound utterly riveting in the telling.
Gray, one of three boys in his family, was also an actor and a writer. His death, an apparent suicide, took place in 2004; his work in life was to keep the chaos at bay where possible. The film shows his degrees of success and failure at that task over a 25-year period.
Because he was his own subject matter, it's almost impossible to talk about And Everything is Going Fine without also talking about Spalding Gray, the person. Soderbergh's creation doesn't fill in any blanks about Gray, and the film is not for the uninitiated, but even ardent fans will have trouble warming up to every detail.
For example, according to his own monologues, Gray's late-life arrival at fatherhood was clumsy and selfish, a particular transition that laid waste other people's lives. The details of this presentation leave him and his neuroses looking deeply unattractive.
The film covers the car accident in 2001 that sent Gray into a downward spiral, physically and psychologically. Near the end of the film, Gray talks about how he'll need reconstructive surgery on his skull. He mentions the five years prior to the accident were the happiest of his life. And then things changed.
In Toronto, And Everything is Going Fine is playing at Bell Lightbox. The film was previously shown here at the Hot Docs film festival.
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