HomeVideodrome: Remembering the Potent Gray/Soderbergh Collaborations
Director Steven Soderbergh and raconteur Spalding Gray collaborated in 1996 on "Gray's Anatomy," in which Gray described his battle with a rare ocular disease, piercing through to larger subjects involving illness and death.
While he worked as an actor and a playwright, Gray was famous for his filmed monologues, making a name for himself with "Swimming to Cambodia" in 1987, with Jonathan Demme behind the camera.
Soderbergh and Gray did one more film together, but their final collaboration was to be a posthumous one for Gray. In 2001, Gray suffered brain injuries in a car accident while on holiday in Ireland, shattering his already fragile emotional state and spurring fits of deep depression. He committed suicide in 2004.
In 2010, Soderbergh released "And Everything is Going Fine," a documentary pieced together from Gray's monologues and interviews that tells his life story. It opens with grainy video of an empty desk in an auditorium, the bustle of the audience being heard in the background. When Gray walks into frame to mic up and sit down, the quality of the video is such that he leaves a faint after-image trail behind him, giving Gray a spectral quality.
What follows pieces together Gray's life and mental state, imparted entirely through his own words. There are no talking heads weighing in to worship him, there is no wistful narrator to fill in the gaps. He covers everything from his childhood, to his accident in Ireland, making sense of the chaotic comings and goings of his mind, searching for order through in his head through his monologues. Gray's command over language and his delicious sense of delivery made him a pleasure to listen to, and Soderbergh sifts through hours of his voice in order to construct a new monologue that poetically sums him up as a talent.
Criterion is releasing both of the Gray/Soderbergh films separately this week. The disc for "Everything is Going Fine" contains a film of Gray's first monologue from 1982, as well as a making-of documentary with Soderbergh and the producers. "Gray's Anatomy" contains yet another monologue on the supplements, entitled "A Personal History of the American Theater," as well as "Swimming to the Macula," an actual film of Gray's eye surgery, around which his monologue in "Gray's Anatomy" focuses. Given Criterion's high standard of quality, any fans of Gray's work mustn't hesitate to purchase both.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Project X: Todd Phillips produced this found-footage party flick, which appears to be an exercise in low-budget debauchery. Despite being an admirer of the uncomfortable and often terrifyingly chaotic comedy in Phillips' movies, "Project X" looks a bit obnoxious for my taste.
Big Miracle: The trailer for this supposedly heartwarming "save the whales" saga was enough to send me fleeing for safe ground. If I watch a movie involving people getting all touchy-feely about some whales, I'll just watch "Star Trek IV."
Wanderlust: David Wain has directed one extremely overrated comedy ("Wet Hot American Summer"), one underrated comedy ("Role Models"), and one comedy that avoided being rated altogether ("The Ten"). Following this pattern, perhaps "Wanderlust" will be manage to walk out on video accurately rated by audiences and critics ... which doesn't bode well. Amazon Instant features both the theatrical version of the film, as well as the "Bizarro Cut," a version that uses alternate takes for every scene.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home: Out of all the filmmakers that emerged from the dull slacker sludge of "mumblecore" (I have to include a disclaimer letting everyone know how much I hate that stupid word every time I write it), the Duplass brothers are two of a very small group in that glut that show any kind of promise or talent. Both "Cyrus" and "Baghead" were films that took me by surprise, yet I have hard time not harshly pre-judging a movie with the title "Jeff, Who Lives at Home." The romance of the twenty-something slacker is thematic slop leftover from the nineties indie-trough. But I like that Jason Segel fella, so I'll give it a shot.
Groucho Marx in The Mikado: Sure to be a tasty treat for Marx Brothers fans like myself.
Available on DVD