Spalding Gray in ‘Fine’ form

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 14, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Hard to believe it was seven years ago this week that Spalding Gray disappeared from a Staten Island Ferry boat; his remains were not found for nearly two months. Had he survived the apparent suicide, it would surely have become material for his next monologue — everything else in his life did.

Best known for his stage monologues, which were sometimes filmed (as in “Swimming to Cambodia” and “Monster in a Box”), Spalding Gray called his process “narcissistic journalism”: one man’s neurotic quest to give shape to the chaos of his life.

It was navel-gazing, but done in a frequently enthralling way. It would have to be, since Gray’s stage presence consisted of a chair, a table and a glass of water.

Steven Soderbergh directed Gray as an actor in the 1993 film “King of the Hill,” and later helmed the 1996 monologue “Gray’s Anatomy.” Now he has edited together a collection of Gray monologues and interview appearances into a kind of chronological autobiography: “And Everything Is Going Fine.”

Which means we’ll see a video of Gray from sometime in the early 1980s, then see him (truly gray now) in 2003, then jump back to the 1990s, then back to the ’80s, and so on. The story of his life goes from childhood to the traumatic event of becoming a father at a late age, and then to his debilitating car accident in 2001.

Always prone to depression, haunted by his mother’s mental illness and her suicide at age 52, Gray was further devastated by the head and hip injuries he suffered in the accident. He looks exhausted in the clips that cover the aftermath of this crushing event.

Soderbergh offers no narration or other kind of navigation: It’s all Gray, talking about himself. But then that’s what it always was.

However, in re-editing the material, Soderbergh removes Gray’s ability to craft a section of his life — whether his youthful ideas about sex, his experiences acting in the movie “The Killing Fields” or his focus on his health — into a single, structured monologue.

What we do see is Gray’s need to take the chaos of life and give it structure through ordering it. He freely admits that he can’t really remember whether certain autobiographical details have been fictionalized or embroidered.

Of course we all do that. Spalding Gray’s trick was to make it entertaining: life re-interpreted as a good yarn.

The subject of suicide comes up in his previous work, almost in a matter-of-fact way, as though he’d lived with the idea so long it had settled in as a permanent companion.

This (and the thought of the children he left behind, one of whom composed the music here) gives the movie a sad overlay, even if there’s a certain heroism in how long Gray staved off his melancholy end.

“And Everything Is Going Fine”

The celebrated monologist Spalding Gray died in 2004, but director Steven Soderbergh has taken pieces of Gray’s monologues and interviews and stitched them together to form a kind of chronological autobiography. An air of sadness hangs over the film, although you get to see how Gray took the chaos of his life and artfully shaped it to make sense out of it all.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: SIFF Cinema

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