Steven Soderbergh | 2010 | 89 mins | USA
Steven Soderbergh's portrait of his friend and onetime collaborator Spalding Gray is intimate, touching, and at times very funny indeed. Gray starred in Soderbergh's King of the Hill in 1993 (a story that is touchingly retold in the doc) and Soderbergh has been working on this documentary for about five years - pretty much since Gray's death. The documentary weaves a biographical narrative worthy of Gray's own storytelling gifts, using nothing but clips from his taped monologue performances and a few select TV interviews he did over the course of his career. The stories he tell are loosely chronological, beginning in his early childhood, through his college years, his mother's suicide and the tumultuous decades that followed.
The stories about Gray's personal life - his troubled mother, his own difficulties in maintaining healthy relationships, his struggles with fatherhood - are undeniably touching, but perhaps even more interesting are the clips in which he talks about his development as an artist, the path that made him the unique monologuist we all know and love. He discusses writing, acting, the creative process itself, shedding some light on how that signature style was developed.
Soderbergh made very much the right choice in letting Gray speak for himself in this documentary, sifting through what must have been hundreds of hours of footage to create the final monologue of a gifted storyteller, a summary of his entire life. Retellings of the story of his monther's breakdowns and her eventual suicide, his own struggles with manic depression, his recurring suicidal fantasies and his strange obsession with water (in one clip he talks about always orienting himself in relation to water, wherever he is) provide an eerie sense of foreshadowing for Gray's untimely demise, in the East River, most likely by his own hand.
In the film's final scene, Gray is distracted by the lonely howling of a dog or wolf in the background. The camera stays on him while he pauses to listen to the animal's lamentation, and a lifetime of pain and brilliance is suddenly, heartbreakingly visible on his face. I got a little misty, I can't deny it.
For fans of Gray's work, this is a loving and respectful tribute. For those who don't know his monologues, it's actually a pretty good introduction to the style, the humour, and the strange, compelling character of Spalding Gray.
And Everything Is Going Fine screens again on Saturday, May 1. Click here for more info.