Tonight in Seattle:  

And Everything is Going Fine

{And Everything is Going Fine screens at SIFF Cinema January 14th-19th}

This week brings And Everything is Going Fine to SIFF Cinema after 2010 appearances at the SXSW, Slamdance, and Hot Docs festivals. It's a biographical documentary about Spalding Gray - or perhaps an autobiographical documentary about Gray by director Steven Soderbergh. That last part might be a bit confusing...

What I mean is that it's a portrait of the man, in his own words. Those words are pulled together and arranged by Soderbergh from video archives of Gray's prior appearances and home movies.

Watching the film, I learned that Spalding Gray was a well-known writer of monologues of an inward looking sort, in addition to other succesful writing and acting pursuits. I disclose upfront the fact that I wasn't super familiar with his legacy, as your familiarity with the subject will likely impact how you feel about the film (that, and my ceaseless need to point out my own cultural inadequacies). If you're a fan of Spalding Gray's then this is definitely a documentary worth heading over to Seattle Center for.

Much of the film features Gray sitting at a desk speaking to an audience, with some additional footage of Spalding's parents to round out the visual backdrop. Never having seen him speak before, I can see why watching one of his monologues could be a transfixing experience.

We only get to hear modest pieces of Gray's monologues, but each time I found myself wanting to hear more. Always a sign of high-quality storytelling for me. Not getting to listen longer was similar to the pain I've experienced when I have to break away in the middle of an episode of This American Life on the radio.

If I had one criticism, it's that as a novice (with respect to Gray), I probably would have appreciated a bit more of his work to be repeated here. Though there are ample opportunities to see his performances in other ways, it's mainly just an observation that this documentary to some degree rewards familiarity with its subject.

 

Clearly there was more than enough historical video floating about to make a film ten times longer. In fact the press materials for And Everything is Going Fine mention 120 hours of film as a starting point. Soderbergh, who has collaborated with Gray in the past, tightly edits together the tale in a way that is truly less about any one of the monologues and more about the arc of Gray's life - both the good and the bad of it. I suppose in our current era of reality TV and Facebook, over-sharing is epidemic. Maybe it's just because of his skills as a storyteller, or that he lived a more interesting life, but this film has a different more intimate, less exploitive feel than more common examples of public therapy.

It's only 89 minutes - so if you're a fan, or curious about the man, this film is well worth a shot.  If you've never heard of him you might first start with one of his theatrically released monologues instead. And if you do go and leave slightly depressed about the arc this talent took, SIFF Cinema stocks Theo's Chocolate in their concession. I always find that helps.

I'm probably going to eat this up, Rich. I think you handled it well for someone intrigued by Spalding from the film. (I have the feeling I'd be craving more actual footage too, regardless of following him since the mid-80s.) For Gray neos, before checking it out, you could always hit spoken word-remainder bins for his last CD "Slippery Slope" (1998), an autumnal chunk of verbal autobio that sometimes feels as soul-scraping as Rollins' work using the same medium. I still have all of Gray's movies on VHS; perhaps a good reissue treatment would have helped draw attention to this doc. Which, for some reason -- but I suspect due to what I know is the ending -- I am sort of avoiding. 

I assumed Soderbergh limited this film to 90 minutes because that was about how long most of Gray's monologues were (according to Gray in one of the clips included in this film, anyway). I think the length of this movie was its own homage to Gray's work, in other words.

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