Spalding Gray

It’s rare when documenting a famous subject who is no longer alive to speak about himself that one encounters a subject who said as much about his own life as Spalding Gray. Steven Soderbergh, who documented Gray’s last filmed monologue with 1996’s Gray’s Anatomy, thankfully chose the most natural and obvious approach that one should when making a retrospective doc on Gray by constructing it solely through juxtaposed snippets of the entertaining, insightful monologues that made him famous occasionally combined with clips from old interviews and an old photograph peppered here and there. In other words, And Everything is Going Fine is thankfully one of those rare documentaries where it feels like the subject is always present and the filmmaker almost never is.

The filmmaker, in any doc, is, of course, always present, whether implicitly or explicitly, but it should be appreciated that Soderbergh so gracefully addresses his subject here by stepping away and letting the man speak for himself. There’s no interviews with contemporaries or surviving family members, no animated photographs or home movies, no linear narrative of his life that unidirectionally explicates how Gray became a monologist, and no ham-fisting about the socio-cultural impact he’s had or an intrusion into the closeted demons of his personal life. It’s simply Gray.

I didn’t go into the documentary knowing it would take such a bare-bones approach, but once it was clear that this is was going to be its stylistic disposition throughout, it’s easy to settle into the unique pace and let the doc, and its cleverly articulate and thoroughly fascinating subject, flow over you. A doc with this approach runs the risk of simply becoming “Gray’s Greatest Hits,” but it avoids this adeptly by exhibiting how Gray addressed the same subjects differently, achronologically, through his monologues and many interviews. The link between each successive clip isn’t always overtly clear (as is the progression of subjects in Gray’s monologues themselves), but it does always flow well, and it’s so easy to become entranced by his compelling use of the English language. Gray’s genius doesn’t need to be pointed out by anybody else: it’s clear on its own.

What’s particularly fascinating is seeing the non-linear transitions between older and younger versions of Gray in monologues and interviews. Not only does an older, sometimes injured and weaker version of the artist pop up (Gray suffered a debilitating car crash late in his life), but his act changes from monologues reflecting on his life to monologues about going on tour which explore how becoming a sought-after monologist has effected his life. The forum of the artist ultimately invades the art itself, and this reaches an even greater meta-level as the film juxtaposes these early monologues on life with monologues on being a monologist.

And Everything is Going Fine may sound like a movie tailor-made for existing Gray fans only, but I would disagree as such fans would no doubt have already seen the great majority of footage featured in this film. As somebody with only an antecdotal knowledge of Gray, I found the film engrossing and illuminating (though, as the doc doesn’t provide much context to the tangential mention of several of his major life events, I’d advise reading at least his Wikipedia entry before viewing if you don’t know much about Gray). It’s a wonderful introduction for those unfamiliar, allowing us to appreciate the artist through witnessing his own work rather than being told by other talking heads how great and influential he’s supposed to be, and for the existing Gray fan it may serve as a means to understand his work better and in a different way through Soderbergh’s creative juxtaposition. While the film’s visuals, composed mostly of archive footage not shot by the director (except, of course, the snippets from Gray’s Anatomy), may not have Soderbergh’s signature touch, it does work in line with his ever-ingenuitive editing practices, and as a decidedly non-canonical portrait of its subject (the doc definitely leaves room for more traditional docs to be made in the future), it continues the director’s selective approach to character study most recently seen with Che. And Everything is Going Fine is a love letter to Spalding Gray made in the most perfect way a filmmaker could make such a letter, by allowing the subject to posthumously speak for himself.

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