Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Catching up with Steven Soderbergh's Spalding Gray film, AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE

This coming January will mark the tenth year since the death of Spalding Gray. Already? This hardly seems possible. Gray, such a primary force on the New York cultural scene during the final three decades of the twentieth century, was also more than anyone else, I think, responsible for the trend toward the "monologue evening" that is now such a staple of theatre, whether performed by a Daisey, a Birbiglia or so many others. I had been a fan of Mr. Gray for a long while, appreciating both his sense of humor and his keen intelligence, and noting, too, that we were born in the same month in the same year (January 1941) and were both raised in households where that bizarre religion of Christian Science was in full swing. And then there was the interest in homosexuality, which I perhaps embraced more fully than he.

Gray's theater monologues usually offered up a good portion of the fellow's history, yet they always left us wanting more. A smart move, of course, because audiences would flock right back to whatever the man did next. The beauty of Steven Soderbergh's film AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE is that it captures Gray remar-kably well over a rela-tively long period of time (in only 89 minutes) and ends up giving us more than we've ever seen of this troubled, funny man, along with the family he came from (below), and the family he helped create and then left behind.

Soderbergh selects portions of various of Gray's theater performances, interviews with him by journalists (like Charlie Rose), Gray's own interviews with members of his audiences, talks with his father, archival footage and more -- weaving all this together into a surprisingly full look at the man, his work and how he developed his signature style.

Gray understood (he even remarked on this) that he was probably "fictionalizing," but that's what we all do when remembering our past. (Hearing him talk about his work in pornographic movies provides one of the funnier sections, fictionalized or not.) As Gray grows more successful, his life seems to be coming together nicely. He starts a family, which becomes, eventually, an extended family, all the while fighting off the depression that had plagued him, lifelong.

There's a slightly "embarrassed" quality to the man that went hand in hand with, and in fact probably accounted for, his singular success. And yet his take on life as "the glorious accident" seems consistent with his attitude and growth. Soderbergh had worked with Gray previously (King of the Hill and Gray's Anatomy), so he knew the man and the personality to some extent. And Everything Is Going Fine proves a wonderful marriage of a filmmaker to his subject.

The documentary is surely one of, maybe the best film overall that this up-and-down but often very gifted director has made -- about one of the most quietly iconic theater folk to have ever come our way. And Everything Is Going Fine is available now via Netflix streaming--and perhaps elsewhere.

Photos are from the film itself, with the 
exception of that of Mr. Soderbergh (second from top), 
which comes courtesy of Getty Images.

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