And Everything Is Going Fine: Criterion Collection
June 27, 2012
American actor and playwright Spalding Gray died in 2004 and was widely considered to be one of the greatest monologists ever to tackle the medium. He is primarily known for his four films that depict monologues about various topics but chief among them, Swimming to Cambodia (1987) is his most celebrated. He was known as much for his sardonic wit as he was for his neurotic nature. He was a unique artist and the posthumous subject of the 2010 documentary And Everything Is Going Fine directed by Steven Soderbergh who collaborated with Gray on his last monologue film Gray’s Anatomy (1996).
It is rather fitting that the film begins with a shot of an empty chair and desk – Gray’s most recognizable setting. And rather appropriately, Soderbergh fashions the film as a cinematic autobiography of sorts by assembling a pastiche of clips from various monologues and interviews to depict the story of his life. For example, early on his worldview was shaped by his Christian Science upbringing and his close relationship with his mother, which was shattered in his twenties when she committed suicide.
One of the most fascinating bits in this documentary is Gray recalling how he cultivated his monologue shows, coming out of a seven-year stint writing a daily diary. In a way, his monologues were an extension of them as they filtered his diaries into the most interesting aspects. The stripped down décor of his monologue shows reflect his knack for talking unguardedly about his life and his observations of things and the people around him. He did this for the first time in 1979 in a production entitled, Sex and Death to the Age 14, which is about exactly what the title suggests. From that point on he would make his life a part of confessional theater. So it makes sense that Soderbergh eschews the conventions of the documentary in favor of an unflinching look at his life, much in the same way he did in his monologue shows.
Sometimes, Soderbergh presents a specific event in Gray’s life in a couple of ways, told by the man during one of his monologues and then recounting it again at a later date in an interview. This intriguing juxtaposition sheds light on the way Gray interpreted the events in his life and his character in general. This technique also paints a complex portrait of the man, shedding as much light on him as an 89-minute film can. And Everything Is Going Fine probably won’t convert many new fans but for those who already are, this is a poignant and moving document of a true original.
Rather tellingly Gray says at one point, “I like telling the story of life better than I do living it,” which in retrospect is eerily foreshadowing. When he could no longer tell stories about his life he didn’t want to live it any longer. By the end of it the thing that made life worth living had been taking from him and it was too much for him to deal with. Yet, for all the tragedy that marked periods of his life, Gray left behind an impressive body of work for which he will always be remembered for.
“The Making of And Everything Is Going Fine” features director Steven Soderbergh, producer Kathleen Russo and editor Susan Littenberg talking about the documentary. Russo, Gray’s widow, starts things off with the genesis of the film, which came out of his death. She then approached Soderbergh who wanted to honor his friend because he felt indebted to him. Littenberg talks about going through the hours of footage and the quality of it in this excellent look at how it all came together.
“Sex and Death to the Age 14” was Gray’s first monologue show that he performed. The version shown here was performed in 1982 as part of a retrospective and runs just over an hour. This is a fascinating account of Gray’s early life that is funny and moving. It is also quite impressive just how candid he is about his own life.
Finally, there is a trailer.