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Soderbergh's "And Everything Is Going Fine", But Is It Really? Review

When Spalding Gray committed suicide in January of 2004 (after watching the film Big Fish), he left behind as extensive and detailed a record of his thinking leading up to that decision as perhaps anyone who has ever come to that conclusion. Gifted screenwriter, playwright and actor, Gray distinguished himself primarily through his monologues, in which he spoke frankly and casually of his own life experience, much of it dealing with his own struggles with depression. Steven Soderbergh directed one of these himself (Gray's Anatomy), so it seems only fitting that he would want to revisit this footage after his friend's death. Even if the reasoning behind his suicide was never mysterious (precluding the need to resolve any unanswered questions), Soderbergh's assembly serves as an appropriately autobiographical eulogy, in which the man himself dictates both his life story and its ultimate meaning.

Gray's style is spare; when he is on stage, there's frequently little beside him save a chair (or desk) and a microphone. His tone could be described as relaxed; his inflection rarely betrays that he's going for an effect, but he's entirely too comfortable in the spotlight to merely be your friend. Often, it's so comfortable that you need a moment to remind yourself what he's actually talking about. When he veers organically into discussion of early sexual experiences or his mother's suicide, his complete candor is genuinely disarming. But not to be bogged down in matters either prurient or sad, he also shows his love for Chumbawumba's "Tubthumpin'", and dances around with boombox held up over his dead while playing it.

For the most part, everything that appears here comes from one of Gray's stage appearances, recorded on cameras of varying quality. Though the presence of an audience is clear (he addresses them, and their laughter is audible), they are rarely visible, giving these scenes the aura of a self-recorded last will and testament. Had And Everything Is Going Fine been composed solely of these scenes, it might have been unbearably painful, but Soderbergh mercifully splices in a few interviews and photographs to break it up. They help to make the piece more visually diverse, but also to mitigate an emotional effect that would otherwise obscure its intellectual ones.

Soderbergh's presence, to his credit, is nearly invisible. An hour and a half of largely static images flows by so quickly that some level of guidance is obvious, but there is never a moment when you feel that the director has truncated or recontextualized anything in a way that Gray would disapprove of. The structure of And Everything more or less adheres to the chronological order of Gray's life, with little effort to force thematic juxtapositions, or to dice any of it up for cinematic effect. Given how bound he was by the constraints of existing material, it's remarkable just how unadorned the film is.

But then again, Gray might well be the real-life analogue of Brian O'Blivion, Videodrome's media prophet who had his every statement committed to videotape, and such an experiment would probably be impossible with nearly any other figure. So personal, and so extensive were records of his performances that there was hardly anything that needed to be said about him that he did not say himself, and have footage of himself doing so. It has been noted that the final line of Big Fish, the film he saw that, according to his widow, "gave him permission to die", is "a man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal." Even if this connection is not what it's been made to be, there could hardly a better coda for a man whose inner life was so inseparable from his performance work, and his presence is remarkably, tenderly captured here.

SPECIAL FEATURES

The entire film has gone through a digital remaster (approved by Soderbergh himself), plus The Making of "And Everything Is Going Fine", an interview piece with Soderbergh, producer Kathleen Russo, and editor Susan Littenberg, as well as Sex and Death to the Age 14, an early recording of one of Gray's pieces.

"And Everything Is Going Fine (The Criterion Collection)" is on sale June 19, 2012 and is not rated. Documentary. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Spalding Gray.

Jun
28
2012
Anders Nelson • Associate Editor

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