Judge Clark Douglas' monologues tend to be short, clumsy and unmemorable.
"How about that?"
Whatever your feelings on Steven Soderbergh's work may be (there are few filmmakers who tend to inspire such diverse reactions among cinephiles), there's no denying that he's one of the medium's most thoughtfully experimental directors. He's rarely content to deliver a movie without breaking with form in some way; his cinematic superpower is finding ways to deconstruct (and then reconstruct) a genre in compelling fashion. In his film Gray's Anatomy, Soderbergh found ways to turn something as simple as a one-man stage show (Spalding Gray performing one of his fine monologues) into a vibrant visual experience. Roughly fifteen years after that effort, Soderbergh returns to the work of Mr. Gray for the documentary And Everything is Going Fine. Once again, he avoids convention while delivering something exceptional and unique.
The last few years of Spalding Gray's life were particularly unhappy ones: in June of 2001, he was in a nasty car accident, which damaged him both mentally and physically. He struggled to write, succumbed to his depression and eventually committed suicide in January of 2004. In attempting to tell his story, Soderbergh wisely avoids the approach of permitting a bunch of talking heads to spend the first half praising the man's virtues and the second half speculating about his demise. Instead, Soderbergh lets Gray himself tell the story via excerpts from a host of monologues and interviews recorded over the years.
Though the footage certainly isn't presented in chronological order, the story Gray tells is. We hear bits and pieces of stories from Gray's life, with a particularly heavy emphasis on tales involving his parents, romantic relationships and children. The whole affair is intentionally staged as one final, intensely personal monologue, and serves as a typically candid, humorous and occasionally profound examination of life. Given Gray's gift for storytelling and insightful self-analysis, there's no one else better-suited to tell the story of his life. Though you may initially be distracted by the varying video quality of the footage (and the way Gray seems to leap from one decade into another from scene to scene), it really does function as a proper monologue of sorts rather than as a 90-minute assembly of personal outtakes.
Though Gray is entirely comfortable with sharing potentially embarrassing personal details (such as a cringe-inducing but nonetheless hilarious saga in which the heterosexual Gray's insecurity and vanity leads him to make a valiant attempt at having sex with another man), there's also something quite enigmatic about him. In one brief, blunt interview clip, he addresses the camera with a stern matter-of-factness: "Are there some things I'm holding back that I won't talk about? Yes." Here is a man for whom seemingly no unpleasant confession is off-limits (including the story about his unsuccessful attempt to coax his mistress—and future wife—into having an abortion), yet he does seem to be hiding portions of himself. Even during the interview footage from his tragic later years, he never really confesses the full depth of his despair. However, the documentary does conclude with a remarkable (and remarkably cinematic) piece of footage, a mournful yet elegant admission accompanied by an unexpected, haunting sound.
And Everything is Going Fine (Blu-ray) offers a 1080p/Full Frame transfer, which does the best it can with the source material. Honestly, while pretty much everything is going to look better on Blu-ray than it would on DVD, And Everything is Going Fine is the rare film that probably didn't really need a Blu-ray release. Much of the video footage is pretty weak-looking stuff (I'm talking VHS-quality), with only a handful of newer interview and home video sequences actually benefiting from hi-def detail. Like Criterion's Blu-ray release of For All Mankind, it's only able to look as good as the mixed bag of original elements allow. The LPCM 1.0 Mono track is decent enough, though some sequences offer stronger audio than others. Nothing is ever muffled or distorted beyond recognition, though. Supplements include a 21-minute featurette on the making of the film (in which Soderbergh and others talk about the decision to edit the film as a monologue and determining which footage would be used) and a complete presentation of Gray's first monologue "Sex and Death to the Age 14" (64 minutes). Generous portions of the latter are incorporated into the film itself, but it's nice to have the full thing regardless. You also get a trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by Neil Casey.
There are a number of terrific moments littered throughout And Everything is Going Fine, but one in particular lingers with me: a scene in which Gray cheerfully re-enacts a family jubilee to the strains of Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping." It's a broad, silly moment, almost like something out of a late '90s Steve Martin comedy. It's the sort of warm, unexpected, honest memory which seems to define Gray's best work, and a fine example of why And Everything is Going Fine functions as an ideal swan song for a great artist. Recommended.
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