Friday, Oct. 28, 2011

And Everything Is Going Fine: A Stream of Consciousness Review

A Look At the Documentary screening this weekend with Theatre Gigante

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Strange Connections

(Biography)

(Spalding Gray has a strange way of connecting up with things . . . just on the outside of popular entertainment, the guy tends to have strange, little connections with a lot of people. I was first introduced to the name by my father, who told me about working onstage with  him as an intern in the Goodman Theatre . . . and in doing some research for this week, I watched a bit of Gray'€™s Anatomy--€”the Steven Soderbergh-produced film adaptation of his monologue of the same name. And I'm watching this thing and just as I recall from having seen it years ago, it's about a retinal issue that he’d run into . . . a problem with his retina.

Interesting thing about seeing that now is that . . . it's years later and I have also had retinal problems—mine due to an attack on me a little over a year ago by a man with no pigment in his right eye . . . long story . . . anyway: I'm watching Gray'€™s Anatomy and Spalding Gray gets to talking about the first retinal specialist he'€™d been to see when he'd found out that there was a problem with his eye--a retinal specialist named Dr. Mandel. Weird. The first specialist I saw about my retinal issue was a guy named Dr. Mandel--€”only this wasn't in Manhattan, it was in Milwaukee. So my father was onstage with Spalding Gray, is it possible that I was also diagnosed by the same retinal specialist? A quick search on the internet turns up . .Dr. Mandel in Milwaukee . . . could it be? He'd gotten his residency in Wisconsin, but that was back in the '€˜80'€™s. . .

A bit further down the list on the search engine and it would appear as the ocular field is awash in Dr. Mandels. There's also one in Virginia, one in California and one in New York . . .  they're not all retinal specialists, but the name seems staggeringly common. So maybe it'€™s not the same guy (probably not) . . . still . . . kind of a weird connection.)

And Everything Is Going Fine

In addition to Gray’s Anatomy, after Gray'€™s passing, Soderbergh also directed And Everything Is Going Fine retrospective on the life of Spalding Gray that will be screened this weekend as a part of Theatre Gigante's Shades of Gray festival.

I’d loved Soderbergh’s work for a long time . . . it occurs to me that I'€™d probably seen Sex, Lies and Video Tape a long time ago, but I guess that for me the first time I ever really acknowledged him as an artist was when a friend of mine introduced my to Schizopolis. That was a film that had developed a kind of genius through sheer irrationality. At their best, Soderbergh'€™s films strike a kind of geniuseach for a distinctively (sometimes drastically) different reason. The genius of And Everything Is Going Fine lies quite simply in allowing a storyteller to tell his life story over the course of 89 minutes.

From birth to death in 89 minutes. All in the words of its subject, the film could practically be seen as an autobiography were it not for the fact that Soderbergh spliced it together in more or less chronological order from what must have been contless hours of footage. The man who made a name for himself doing autobiographical spoken word is seems in footage onstage, numerous interviews both on TV and off. It'€™s a really remarkable experience.

And Everything Is Going Fine kind of reminds me of Paul Davds'€™ 1996 bio documentary Timothy Leary's Dead. That was only slightly more comprehensive . . . largely due to the film essentially ending on footage of Timothy Leary actually dying. (they practically roll the credits over it) . . . but as the story of the life of a man who became known for talking about the world through his eyes, this is a profoundly moving look at life in general. We get a profoundly intimate perspective on the man . . . Davids'€™ Timothy Leary film was seen much more through the eyes of others. Soderbergh'€™s film is, much like a monologue from Spalding Gray, 90-minutes long and entirely taken from his own words. The composition on this thing strikes a really solid balance, hitting really intimate aspects of his life, really public aspects of his life and quite a bit in between. There is the recurring subject of suicide, which may satisfy those looking for insight into why the man took his life. Maybe not. The film may not end with a shot of Spalding Gray actually dying, but we see him talking about his youth through adulthood . . . we see him aging. We seem him quite frail after an auto accident compromised his ability to walk. One of the last moments is highly reflective . . . he contemplates what his epitaph might be . . .

And Everything Is Going Fine screens at 4pm on Saturday, October 29th and 2pm on Sunday, October 20th. Both screenings are at Kenilworth Studio 508 Theater, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. The Saturday screening is followed at 6:30 with a performance of Stories Left to Tell staged by Theatre Gigante.

 

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