Gray’s Anatomy (rewatch)
Posted by martinteller on June 29, 2012
I have a lot of medical anxiety, as I imagine most people do. Going to doctors is a nerve-wracking experience, always expecting the worst, having to own up to all your bad habits and irresponsible behavior. However, I’ve had two surgeries in the past few years and didn’t worry much about them. I mean, they were unpleasant and involved slow recovery processes, but I was grateful to at least have solutions to my problems and never considered any alternative treatments once it was clear that surgery was a sound option. Still, I can relate to Spalding Gray’s anxiety about an eye operation (to correct a macular pucker) and search for “magical thinking” alternatives, perhaps mostly because Gray’s neuroses are already familiar to me through two feature films (three if you count the hour-long Terrors of Pleasure) and his writings. And because Gray is a master storyteller, who invites you inside his head and gives you a guided tour. Gray’s Anatomy isn’t his best monologue — the book is better — but he’s rarely less than compelling, and his wit is sharp as ever.
Soderbergh’s directorial decisions are understandable, but problematic. Broomfield’s Monster in a Box is essentially a straight recording. Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia spices things up with a few flourishes and a terrific Laurie Anderson score, but manages to keep Gray front and center. Soderbergh’s desire to do something different is admirable, and it’s hard to blame him for wanting to make a movie that’s cinematic. But it’s too much. Losing the live audience, fine. I kind of like having them there, but it’s not essential. The interviews in the prologue are okay (some of those eye stories are horrifying) but the ones that interrupt the monologue are perplexing. Why, if you have respect for what Gray does, would you break up the flow of his performance? And for such a nothing payoff? And the visual stylizations are way over the top, distancing the viewer from the speaker (far too often Gray’s face is shrouded in blackness), losing the immediacy. Maybe this is a film to introduce people to Spalding Gray, get them interested in his work. But for those who are already fans, it seems like the director is trying to showcase his own cleverness rather than the eloquent and carefully composed monologue. Ultimately, the film survives Soderbergh’s fiddlings, but is the weakest of the three features. Rating: Good
Also on the disc — and really the main reason I chose to purchase it — is A Personal History of the American Theater, another Gray monologue from 1982. Gray has the names of 48 plays he performed in from 1960 to 1970 written on cards, the cards are shuffled and one by one he reveals them and talks about them. The segments range from a few seconds (he reads the title and apparently having nothing to say, moves on) to a 14-minute story on “The Commune” (involving Charles Manson, LSD, and attempted conversions to Christianity). The anecdotes are all either interesting or amusing or both, including experiences with a young Dustin Hoffmann or taking the virginity of a theater director’s daughter or the unpleasant side effects of an all-soybean diet. The randomized nature of the piece precludes any development of an overarching theme, however, and the performance feels rather slight compared to his later ones as a result. An enjoyable piece, though. Rating: Good