Wednesday, March 16, 2011

And Everything is Going Fine (March 18th and 20th at the Cleveland Museum of Art)

[AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE screens Friday March 18th at 7pm and Sunday March 20th at 1:30pm at the Cleveland Museum of Art Morley Lecture Hall.]

Review by Charles Cassady Jr.

Quick, try to name a movie in which actor Spalding Gray plays a character - other than himself. Time's up, sorry. Though Gray performed in a number of roles (including a U.S. Consul in THE KILLING FIELDS), he is almost universally known for his feature-length autobiographical stage monologues. Some of which, most notably the Jonathan Demme-directed MONSTER IN A BOX, were preserved on film.

AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE, less directed than scrapbooked together by Steve Soderbergh, represents a posthumous one-man-show, edited from numerous clips (some terribly lo-fi) of footage of Gray in various storytelling performances and interviews. His narratives are spliced together to trace the life arc in more or less in chronological order. It's pretty weird, watching the chatty protag visibly aged, then youthful again, while he covers his childhood in a Christian Scientist family filled with psychiatric disorders and syndromes, losing his virginity in college (damn, damn, damn, did anybody except me do any real studying there?), choosing the path of an actor (which led him, so he claimed, into an early film role doing live sex in pornography) more in some kind of search for Thespian-Artistic Truth than for the money. Okay, whatever. His neurotic mother committed suicide, ultimately, and [POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT] hanging over the feature for those in the know is the fact that Gray drowned himself in the East River in 2004, a fact not declared in the narrative except for increasingly frequent references to injury, ill health and mortality.

Sex and death seemed to loom large in Gray's oeuvre, and in fact his first autobiographical monologue (first of 19) done in 1979 in New York City was called Sex & Death at the Age of 14. Gray describes himself (in a monologue, of course) as a method actor whose greatest role was playing himself. There are occasional offstage inserts, of Gray talking with his father or an E! interviewer, where maybe the masks come off - assuming there's not another mask under it.

Gray says that indeed he would get sick and tired of talking about himself and started bringing audience members up onstage to interview them for a change. And yes, he says, there are some personal secrets he would not reveal in a monologue. Nonetheless, we hear a too-much-information narrative of Gray describing his early experimentations in homosexuality in Greece, and we get the Spalding Gray version of how his serial infidelities with long-suffering lover and co-producer Rene Schafransky led to Gray finally leaving her for a much younger, more fertile woman.

It is the glory and the caveat of AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE that virtually everything we hear is Spalding Gray, no input from anyone else, no interpretation, evaluation or epitaph. This is his version, what he calls "poetic journalism," start to finish, almost as if Soderbergh is determined to gently coax one last final monologue from beyond the grave. If that makes for a mildly Frankenstein-type construct, or if one is less-than-trustful of actors and their versions of reality (I plead guilty as charged), oh well. I'll say one thing: Maybe all Charlie Sheen has to do is monologue on a bare stage about his travails and he'll be considered a treasure of the arts crowd as well. (2 1/2 out of 4 stars)

No comments:

Post a Comment

We approve all legitimate comments. However, comments that include links to irrelevant commercial websites and/or websites dealing with illegal or inappropriate content will be marked as spam.