"A man tells his stories so many times that he becomes the stories. They live on after him, and in that way he becomes immortal."
In the end, we all have a story to tell. A whirling, muddled inkblot of memory and recollection, seemingly indistinct and insignificant to all but ourselves -- that when pieced together forms the very shape of our lives. We all have a story to tell, and this is Spalding Gray's. A cinematic tribute to the late monologist, 'And Everything is Going Fine' recounts the life and times of a true original, as told by the only person up to the monumental task… himself. Part documentary, part video autobiography, the film paints the portrait of a brilliant artist full of anxiety, insecurity, and passion. Through Steven Soderbergh's mindful direction, it's as if Gray returns for one last monologue, and his words are as insightful, hilarious, and moving as ever.
Culled from various taped performances and interview material throughout his career, the film is essentially nothing more than a mosaic of archive footage. Through pieces of Gray's famous monologues, a narrative arc is formed that spans his entire life, illuminating everything from his childhood to his eventual path toward performing and writing. Filled with personal insights into his relationships, family, and craft, the movie recounts the evolution of his style and his various joys and tragedies -- all in his own words.
Those familiar with Gray's work will be right at home here. The various clips spanning his entire career are full of the performer's unique brand of storytelling. Packed with humor, irony, compassion, and a cynical edge, his words sting and delight. Everything from his body language to his well mannered but seemingly natural delivery, are all perfectly attuned to capture the audience's attention. While his monologues can appear like improvised orations, they are actually carefully structured pieces, and the various snippets and interview spots slowly reveal the full breadth of his astonishing skill. Subjects dealing with light, humorous incidents (such as a gut-busting story that involves projectile vomiting during a stage show), or more tragic events (a car accident, and his mother's suicide, for instance) are all conveyed with a deft hand, blending heartbreak and laughter. As the film continues, the web of footage takes on a greater shape, becoming more than just a portrait of a man recounting his life -- it becomes a celebration of a truly singular voice.
Soderbergh wisely resists the urge to include any new material, and instead the entirety of the film is made up of archive footage of Gray. There are no retrospective chats with friends and family or filmed visits to important spots throughout his life. It's all just Gray doing what he does best. Of course, just because all of the material is archival doesn't mean that Soderbergh's direction is any less important. The manner in which all of the disjointed snippets are pieced together to form an interconnected whole is quite impressive. The film's editor, Susan Littenberg, had the daunting task of sifting through over 90 hours of material, but somehow she and Soderbergh manage to come away with a complete narrative thread that is both unified and artfully constructed. Much like Gray's own monologues, this newly formed patchwork monologue is meticulously structured, yet still feels totally organic and natural.
In my review of Gray and Soderbergh's previous collaboration, 'Gray's Anatomy,' I discussed how the one-man show aspect of the film started to wear a little thin after time. Thankfully, that isn't the case here at all. The numerous clips provided are quite varied, ranging between time periods and topics, which helps to keep things interesting. Also, in contrast to 'Gray's Anatomy,' all of the performance footage is taken from live shows, and thus they have the added benefit of crowd reactions. We even get to see Gray interact and converse with audience members. Coupled with the interview material and some quick snippets of home movie footage, the experience becomes very diverse. At the end of the day, the film is still one man telling the story of his life to a camera, but the stripped-down presentation becomes surprisingly compelling.
It's true that we all have a story to tell, but so few are as capable of conveying it with such wit, conviction, and heart, as Spalding Gray. A fascinating peek into one man's storied career in "creative narcissism," the film is overflowing with stirring, personal insights that somehow manage to become wholly universal and relatable. In many ways, the movie defies traditional documentary conventions, and instead develops into a moving rumination on memory, and a bittersweet celebration of one man's unique perspective. Soderbergh shows great restraint as a director, and simply lets Gray do what he's always done best. Through carefully compiled archive footage, the subject is able to tell his own story in his own words -- and it's hauntingly beautiful. Though Gray may no longer be with us, his tales will live on indefinitely, and this film stands as a bittersweet tribute to his gift. It's the story of pain and sorrow, of joy and ecstasy. It's the story of life and death, and a howling dog.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Criterion presents 'And Everything is Going Fine' in their standard clear case with spine number 617. The BD-50 region A disc comes packaged with a booklet featuring an essay by Nell Casey. The film's companion piece of sorts, 'Gray's Anatomy,' is also available from Criterion.
The film is provided with a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Almost exclusively culled from NTSC videotape and other standard definition material, the video does not actually contain any true high definition footage -- it's all just upconverted clips. This presents a bit of a challenge when it comes to awarding the transfer a traditional score. On the one hand, this is exactly what the film should look like, and on the other, it really isn't a true HD video presentation at all. With that in mind, one should take the score given with a grain of salt.
The different sources vary in quality, and there are numerous analogue tape artifacts throughout with frequent signs of degradation. These issues all seem to be inherent to the individual clips used, and for all intents and purposes the material looks about as good as it could. Detail ranges from poor to decent depending on the particular piece of footage, but again, this is all just standard definition video upscaled. Colors and contrast also vary throughout but are mostly serviceable. Black levels remain fairly consistent and deep.
This is a hard video presentation to judge by conventional standards, and while the image isn't really HD at all, the material looks as good as it could. Soderbergh made the conscious decision not to include any newly recorded interviews or footage, and though that choice limits the appeal of the picture quality, it helps to maintain Gray's singular voice. Many of the clips used feature noticeable degradation and anomalies, but they all appear to be tied to the recordings themselves and not the transfer. While this upscaled release really doesn't take advantage of the Blu-ray medium, the film is presented exactly as intended.
The audio is presented in an English LPCM mono track with optional English subtitles. Like the video, the mix varies in quality depending on the particular source used, but by and large sounds serviceable.
Since the film is essentially a series of clips featuring Gray performing monologues and giving interviews, the quality of his speech becomes paramount. Thankfully, his voice comes through fairly well, and while certain bits can sound very thin, strained or a little muffled, his words are always audible and easily understood. Outside of Gray himself, there really isn't much to the mix, but the mono track does what it needs to do without any serious issues. The musical score written by Gray's son, Forrest, is actually quite moving, and the stirring theme comes through great with solid range and fidelity.
Given the nature of the material used, the mix sounds pretty decent. While not always exactly crisp, Gray's voice is easy to hear throughout. It's extremely basic, but the audio does what it needs to do.
'And Everything is Going Fine' is a personal, heartfelt rumination on Spalding Gray's life and work, as revealed by the man himself. Through nothing more than archive footage, Soderbergh and his editor are able to compile one last monologue of sorts from the late artist. Funny, touching, and full of universal themes, the film is a wonderful tribute to a truly unique voice. The video transfer is essentially just video tape and standard definition material upscaled, but that's simply the nature of the footage used. The audio mix also suffers slightly from the inherent limitations of the source recordings, but gets the job done. While not packed with extras, the included interviews and bonus monologue are well worth your time. Despite the underwhelming (but still authentic) technical presentation, the film is very good, and this disc still gets my recommendation.