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And Everything Is Going Fine

March 19, 2010

Spalding Gray was a sui generis performer who for two-and-a-half decades mined the details of his life to construct comedic monologues that blurred the line between fiction and reality. He was a man whose life and art were wholly inseparable — an impossible self-reflexivity begot an apparently encyclopedic account of an entire life, one in which everything (embarrassments, personal turmoil, even the inner mechanics of his own mind) was seemingly transparent and nothing was safe from his keen sense of self-deprecation. Seemingly is the key word here, as Gray’s coy admission that he has his own secrets underscores the impossibility of reducing the human experience to a laundry list of events and quirks.

In And Everything Is Going Fine, director Steven Soderbergh and editor Susan Littenberg deftly assemble countless appearances of Gray (with whom they previously collaborated on Soderbergh’s Gray’s Anatomy) as he filters the subjects of art, sex, family, and mortality through his inimitable worldview. Structured chronologically, the film is primarily compiled from his shows and interviews and spans the entirety of Gray’s career: It’s an autobiographical patchwork as crafted by another party. More intimate footage from personal videos also appears, and it lends nicely to a discussion about to what extent one is able to parse the man and the performer. Gray’s final fate is not mentioned onscreen, only hinted at, which makes some foreknowledge necessary to get the full impact of the ending. Still, Soderbergh’s decision not to intrude was a good one; like the art in which Gray made a name, And Everything Is Going Fine remains essentially a one-man show.

Eventually, And Everything builds to a portrait of a man at ease with what he sees as the fundamentally entropic nature of the universe, a man who views accidents as serendipitous events to be publicly chronicled and describes his art as ascribing order to chaos. But his, it becomes clear, is the story of a fall: After the universe indulges in a final act of arbitrary violence against him, his art proves tragically unable to impose meaning onto this accident. Achingly personal, And Everything emerges as a fond remembrance of a fallen comrade: someone who, with scathing humor and unrivaled self-knowledge, fended off life’s cruel, random blows by exhibiting them for all to see and in doing so related something universally human.

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From → Documentary, Film

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