In 1996, Steven Soderbergh made a film of Spalding Gray’s Gray’s Anatomy. That film deals with Gray’s eyesight problem but, like all his performance pieces over the years, it is really just a long monologue, well-delivered, about the world as experienced by Spalding Gray. As unvarnished as these performances seem to be, they’re actually just a projection, the Gray that Gray wants us to see. As we see him say in Soderbergh’s new documentary, “I like telling the story of life better than living it.”
And Everything is Going Fine is Soderbergh’s riveting, hilarious and sad presentation of Gray’s entire life. There is no narrator, save for Gray himself, who died of an apparent suicide in 2004. The film is presented to us entirely in the form of pre-existing video recordings (of monologues, of interviews, of Gray at home with his kids or his father).
Soderbergh never lets us forget that we are watching other people’s footage captured at different times and for different reasons. The documentary varies, minute to minute, from high-quality performance footage to glitchy, washed out old tapes. We are constantly reminded of the medium and of the fact that we are not watching the real Spalding Gray but the version of himself he curated for us.
Gray’s charming and avuncular presence makes him easy to watch and enjoy, whether he’s performing or in a more private state. That sustained pleasant nature, however, exists mostly to soften the delivery of the things he’s saying. He is, if you look just under the surface, being rather frank about life and death and sex and humiliation and the pervasive pain of simply being alive. These issues are not held at a distance, either. The chief insight that Soderbergh gives us is that, despite his calm demeanor, this is a man with a multitude of wounds that have not scarred over.
It’s helpful, in reflecting on the man’s life, to know how he died but I wonder, if I were unaware, how I would feel at the end of this project. Probably like I’d just read a short, melancholy novel. The character’s hardships and flaws were vivid while I was reading it but once the book is closed, he never really existed. Based on the impression Soderbergh allows us, he may in face have wanted it that way.
Special features included a making-of and an illuminating recording of Gray’s earliest monologue, Sex and Death to the Age 14, from 1982.