This film is told in excerpts from interviews of, and live monologues by Spalding Gray; telling the story of his life. This is a tribute to his life, after his death in 2004. Coming up to his last, he was in a car accident which put him in the hospital. He was on crutches, performing monologues which had evolved into interviews with people from the audience. He had grown tired of talking about himself.
Gray became famous for his unique artform, he sits at a table before a live audience and tells a story – which he calls poetic journalism; is prose-like autobiography. He also works as an actor and he writes huge manuscripts which he turns into performances. Two of his films which are exceptional include Monster in a Box and Swimming to Cambodia. They are both just Gray talking for an hour and a half. Part of his magic is that it’s that simple and he still manages to keep your attention, entertain and emotionally affect his audience for that whole time.
There is a rhythm to his performances which he has set by design. But still I don’t think someone who doesn’t like the theatre would want to sit through one man talking for that long, with nothing else going on. However, I would find it hard to believe that anyone could get bored with a Spalding Gray story. Not just the way he tells it, but his stories themselves are entertaining. Expertly told, intellectually satisfying, but full of sexual humour and anxieties, scandalous, funny, drugs, uptight conservatism by upbringing as an American upper middle class, thrust into the world of liberal crazies. A world where you might find settings like Interzone from William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and Cuba from Julian Schnabel’s Before Night Falls.
This is the world that Gray talks about. He also talks about his homelife, which is and was full of conflict. His mother was psychotic and committed suicide. Gray himself has struggled with mental illness and he opens the book of himself honest and genuine, sometimes shame might be there but he bravely faces it and pushes past, never resisting, never holding back out of fear and insecurities, although he is aware and markedly upfront that he is insecure and afraid as a person.
It’s common to want people to think that you’re cool. Gray knows he’s not cool, he’s never been cool. And he is open about all the little weaknesses that make him not cool. His homo-erotic experiences, his fear of women, his late blooming, his belief that he’s more of a hard-working writer than a talented writer. He is unafraid and exceptional as a performer, a poet and a genuine person.
Watching this film inspires the need to find out more about a man whose life was about the performance, whose life was the performance. And in his later days, he seemed to discover what life was supposed to be about. But his work shines and discovering more of it, allows us to keep him alive despite death.