johnlink ranks GRAY’S ANATOMY (1996)

I saw this movie years ago, probably ’04 or ’05, and it always stuck with me. I studied some Spalding Gray for my Politics in Theater class, and it had been in my mind since. I’m writing a script for that class, but needed the work from other students to come in so that I could compile the full script. They were late, so I figured I’d kill some time by watching this thing again.


I watched GRAY’S ANATOMY (1996) on 4.29.14. It was my second viewing of the film and first in almost a decade.

Spalding Gray made a living telling stories. He would get up in front of the audience without a script and tell a story, a planned story, but not a scripted story. He would develop exactly what to say over the course of those outings.

By the time they were recorded for film, they were long since memorized and set. He himself admitted that he lost interest as everything was formed, but he would try to rekindle the magic for the film version. The result is a seventy minute monologue, cut up by ten or fifteen minutes of other people telling stories, which is still a wonderful tale. However, it certainly feels less than spontaneous.


Director Steven Soderbergh, early in his career here, embraces that scripted format to turn each beat of the monologue into its own little set piece. The first time we see Gray he is sitting at a table with a microphone and a glass of water. Save for the lack of audience, this would be just how his stage show was set up. We immediately see that Soderbergh is not interested in just recreating a stage show as he hits us with the entire film text book of various styles of lighting. Sometimes we can see Gray, sometimes we can’t. Sometimes he looks angelic, sometimes demonic.

Through all this, the story shines through. The story, essentially, is Spalding Gray telling us about the time he found out he was going to need eye surgery. He talks, really, about the nature of health and the medical industry. He talks about neurosis and his own desire to avoid surgery by doing crazy things like Native American sweat tents and psychic surgeons in the Philippines and raw vegetable diets to avoid a heavy metal found in sea cucumbers; which, of course, might get eaten by fish would then get eaten by chickens and God knows what else…

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When Gray is at his best he gets on a roll like George Carlin. When he’s less engaged he comes across as sounding like he has told this particular beat of the story one too many times. Fortunately, GRAY’S ANATOMY has much more of the former than the latter.

And so, this is really worth finding once. It’s memorable. A second viewing, even years later, provides a surprising amount of familiarity. Yet, maybe because of the way it comes at you, it does provide diminishing returns. The story has less of an impact the second time, unlike the best comedic acts and monologues. This is a piece which comes with a ton of talent and a bunch of ingenuity, but it doesn’t stand up as a real classic.




FINAL SCORE: 6.75 out of 10


~ by johnlink00 on April 29, 2014.

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