Popped over to FilmStruck to watch Gray’s Anatomy, a captivating monologue by famed oral storyteller Spalding Gray. As is often the case with these kinds of productions, the specific details of what he says (in this case, his ocular health woes provide a loose skeletal structure for a series of amusing anecdotes) are far less significant than how he articulates them: his delivery bubbles over with an infectiously neurotic, hyperactive energy.
Steven Soderbergh’s direction enhances the effect, miraculously imbuing the image of a man sitting alone at a desk with as much cinematic beauty as anything Eisenstein or Lean ever shot. Every element of the production design—from the minimalistic studio sets to the psychedelic lighting effects—knits together to form a projection screen for Gray’s fevered, frenzied thought process, while the frequent breaches of the fourth wall create the illusion of intense intimacy, as though the narrator is directly addressing you, and only you.
Soderbergh is guilty of a few stylistic missteps—his cutaways to random talking heads are particularly unwelcome, as the interviewees’ wry commentary on Gray’s experience kills the narrative momentum every time—but the unique presentation of Gray’s Anatomy ultimately outshines such minor shortcomings. If nothing else, the film has inspired me to seek out more of Gray’s work—especially Swimming to Cambodia, his collaboration with the late, great Jonathan Demme.
[Originally written December 20, 2017.]