In 1996 director Steven Soderbergh filmed an adaptation of Gray’s Anatomy, a 1993 piece by actor-monologist Spalding Gray (Swimming to Cambodia, Monster in a Box). Gray recounts being informed by a doctor that an eye affliction will require risky surgery, news that leads him to examine alternative treatments including Christian Science, nutritional ophthalmology, psychic surgery, and sorcery. The rhythms and cadence of his descriptions and acting-out of characters are mesmerizing, often amusing; his tone sometimes slow and soft and at other times manically frenetic and frantic as he tells his poetic tales.
Since the images are just of a man sitting at a desk, the lighting is dramatic — lots of deep black shadows and silhouettes — with varied backgrounds projected behind while a camera stalks about. The picture is sharp and detailed with good contrast delivering rich colors, a wide range of tones, and a surprisingly solid and dimensional Gray. The sound, though 5.1, stays mainly in the front channels except for rare musical moments, but it’s always clear and full with every utterance audible.
In 2004 following Gray’s suicide, Soderbergh responded by making And Everything Is Going Fine, a fascinating portrait of Gray shaped together from clips of his autobiographical monologues, interviews, and home movies. It describes various aspects of his life, family, and the mental troubles of Gray and his mother (who had also committed suicide). Since the source videos are quite primitive, usually shot live and underlit, images range from fair to blurrily lousy, but the all-important sound is clear throughout.
Anatomy: Video: 1.85:1. Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Extras: A Personal History of the American Theater (95-minute monologue by Gray filmed in 1982), new interviews with Soderbergh and co-writer Renée Shafransky, booklet of essays.
Fine: Video: 1.37:1. Audio: LPCM Mono. Extras: 64-minute Sex and Death to the Age 14 (Gray’s first monologue, created in 1979 and filmed in 1982), making-of featurette, booklet. Studio: The Criterion Collection.