Several years after the 2004 death of actor and writer Spalding Gray, Steven Soderbergh was approached by Gray’s widow, Kathleen Russo, to tell Gray’s life story through a documentary film. Soderbergh was a natural choice, as the director had previously helmed an acclaimed cinematic adaptation of one of Gray’s monologues, Gray’s Anatomy (1997). Gray had, in fact, built his reputation with his autobiographical monologues, performed on stage as sparsely produced one-man shows. Soderbergh accepted the challenge and the result was And Everything is Going Fine, released in 2010 and now on Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection.
No new footage was shot for the documentary. Working exclusively with existing footage of Gray—including professionally shot performances, television interviews, and home movies—Soderbergh managed to piece together a coherent narrative that conveys Gray’s life almost entirely through the late artist’s own words. Having made his living telling lengthy and incredibly personal stories about his experiences and relationships, Gray left behind a wealth of material to draw from. Interview clips from MTV and the E! network have been included, providing some context to the level of celebrity Gray attained without ever establishing himself as a true household name.
Gray’s prowess as a storyteller is clear throughout the film, even if this is your first ever encounter with him. Themes emerge, chief among them being his mother’s suicide, which followed her two debilitating nervous breakdowns. The film’s title, in fact, comes from a Gray monologue dealing, in part, with his father’s second marriage. We see a clip of the monologue in which Gray depicts his father as being in strong denial that his life has irreversibly changed in the wake of his wife’s suicide. With the exception of mundane inconveniences, his father repeatedly insists, “Everything is going fine.” But clearly Gray saw things another way, and his preoccupation with his mother’s suicide seems to have contributed to his own suicidal fantasies. Another monologue clip finds Gray elaborating on these fantasies, accompanied by laughter from the audience. The laughter seems appropriate given the context and delivery of the performance.
In 2004, Gray’s body was pulled from New York’s East River. His death was ruled a suicide. It is believed he met his demise after jumping from the Staten Island Ferry. The discussion of suicide, though greeted with amusement by some audience members during his performances, of course creates a very different atmosphere when viewed with the knowledge of how his life would end. Three years prior to his passing, Gray was the victim of a very serious automobile accident that left him with a brain injury and a broken spirit. The change in appearance and demeanor is remarkable, as Gray seems to have aged 20 years in the clips that were filmed post-accident. Having already been a sufferer of depression, the brain damage sustained as a result of the accident only worsened his already troubled state of mind. Soderbergh, in the span of 89 minutes of essentially “found footage,” crafts a moving, thought-provoking portrait of the artist’s life.
If there was ever a movie that doesn’t gain much from the transition to high definition, it’s And Everything is Going Fine. That’s not a knock against The Criterion Collection, it’s just that most of the film is made up of standard definition video footage. The material that is sourced from film is mostly home movies, probably shot on amateur-level Super 8 mm film. Visually it’s a real grab bag and none of it looks that great. Such are the limitations of the various sources. But that’s certainly not the fault of the transfer, as Criterion’s team has done what they can. The audio is presented in mono, again from original sources of limited and varying quality. It’s always easy to understand Gray (and the limited number of other speaking participants) throughout the film.
The extra features are worthwhile, including a complete monologue performance by Gray. The monologue, featured in short clips during the main film, was Gray’s very first, Sex and Death to the Age 14. Though it premiered in 1979, this version was taped in 1982 as part of a retrospective produced by The Wooster Group. Running 65 minutes, it offers a lengthier chance to enjoy Gray at work. “The Making of And Everything is Going Fine” is a 20 minute interview from 2012 featuring Soderbergh, the film’s editor Susan Littenberg, and the producer Kathleen Russo (also Gray’s widow). Soderbergh very frankly admits he felt that he owed Gray the posthumous favor of assembling this footage as he had apparently lost touch with the monologist in his last years. Russo discusses her and Gray’s children’s reaction to the film when it premiered. It’s a revealing piece and well worth watching.
I’ve seen And Everything is Going Fine described as being “for Spalding Gray fans only.” I couldn’t disagree more, as Soderbergh’s documentary is actually a perfect point of entry for potential future fans. You needn’t already know about Gray in order to appreciate the film, and those who feel something while watching it may likely seek out more of his work. The Criterion Collection has also recently issued Gray’s Anatomy, Soderbergh’s 1997 adaptation of Gray’s monologue of the same name, on Blu-ray and DVD. That film offers a chance to see a much more visually stylized version of Gray’s normally sparser stage presentation. Together with And Everything is Going Fine, Criterion has created a great double feature that celebrates the life and legacy of Spalding Gray.