The late Spalding Gray gets another chance to talk in “And Everything is Going Fine,” which, despite forceful direction by Steven Soderbergh, works hauntingly well as the monologist’s posthumous autobiography. Brilliant editing of a slew of performance and interview footage, much of it suitably raw, locates every chilling irony within a deeply poetic life. Described by Soderbergh as a work of “inside baseball,” the docu indeed will appeal most to Gray fans. But as a story of art-making, mental illness and the sometimes thin line between both, it holds wider fascination, spelling limited theatrical play and a long life in ancillary.
Eschewing narration and other conventionally connective tissue, “Everything” pulls from some 90 hours of Gray matter to fashion a new narrative that retains the raconteur’s gift for eccentric pacing and the telling detail. That this experiment comes off so smoothly is a testament to the storytelling skills of both Gray and Soderbergh, who collaborated twice before the performer’s death by apparent suicide in 2004. Among the film’s eerie moments is Gray’s revelation that the director imagined him as perfect for a part in “King of the Hill” as a character “ruled by regret to the extent that he kills himself.”
Through footage spanning roughly 25 years, “Everything” makes abundantly clear that mortality was a recurrent theme of Gray’s darkly comic, intensely personal work. Snippets of a ’90s monologue feature Gray — seated at his customary desk onstage, sipping a glass of water — relating his anxiety over turning 52, the age of his mother when she killed herself (after asking her son how she should do it). In another, hilarious bit, Gray recalls that Mom would often soothe him to sleep with the gentle reminder that death is indeed forever.
Lively sections of the film’s first half have Gray sharing the specifics of early sexual experiences in his hometown of Barrington, R.I., and of his father’s humorously failed attempt to explain the birds and the bees while golfing. Gray also sketches his formative years as a young stage actor in regional productions, and describes how his work with New York’s Wooster Group in the late ’60s led to his discovery of the monologue form.
Raised in the Christian Science tradition, but believing mainly in the joys and vagaries of chance, Gray is shown describing his artistic m.o. as the desire to organize “chaos” through narrative storytelling. Thus the details of his 2001 car accident in Ireland, resulting in a brain injury, appear both immensely tragic and perfectly in keeping with his philosophy of life as a series of uncontrollable events.
Appropriately, Soderbergh’s first documentary (unless one counts his flamboyantly visualized film of “Gray’s Anatomy”) arranges wildly diverse material in such a way as to make some sense of the artist’s physical and psychological deterioration. Still, “Everything” stops well short of clinical diagnosis, preferring to preserve the myriad mysteries of Gray’s life and death.
Long in the works, the film was made with the close involvement of Gray’s wife, Kathy Russo. The couple’s son — musician Forrest Gray, seen in the film as a toddler twirling on the floor for Dad’s attention — contributes an electric score that beautifully mirrors the docu’s own careful mix of experimentation and emotion. Image quality of the digital pic varies greatly, but without detriment to the storytelling.
The climactic use of footage shot in 2001 by Barbara Kopple in the Hamptons — featuring Gray with a supporting performance by a Chekhovian howling dog — is nothing short of magic.