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Gray's Anatomy

Not rated, 80 min. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Spalding Gray.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 18, 1997

Spalding Gray is like marzipan: You either love him or you hate him and rarely is there an in-between. This is the third in (I expect) an ongoing series of feature-length monologues from Gray -- the first two comprising the OBIE award-winning Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box -- and although all three have strikingly similar qualities, Soderbergh's skewed, unsettling, and often hilarious direction in Gray's Anatomy makes this time out the most entertaining by far. As with all things Gray, the monologist's sardonic, self-deprecating wit is in full throttle as he recounts his recent battle with a degenerative eye disease and the various processes he went through in search of a cure. Not being particularly fond of surgical procedures involving protracted scraping of his inner ocular regions, Gray instead goes off in search of alternative therapies before consenting to the inevitable. Along the way, he attends a Native-American sweat lodge gathering intended to spiritually heal his damaged optics (to no avail), recounts his upbringing among a family of devout Christian Scientists, and regales the audience with his misadventures while visiting a Filipino psychic surgeon by the name of Pini Boca (again, to no avail). I have a number of friends who find Gray's breathless monologizing steadfastly boring; they'd get more kicks watching Brie melt than sitting through one of the artist's verbal performances. These are usually the same people who despise Eric Bogosian for similar reasons (though the two have little in common besides their penchants for verbal gymnastics). The bottom line, I've always felt, is “Is he a good storyteller?” and the answer invariably leans toward the affirmative. Gray -- love him or hate him -- is frequently spellbinding, whether he's speaking about his experiences during his acting stint in The Killing Fields, or about more mundane, personal situations such as this. Peppering his speech with the odd one-liner and the occasional risqué anecdote, Gray comes across like a large, demented elf, manifestly eager to bring home these personal experiences that have shaped his life. For his part, Soderbergh keeps the camera moving, never allowing it to rest too long on Gray's haggard face. This flurry of motion in what is essentially a one-man, one-character, static stage play -- along with the director's clever use of offbeat lenses and challenging lighting arrays -- keeps Gray's Anatomy from bogging down in itself and becoming the ennui-inducing juggernaut the performer's detractors have so often hinted at. Not only is it interesting to follow the course of Gray's storyline, the movie is also equally interesting to view, even if the storyteller is just sitting in front of a desk most of the time.
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