What to do while watching:
What to eat while watching:
I'm currently immersed in Spaulding Gray.
Immersion in an artist's body of work can inspire one's own work. Back when I was an angst-ridden young man (read "undersexed"), I went through the entire oeuvre of Woody Allen, read two biographies, and started listening to Dixieland, so that some of him would rub off on me. I immersed myself in poets: Charles Bukowski, Allen Ginsberg, and Rumi, and watched my poetic style change and mature each time. With Jonathan Richman, my immersion has extended over a decade, starting with an acquisition of his records. I've learned to play his songs, composed a few that are reminiscent of his style, and sought out each of his film appearances (Something About Mary, Kingpin). To totally throw oneself into an artist's work--especially someone who has expressed himself or herself in a few different media--can inspire a new voice, a new creative energy in the one so immersed.
I bring up Jonathan Richman because my interest in him came after a demi-immersion in The Talking Heads that included their fantastic music, David Byrne's writings and recordings, and the movie True Stories--a movie in which Spaulding Gray has a memorable role as the odd town founder. In Swimming to Cambodia, Gray is the quintessential talking head. He sits behind a desk, with his notebook, a glass of water, and a microphone. And he talks.
I caught his latest monologue, Morning, Noon, and Night recently, and he's still doing the same thing, just as well. I also listened to two of his audio CDs: Monster in a Box and It's a Slippery Slope, the first about his writing the novel Impossible Vacation (which I bought on Amazon), and the second about his discovery of skiing. Both of these stories are fascinating in and of themselves, but one of the threads that holds the listener so thoroughly is Gray's relationship difficulties, which are reminiscent of Woody Allen's. (See how this all ties together?)
But Gray has a lot more balance than Allen. In fact, Morning, Noon, and Night, is a narration of a day in the balanced, suburban life of a middle-aged family man. How can this possibly be fascinating? And yet it is. At least as interesting as the book I'm now reading, a collection of his earliest monologues entitled, Sex and Death to the Age 14.
"So, okay, Gooden, we get the idea that you're jazzed about Spaulding Gray. What about Swimming to Cambodia?"
This narration of Gray's experience acting a small role in the film, The Killing Fields, is interspersed with Gray's personal history as an actor and writer; detailed information about the political and cultural (and sexual) climate of Cambodia, Thailand, and Viet Nam; some insights about the Vietnamese War (and the Korean War); tales of his childhood in Rhode Island; and a lot more. His pace in so quick and his words so frighteningly engaging that what he's saying is almost beside the point. It's exciting just to hear him talk, and somehow he manages to invent an entirely new style of film and performance just sitting behind a desk, doing just that.
And so, I'm reading him, watching him, listening to him, and trying to write like him. Absolutely inspiring, this is a one-of-a-kind film that's critical viewing for anyone with an inclination toward thought-provoking film. Gray challenges the traditional notions of cinematic narration-not outright-but with greater effect than David Lynch ever achieved. Gray simply does what he is good at, and winds up creating a movie that stands out as unique. Directed by Jonathan Demme, who also directed Talking Head's Stop Making Sense, this is gem, that was even better the second time seeing it.
With the added perspective of some of Gray's other works, this story becomes deeper and his uber-monologue, the one of his entire life, both actual and fictionalized in performance, has greater connection for me.
So, friend, if you haven't seen this film, do so. You'll see a deeply
felt, intelligent expression, both totally original and totally graceful.
And who knows, maybe you can do what he's doing.
©1999 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.