- Apr 24, 2006
- Charlotte, NC
- Real Name
- Matt Hough
Expert monologist/raconteur Spalding Gray had already had two of his theatrical pieces committed to film when Steven Soderbergh agreed to put a third, Gray’s Anatomy, on celluloid. But Soderbergh had a different approach in mind to what Jonathan Demme and Nick Broomfield had brought to Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box. Here, there is no audience, and the piece is much more cinematic allowing Gray’s funny, witty, angst-filled, and powerful prose to gain authority through Soderbergh’s sometimes subtle, sometimes dynamic directorial touches which uncannily point up aspects of the at times humorous and at other times harrowing monologue at its genuinely emotional peaks.
Gray’s Anatomy (Blu-ray)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 79 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Review Date: June 15, 2012
When Spalding Gray learns that he’s afflicted with the rare eye disorder called macula pucker, his oculist suggests that he has several approaches to his condition that he can take. With ignoring it out of the question but fearing that an operation might leave him blind in his left eye (a 35% failure rate), Gray decides he’ll try alternative therapies first before committing to optical surgery. Thus begins a lengthy series of his several unconventional attempts at treatment including visiting a Christian Science therapist, an Indian sweat lodge, a health food nutritionist, and, as a last desperate attempt to forgo an operation, a Philippine psychic surgeon.
Adapted from Gray’s stage monologue (written by Gray and his then-wife Renee Shafransky), Soderbergh has shortened the text but artificially extended the performing space by adding subtle set changes, rear projection backdrops, and occasional props to suggest different locales. He pulls every directing trick he can think of to keep the monologue from becoming static including bringing the camera in, out, around, and across Gray as he talks, and he’s filmed the monologue in short bursts rather than as a long-winded, single piece. It may occasionally break the rhythmic progression of Gray’s cadence (though the matching of the pieces is really first-rate), but the interesting setting and lighting changes, along with the sometimes hypnotic music, aid immeasurably in keeping things lively and interesting. When Soderbergh shortened Gray’s original text, he found the film was running short, so he’s filmed some interviews with a wide cross section of people with their own histories of ocular abnormalities, and these testimonials make up the film’s first ten minutes and later occasionally comment on Gray’s various methods to avoid going under the knife. Though their opening stories are interesting (some funny, some grisly), the later use of this “Greek chorus” is less effective.
Of course, Spalding Gray himself does all he can to keep things dynamic with a striking, mellifluous voice which can boom at or caress his listeners at a given split-second and can effectively paint his real fear and dread at his condition with both his voice, his facial expressions, and his body language. The cathartic experience of seeing an elaborate monologue performed as a single spoken piece of theater may be gone, but the actor gains in being able to sculpt his story with the help of a master director who gives him a marvelous assist in making a still stage piece into something much more impressively cinematic.
The film has been framed at its theatrical 1.85:1 aspect ratio with the transfer’s 1080p resolution being presented using the AVC codec. While the interview segments in grainy black and white look fine, the film proper in color with Gray talking is where the transfer really shines. Color is bold and bright (though reds do tend to be a bit out of control and whites bloom a bit), and sharpness is excellent. Gray’s skin tones seem very tan and are very consistently presented. The look is very clean with no age-related artifacts marring the presentation. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is an upmixing from the original stems for this release. Dialogue is very resonant throughout and has been placed in the center channel. Cliff Martinez’s spare score sounds just fine with very subtle spread into the rear channels. Occasionally, the music and sound effects seem to hover over the soundstage for a rather impressive effect for a home theater environment, but this only happens occasionally. There are no age-related aural artifacts to spoil the presentation.
Director Steven Soderbergh speaks about making the film (his decisions about cutting the text and adding the interviewees) and his use of Gray as an actor in one of his movies (King of the Hill) in this 2012 interview which runs 12 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
Gray’s partner on the project Renee Shafransky speaks for 18 minutes about the late actor with whom she collaborated for many years. This 2012 interview is also presented in 1080p.
“Swimming to the Macula” is a 16 ¼-minute silent montage of Gray’s actual eye operation as it was filmed. (He refers to the operation in the closing minutes of the film, and this film presents what he describes.) This is in 1080i.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
“A Personal History of the American Theater” is Spalding Gray’s 1982 monologue presented at the Performing Garage in which he recounts memories of forty-eight plays he performed in during basically a period from 1960-1970. This 1080i presentation runs 97 ¼ minutes.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
The enclosed 10-page booklet contains a cast and crew list, a chapter listing, some stills of the interview participants in the film, and an essay on the actor and his movie by film writer Amy Taubin.
4/5 (not an average)
Gray’s Anatomy gives a cinematic spin to another of Spalding Gray’s theater monologues in a film that’s alternately funny, witty, and disturbing. The Criterion Blu-ray presents a near-pristine package for a film that admirers of the actor will be sure to enjoy. Recommended!