How do you discuss a film that is nothing more than a microphone and a man telling a story? I’m not quite certain. I’m used to — even though I’ve tried desperately to ignore this type of formatting — having a few different elements to talk about but this movie is so simple that it seems difficult to not view it in binary as opposed to in some sort of multi-faceted thing where I can break it apart and tick of some checkboxes or not.
This film however, really isn’t just a man telling a story. It exists in a weird subspace of genre specific filmmaking. It isn’t necessarily a fully formed fictional film as we sit there listening to Spalding Gray tell us about the journey he went on after discovering a medical issue he began to have with one of his eyes. Being a neurotic New Yorker, very much in the vain of Woody Allen, with a fear of hospitals his journey involves him not just worrying about the fact that there is a problem but his requirement to discover a solution that isn’t tied to medical science. This can’t be anything other than great can it?
Well I guess I already contextualized this whole thing. Like any Woody Allen film, especially in the days when it used to star Allen himself, we would get off on watching him just try to manage day to day life. He wrestled with what seemed like simple life decisions but was always unable to make them. Just like that we sit there entranced by Gray telling his tale of woe. Very much in the same way I would sit for hours listening to Stephen Tobolowsky tell me his stories in The Tobolowsky Files I find Gray as engaging. But does the fact that this work is comparable to a podcast diminish the film’s effect? I’m unsure.
Soderbergh manages to have two visual elements embedded in the film to try and distinguish it from the normal ‘documentary’, though somehow I don’t consider this film to be an out and out documentary. One is the chapters that the film is broken up into. The chapters all begin with a series of interviews with a few ‘regular’ people discussing their own stories of injuries they had with their eyes and then on subsequent chapters we hear them answer “would you” questions based on the things that Gray did to himself to avoid seeking professional medical attention on his own problem. It’s as if Soderbergh wants to highlight even more clearly what kind of an eccentric Gray is, even though we already know this. The other effect we encounter is the continually changing background. As if Windows is on hibernate and we watch a revolving door of images and sounds that tend to mirror the aspect of the story Gray is telling we find ourselves finding more and more reason to look at the film rather than live it entirely as an auditory experience. And it works.
While the visuals wouldn’t be the thing I would tout about this film it manages to keep the movie from being a singularly uncinematic experience.
If this film does nothing else it reminds us why our own neurosis — whether as much as Gray’s or not — is an important thing. It helps us develop our own quirks and stories with more meat to them. I found myself more and more siding with Gray’s own messed up logic rather than complaining about his continual complaining.
I leave you with this brilliant line of dialogue that makes me smile more than frown:
“doubt is my bottom line. The only thing that I don’t doubt is my own doubt”