Note: For a complete list of my favorite films of 2010, please visit my wholly deficient list over at criticWIRE.
Obligatory Repetitive Introduction
In the past, in lieu of ranking movies and being held hostage by the dissonance between the film release calendar and my own experience of the ebb and flow of filmgoing, I have listed my favorite cinematic experiences of the year. I want to get back to that; as the way in which I get to watch movies and talk about them continues to diversify, as the idea of cinematic experience expands to multiple devices, formats, cities, communities, I think this list is here to stay. The age of the theatrical release calendar is dead for me; we’re living in a new time, where the movies can be found in every area of life, from online conversations to your home entertainment system, the back of a car seat to a projection screen at a restaurant, your phone to a portable tablet. So, I am going back to my old model, probably for good; over the next ten days, I’ll be posting my Top 10 Cinematic Experiences of 2010. Not necessarily films (although sometimes), these are the experiences that defined my year in film culture. Subjectivity alert!
5. And Everything Is Going Fine… At Slamdance
This past January, I climbed a frigid, crowded Main St. in Park City, UT, leaning against the wind and toward the Treasure Mountain Inn. I was early, so I grabbed a mug of what passes for beer in Utah; it was cold and, thankfully, tasty and despite the altitude, had no effect at all on my sobriety. I caught a glimpse of some friends and colleagues, payed my bill and headed toward the Slamdance screening room for the first public screening of And Everything Is Going Fine…, Steven Soderberg’s poignant portrait of the actor and monologist Spalding Gray.
The moment the movie started (an empty chair on stage, a single microphone on a desk, the low-res image pure nostalgia for the home video of my youth), I was transported back in time to the moment when I first discovered Spalding Gray’s work; the late 1980’s, High School, when I saw a faded copy of Swimming To Cambodia on a rented VHS tape that had been procured by the father of my good friend. In that brief, opening moment, when I saw that empty chair, wiggling in all of its stuttering VHS glory, I remembered the thrill of discovering the man through his monologues, this amazingly intimate form of storytelling, a form that reached its apotheosis in Spalding Gray. I remembered thinking how perfect his name was, given his gray-haired appearance and his New England pedigree, and I was suddenly ashamed to have made such a trite observation. And then Gray started talking, and I was snapped back into the Treasure Mountain Inn, the movie holding me in suspension between my fond memories of Gray’s work, his autobiographical approach to storytelling and the melancholy I felt knowing that he was gone.
And Everything Is Going Fine…
For me, And Everything Is Going Fine… is an essential piece in the rising tide of amazing docu-fiction; a blend of biography, autobiography, exaggeration and humility, all of them combining to mark the chronology of Gray’s life and, in the best tradition of autobiography, avoiding his death. The film uses Gray’s own words– monologues, interviews, public appearances– to allow him to tell his own life story which, as fans know, was always the subject of his deeply personal, confessional work. Gray’s career also traversed the rise and development of video recording, and the film carries the texture of the years by switching between different source material; the flickering of the VHS tape giving way to more polished digital and film formats. In a way, And Everything Is Going Fine… operates as a form of time travel, the chance to connect again with a lost friend you’ll never see again. I cherished every second of it.