Throughout December, J.R. Jones and I will take turns writing about our ten favorite films that screened in Chicago this year. Let the countdown begin!
Steven Soderbergh’s documentary about the actor and monologist Spalding Gray (which played at the Film Center in February) is one of the director’s most impressive formal achievements, presenting a chronological history of Gray’s life with nothing but preexisting footage. It’s a staggering feat of editing—Soderbergh spent a few years fashioning a feature-length film from hundreds of hours of recordings—yet it always proceeds fluidly from digression to digression, just like one of Gray’s own monologues. In fact, the storytelling so accurately re-creates Gray’s that it plays as though he had worked on it from beyond the grave. (In his long review, J.R. Jones likened the film to Soderbergh and Gray’s collaboration on the concert film Gray’s Anatomy (1996).) Soderbergh has always been a incredible mimic: one of the most compelling things about Kafka (1991), Schizopolis (1996), and The Limey (1999) was how they incorporated and built on ideas from Carol Reed, Richard Lester, and John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967), respectively. But here Soderbergh uses his talent for impersonation to channel a friend who’d been dead since 2004, making Everything, against all odds, one of his most personal films.