Friday, September 20, 2013

GRAY'S ANATOMY (1996) - Steven Soderbergh

If there's one thing in movies that makes me squeamish, it's eye trauma. Normally, it's a shock-value staple of the horror genre. But here it's given the documentary treatment, the Spalding Gray monologue treatment and the full-service Steven Soderbergh cinematographic treatment all in one. What's a macular pucker, you ask? You might not want to know. After seeing this movie, you'll never read an optician's eye chart the same way again.

Gray details the rigors of his particular degenerative eye disease with the same discursive showmanship he brought to stage and screen in Swimming to Cambodia. Soderbergh goes to great lengths to liven up the chair-bound monologist's accompanying mise en scene. Sometimes the extra punch of color, shimmering backdrops, foreground foliage or silhouetted background performers (see above) accentuate the stories being told. Other times, Soderbergh forces the set design a bit too much and detracts from the stories. But, hey, it's a movie about sight and the fear of losing it. Can you blame him for granting us as much eye candy as possible in between?

All in all, the approach makes for an interesting aesthetic dialogue within the monologue-- Soderbergh saying "Look at me!" while Spalding screams "Listen to me!" Apart from the colorful razzle dazzle, Soderbergh's most interesting contribution might be the black and white interview clips with everyday eye trauma survivors he intersperses throughout to pad the monologue's run time. Watching these humble regular joes tell their stories back to back with Gray's highly-polished narcissism is a study in ocular perspective all its own.

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