Gray’s Anatomy – The Criterion Collection #618 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 26, 2012 by  

“Gray’s Anatomy” is an enjoyable and delightful story by Spalding Gray and showcasing Soderbergh’s staging.  An if anything, “Gray’s Anatomy” is a fitting monologue for those new to Spalding’s work and hopefully will lead them to Spalding’s “Swimming to Cambodia” or even “Monster in a Box”.  It may not be for everyone but for those who want are interested in a fascinating story that can only be told by a great storyteller such as Spalding Gray, “Gray’s Anatomy” is recommended.

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TITLE: Gray’s Anatomy – The Criterion Collection #618


DURATION: 79 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), Black and White/Color, 5.1 Surround


RELEASE DATE: June 13, 20112

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Written by Spading Gray, Renee Sharansky

Produced by John Hardy

Executive Producer: Caroline Kaplan, John Re, Kathleen Russo, Jonathan Sehring

Music by Cliff Martinez

Cinematography by Elliot Davis

Edited by Susan Littenberg

Production Design by Adele Plauche

Set Decoration by Cynthia Wigginton


Spalding Gray

Mike McLaughlin

Melissa Robertson

Alvin Henry

Alyne Hargroder

Buddy Carr

Gerry Urso

Chris Simms

Tommy Staub

Kirk A. Patrick Jr.

One of the great raconteurs of stage and screen, Spalding Gray, came together with one of cinema’s boldest image-makers, Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh, for Gray’s Anatomy, a spellbinding adaptation of Gray’s 1993 monologue of the same name (cowritten with Renée Shafransky). In it, Gray, with typical sardonic relish, chronicles his arduous journey through the diagnosis and treatment of a rare and alarming ocular condition. For the monologist, this experience occasioned a meditation on illness and mortality, medicine and metaphysics; for the filmmaker, it was a chance to experiment with ways of bringing his subject’s words to brilliant, eye-opening life.

Monologue, a word that is defined as a soliloquy; a dramatic sketch performed by one actor; the routine of a stand-up comic.

The late Spalding Gray.   The WASP from Rhode Island, the actor who had parts in the films “The Killing Fields”, “Beaches”, “Kate & Leopold” and TV series such as “The Nanny” and “Saturday Night Live”, was known for his acting and written work in autobiographical monologue.

From his experience filming in Southeast Asia, he wrote “Swimming to Cambodia” in 1985 which received its film adaptation in 1987.  The monologue would earn Gray a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Book Award in 1985.

Spalding Gray would continue to gain prominence from his monologue work and his first and only novel “Impossible Vacation”, Gray was seen as the ultimate storyteller, possibly one of America’s greatest raconteurs.  A man with an amazing gift of writing and performing with humor and openness.  But also a man who battled with hereditary depression.

But life for Spalding Gray would take its turn in 2001. While vacationing in Ireland, Gray would suffer severe injuries in a car accident.  Injuries to his body and to his brain and the bout with depression was too much for him to take.

Also, the events of September 11th would also take its toll on a depressed Spalding Gray and would write an open letter to New York City for his unfinished final monologue.

In 2004, after watching Tim Burton’s “Big Fish”, according to Gray’s widow, Kathie Russo, “You know, Spalding cried after he saw that movie.  I just think it gave him permission.  I think it gave him permission to die.”

Spalding Gray went missing and his body was found several months later in the East River.  The man who battled his own depression and life itself, decided that with all that he was going through since the accident, life was no longer living.  And he took his own life.

Remembered best for his monologue work, back in 1993, Spalding would work with young filmmaker at the time, Steven Soderbergh ( “Sex, Lies and Videotape”, “Kafka”, “King of the Hill” and “Underneath”) in the film “King of the Hill”.

Soderbergh who enjoyed Spalding’s novel “Impossible Vacation” would later collaborate with Spalding Gray in bringing his 1993 monologue “Gray’s Anatomy” to the big screen, and so together along with co-writer Renee Shafransky, the film adaptation of “Gray’s Anatomy” was released in theaters in 1997.  The film would also be a personal cinematic purge for Soderbergh who wanted to rejuvenate himself after directing four feature films and by working with people that he collaborated with in his short films.

With a small budget and eight days to film, “Gray’s Anatomy” would give him the time to create a film that Soderbergh had wanted and most importantly, work with Spalding Gray.

The monologue would feature stories of people discussing their own personal eye injury.  The stories would then transition to Spalding Gray, a man discussing his own eye problem and his journey through getting a diagnosis and the treatment of the rare ocular condition, Macular Pucker (a disease of the eye which makes objects look larger than they really are).

The film would give people access to see Spalding Gray on the big screen.  To show the amazing storyteller as his journey of self-discovery, mortality, medicine and metaphysics was explored.

Through the use of visual effects to coincide with his monologue, the famous raconteur will receive his first entry to the Criterion Collection with “Gray’s Anatomy” in June 2012 on Blu-ray and DVD.   “Gray’s Anatomy” will be released simultaneously along with Soderbergh’s 2010 documentary of Spalding titled “And Everything is Going Fine”.


“Gray’s Anatomy” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 aspect ratio).  The film is presented in black and white and color.  The black and white segments are well-contrast.  Black levels are good and grays and whites look good.  The color portion featuring Spalding Gray is colorful with reds, blues, oranges, brown and blacks are heavily used as a background for Gray.  There is good use of detail when featuring Spalding Gray closeup and there is a fine layer of grain that can be seen throughout the film.  I detected no banding or any artifacts during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, the film was supervised by Steven Soderbergh and the new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm interpositive.  Image Systems’ Phoenix was used to remove small dirt, debris and grain.


“Gray’s Anatomy” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.  Dialogue is clear from Spalding Gray to the other people featured throughout the film.  I heard no audio problems during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original theatrical audio mix was updated by re-recording mixer Larry Blake from the 1997 stems, the primary change being the upmixing of the music to 5.1 surround.

Subtitles are in English SDH.


“Gray’s Anatomy – The Criterion Collection #618” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Steven Soderbergh – (12:14) Interview with Steven Soderbergh by the Criterion Collection in March 2012.  Stephen talks about why he wanted to make a film about Spalding Gray.
  • Renee Shafransky – (18:17) Interview with Renee Shafranksy by the Criterion Collection in March 2012.  Renee talks about how she became a writing collaborator with Spalding Gray and what it was like to work with him. Renee is also the ex-spouse of Spalding Gray.
  • Swimming to the Macula – (16:22) Featuring the actual surgery footage repairing Spalding Gra’s eye.
  • Trailer – (2:26) The original theatrical trailer for “Gray’s Anatomy”.
  • A Personal History of the American Theater – (1:37: 21) Spalding Gray’s monologue created back in November 1982 as part of the Wooster Group’s eight-weeks series “A Spalding Gray Retrospective”.  Shot at the Performing Garage in New York City.


Included is a 20-page booklet featuring the essay “The Eye’s of the Beholder” by Amy Taubin.

“Gray’s Anatomy” is a fascinating monologue and film to be featured in the Criterion Collection.

The film would be the first of Spalding Gray to make it onto Blu-ray but also a film that would be the first monologue to be released by the Criterion Collection.

And it is a film that showcases one of the most important American storytellers of all time.  With humor and amazing presentation, many will have the opportunity to see this raconteur discuss humorously about his experience of having surgery to fix his ocular condition, Mascular Pucker.

While a story of Spalding Gray or other individuals discussing their eye conditions would probably not sound so entertaining on paper or by reading it, Spalding Grays’ work is best explained by listening or watching.  It’s the presentation of his work that sounds so amazing.  It’s the journey that he takes the viewer or listener of his journey of discovering his eye condition and the many steps he takes in to find a way to cure it is fascinating because he injects a lot of passion and humor to his monologue.

For those who appreciate Spalding’s work, the release of “Gray’s Anatomy” on video is great timing to showcase one of America’s greatest storytellers.    And while Spalding Gray is best know for his monologue “Swimming to Cambodia”, because Steven Soderbergh directed this film and Soderbergh does have his films well-represented in the Criterion Collection, “Gray’s Anatomy” could possibly reach a new generation who may not have heard of Spalding Gray or aren’t familiar with his monologue work.

The film is important to Soderbergh as it was the film that he needed to purge himself from working in Hollywood films and try to recapture that synergy and enthusiasm he had of creating films with his old friends that worked with him in his short films.

“Gray’s Anatomy” was not only a film that brought the filmmaker Steven Soderbergh together with Spalding Gray in 1998, over a decade later, Steven Soderbergh would go on to create the 2010 documentary “And Everything is Going Fine” about the life of Gray’s earlier life and career. Inspired by Gray Spalding and to create a film as if it was Spalding Gray’s last monologue.

But I know that for our readers, the big question they will ask is if they will love this film?  Does it have mass appeal?  And the big question I ask is have you listened to a narrated audio book?  As a child, do you remember your children going to the library or bookstore to be part of a reading hour or do you enjoy going to a seminar and listening to the stories by an individual.   If yes, then definitely give “Gray’s Anatomy” a chance.

Spalding Gray is amazing with his delivery and his written work is hilarious, almost to the point that the things he talks about in the film, almost resemble the characters of Seinfeld.  Mainly the wit that goes into the simplest of things.  From going to find alternatives treatments to surgery by going to Indians and his first impressions of that experience to being told why he can’t eat fish or chicken.  In a way, it sounds neurotic but its the charming aspect of Spalding Gray’s wit. An intelligent speaker and entertaining storyteller, there is something self-deprecating about his monologue that I found quite fascinating.

While Soderbergh does try to bring visual imagery to the monologue, it’s possibly Spalding Gray’s storytelling that will captivate people.  In fact, similar to how I felt back during the Criterion Collection days of LaserDisc and recording the audio commentary on cassette tapes to listen to during commutes, watching this film made me reminiscent of my old Criterion Collection LD days because I wanted to listen to this monologue during my commute.

As for the Blu-ray release, the video quality holds up quite well in HD and dialogue and music is crisp and clear.  While the Blu-ray and DVD release does come with several special features (included are interviews with Steven Soderbergh and Renee Shafransky and interesting is the inclusion of the footage from Spalding Gray’s eye surgery), fortunately, Spalding Gray’s complete monologue, “A Personal History of the American Theater” is included with this release.

Overall, “Gray’s Anatomy” is an enjoyable and delightful story by Spalding Gray and showcasing Soderbergh’s staging.  An if anything, “Gray’s Anatomy” is a fitting monologue for those new to Spalding’s work and hopefully will lead them to Spalding’s “Swimming to Cambodia” or even “Monster in a Box”. For those who are wanting to see more of Spalding Gray, I also recommend checking out the documentary “And Everything is Going Fine”, a 2010 documentary by Steven Soderbergh to celebrate the career of the late Spalding Gray.  The documentary will be released on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection on the same day of the release of “Gray’s Anatomy”.

“Gray’s Anatomy” may not be for everyone but for those who want are interested in a fascinating story that can only be told by a great storyteller such as Spalding Gray, “Gray’s Anatomy” is recommended.

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