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Premieres & Events

"It's Just Good Storytelling"

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh discusses Gray's Anatomy following a screening at IFC Center (Photos: Mark Rupp /

By Chris Willard

Ticket holders lined Sixth Avenue Monday for IFC Center's special presentation of Gray's Anatomy, Steven Soderbergh's 1997 film featuring the late Spalding Gray delivering one of his celebrated monologues. In attendance were Soderbergh and Gray's widow Kathleen Russo, who is currently producing Spalding Gray: Stories Left to Tell, an off-Broadway play featuring Gray's work at the Minetta Lane Theater; they were joined by Stories director Lucy Sexton and Dylan Walsh, who is currently appearing in the play's rotating guest role representing Gray's career. Russo offered a brief but emotional introduction to the film, and the four later discussed Gray's life, the production of the film and the translation of Gray's materials for the stage show in a post-screening Q&A panel.

"Spalding had done the show so many times it wasn't a problem for him in terms of keeping the rhythm," Soderbergh said. "What was amazing to me during the shoot was we shot everything completely out of sequence. We shot the thing in a warehouse, and we just moved from section to section, and his ability to be pitch perfect in each segment when I assembled the film in sequence was pretty amazing."

In the film, Gray tells a story about a visit to the ophthalmologist that turned into a transcontinental trek to find an alternative cure for his rare eye disease. While Gray is the only person to appear on screen, he deftly weaves numerous stories and various characters into the overall narrative of the monologue. "The callbacks and sort of precursors are all so beautifully layered in (Gray's monologue). It's just good storytelling," Soderbergh said.

Soderbergh often shot Gray straight-on as if Gray was telling his story to a live audience. However, the director also helped illustrate Gray's story through a mix of creative lighting design, staging and backdrops. "You just have to be as sort of open to your own process and honest about your own process as he is about his," the filmmaker said. "These two things have to work in parallel because there's Spalding and there's what I was doing, and they just sort of had to work in tandem. I can't argue that they blend necessarily, but as long as what he is doing is unified and works on its own terms and as long as what I'm doing is unified and works on its own terms then I felt like the movie was not going to be a failure creatively."

When the discussion ended, many in the capacity crowd flocked to the front of the auditorium for their chance to squeeze a few more words of wisdom out of Soderbergh. Most settled for a handshake as they exited the theater. Follow the jump for more of the panel's thoughts on Gray and the film.

Soderbergh and Kathleen Russo, Gray's wife and the producer of Stories Left to Tell

Soderbergh on approaching Gray's Anatomy in relation to previous Gray films: "It was daunting because Swimming to Cambodia is the best of the three. It's such a great movie, and I think it also has a power that's unique to the three of them because of its subject matter. The second two (Monster in a Box and Gray's Anatomy) are very personal. The first one (Swimming to Camodia) is personal, but it's also about Vietnam and our ideas about Vietnam, so it's just more ambitious ideologically. So when you combine that with the sort of pitch perfect execution of it both in front of and behind the camera it was kind of… I certainly wasn't looking forward to being compared to it."

Soderbergh on Life Interrupted, his and Russo's documentary being formed around Gray's journal entries and existing monologues: "When we first started talking about (the documentary) before I'd seen the show, I thought, 'Well, we're going to have to get other people to perform some of these pieces. Is that going to work?' And then I saw the show, and it does work because the stories hold up. They're just good stories."

Walsh on the differences between the film and the play: "It was great to watch the original because in the play we're saying the words are his and this thing will live with any actor saying them, but here you sit and think, 'They're his, they're only his and his delivery and what the words are all together -- nobody could do that.' The rhythm he has and what I felt sitting there watching it is the huge difference from that to the play, and the play really does stand alone. It was as if he wrote it down but never (performed) it, which I think is great for both. But I think it's amazing."

Soderbergh on the future of storytelling: "We're a part of that every day. When you talk to your friends and you ask somebody what happened to them, that's what this is, so I don't think that's ever going to go away entirely. It might not exist in this form as often as it used to, but what happens is the Internet and the ease through which it allows you to tell the truth and lie, and that affects, I think, the way in which stories are told. But I think stories are always going be told."

Posted at May 22, 2007 3:51 PM

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