SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA
(director: Jonathan Demme; screenwriter: Spalding Gray; cinematographer: John Bailey; editor: Carol Littleton; music: Laurie Anderson; cast: Spalding Gray; Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: RA Shafransky; Cinecom International Films; 1987)
“A spellbinding witty rant.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Jonathan Demme (“The Silence of the Lambs”/”Storefront Hitchcock”/”The Agronomist”) directs the gifted raconteur Spalding Gray’s monologue, a spellbinding witty rant, from his one-man, two-evening stage performance (shot at the Performing Garage in New York) that tells ‘about’ his hilarious experiences acting in a small supporting role in Roland Joffé’s The Killing Fields (84). It’s skillfully shot while Spalding is seated behind a table and his only props are a glass of water, two maps, and a pointing-stick. The background music is supplied by Laurie Anderson.
Spalding is in search for his “perfect” moment, as he relates how he auditioned for the part and his adventures in Thailand, where the film was shot, with the Brit crew and a visit on location from his Manhattan girlfriend. He goes off in tangents telling a President Nixon tale about his reaction to the Kent State slaughter of war protesting students by an Ohio National Guard unit on May 4, 1970 and the informative background of how the jungle living Khmer Rouge (whom he calls ”this weird bunch of rednecks”), under their Paris educated Maoist leader Pol Pot, got trained by the Viet Cong and after a series of aggressive US blunders took over Cambodia (from 1975 to 1979) and instigated their senseless holocaust (through execution, starvation and forced labor) against anyone who was educated and the scapegoated city-dwellers of Phnom Penh. They receive credit for killing an estimated 1.5 million people or 1/5 of the country’s total population, while the world stood by and did nothing.
The Wikipedia encyclopedia reports in January 2004, Spalding Gray had disappeared. On March 7, 2004, the New York City medical examiner’s office reported that Gray’s body had been pulled from the East River. It is believed that he jumped off the side of the Staten Island Ferry. In light of a suicide attempt in 2002, and the fact that his mother had taken her own life in 1967, suicide was the suspected cause of death.
The world has lost a unique playwright, storyteller and performer, and this compelling cerebral film is a good way to remember his loss.
REVIEWED ON 7/16/2008 GRADE: A- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/