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And Everything Is Going Fine (#110 of 3)

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Raising Renee

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Raising Renee</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Raising Renee</em>

The unqualified strength of Raising Renee is Beverly McIver. As they say, directing is 70% casting, and directors Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher could not have found a more fitting leading lady than the renowned painter and artist. For almost all of the documentary’s 81 minutes (and more on that word “almost” in a bit), McIver is a pure, effervescent delight, a charmer and true sweetheart. Her friends and family knew this about her, of course, and despite her older sister Roni’s claims that she was once the quiet, shy type, McIver clearly didn’t need a crew of cameramen and directors to draw it out of her.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2010: And Everything Is Going Fine

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2010: <em>And Everything Is Going Fine</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2010: <em>And Everything Is Going Fine</em>

Steven Soderbergh’s And Everything Is Going Fine is an exhaustive tribute to the work and, by extension, the life of virtuoso monologist Spalding Gray. Impeccably researched and cut together, the film is almost exclusively built out of footage of Gray on stage or being interviewed. By “almost exclusively,” read 99 percent, with the other one percent consisting of Gray’s family photos. Not a single title or word of voiceover clutters the master’s endlessly engaging delivery of a fearless autobiography lived out loud, an old-school decision that makes this one of the more ambitious and brave documentaries in recent memory.

Soderbergh loosely follows the Bubble/The Girlfriend Experience line of his filmmaking to define yet another odd corner of cinematic experimentation. The film opens with Gray doing his thing. A breathless 89 minutes later, it ends with Gray having done his thing, the speaker’s thoughts dominating the viewer’s conscious in one grand, new, Soderbergh-created monologue about Gray’s turns in the theater, his discovery of the monologue form, and his struggles to cope with success and typecasting toward the end of his life. This rich examination of performance and creative nonfiction will become an essential academic document for any future Gray scholar.