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Gray's Anatomy (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2000
Incredible writer and monologuist Spalding Gray takes us on an incredible journey, around the world and through his soul. Though based on his his attempts to avoid dangerous eye surgery, the story is really about meeting fascinating characters and Gray's own fascinating neuroses. If the idea of a monologue sounds boring to you -- basically Gray sitting and telling you a story -- I especially challenge you to try this out.
While dry, Gray's humor keeps you laughing out loud. You'll find it mesmerizing, and at the end of your own journey through the film, changed for the better. Highly recommended.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2004
Spalding Gray's death has left us poorer than when we started. How evident this is after viewing this edgy, moving, often riotous monologue directed by Stephen Soderbergh.
A macular "pucker" leaves Gray virtually blind in one eye. Born into Christian Science, Gray leaves the church when his CS practitioner demands he renounce allopathic medicine to receive help. Gray's breathless journeys through alternative healing remind us that we all face mortality at any cost, and that no religious or philosopical system will spare us the inevitability of suffering or dying.
What I loved most about this film were Gray's frequent outbursts of humor -- framed in frustration, delivered in sentences which resonate like poetry in the mind, this guy rages -- quite literally -- against the dying of the light. And I would add that this is a film best viewed late at night.
While Soderbergh's direction is occasionally heavy-handed and self- conscious, it is still creative and ambitious and will never disqualify this film from classic status.
The movie doesn't benefit from the opening montage of "eye horror stories" delivered by subjects who almost lost their sight, and who occasionally make an unwelcome visit into Gray's monologue. Happily, Gray gets 'round them.
The man had a brilliant, brilliant mind and a great heart. Watch this, and the only thing you risk is awareness of his absence, and it is a sad feeling.
I just loved this movie, or should I say: I loved this mirror.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 1998
As good as or better than "Swimming to Cambodia" and "Monster in a Box", except this time there is more. Surreal sceneries and sounds are added for effect, as well as short testimonials by "people on the street" describing their own unusual eye ailments. Gray always fascinated me...his unique perspective on life and the way he deals with it. I would also recommend reading "Impossible Vacation" (the subject of "Monster in a Box"). Very few books can affect me like that did.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2004
This is a wonderful example of the 'gift of gab' - that is, the art of telling a story. Spalding Gray has a story to tell - mind you, the plot is not nearly as interesting as, say, a Jedi Knight fighting a battle in a galaxy far, far away. It is not so much what he has to say, but how he says it. If one of your favorite childhood memories includes sitting around a campfire listening to someone spinning a yarn about a headless ghost, then you might enjoy this more adult version of a scary story. Substitute the encounter with a headless horseman with an even more frightening trip to see a doctor to diagnose an incurable medical condition and you may start to understand this movie. It was fascinating listening to his tangential logic, flashbacks, and digressions of a gifted story teller. It is also somewhat of an insight into the mind Spalding Gray, whose favorite story was the life experience he gained by walking around Washington Square Park several times, breathing in all of life's drama.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
once you get it, you will never forget it: to wit, how unique and singular it is to be a great storyteller. we discover this by the way this show opens. a slew of people from everyday life tell their stories of how an eye condition altered their lives. i found myself nodding off as i sat through this, admiring the infrared film but finding the rest of it yawn inducing. then i was electrified by spalding gray's coming onscreen. by solely using his monolog skills, he holds me spellbound while he relates his eye injury story. it is a story i will never forget because its telling sears it into my memory.

it was sad to realize anew what a huge talent we lost with his suicide in 2004. ironically, with life later imitating art, spalding gray was in a serious car collision after he filmed this. he could not handle the pain, the constant physical therapy, the constant use of crutchess, etc., this in part led to his suicide. in this film we watch his hysteria over the prospect of a low risk eye surgery for the not painful condition of macular puckering in the eye. he was a complete mess over this eye problem alone but in a very woody allen like neurotic way.

Visit my blog with link given on my profile page here or use this phonetically given URL (livingasseniors dot blogspot dot com). Friday's entry will always be weekend entertainment recs from my 5 star Amazon reviews in film, tv, books and music. These are very heavy on buried treasures and hidden gems. My blogspot is published on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
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on December 29, 2001
Another triumph for Spalding Gray. I love a good storyteller, and Gray is in typical form here, frantically explaining (occasionally in a little too much detail) his journey through various alternative healing methods to correct his rare eye affliction.
I don't know where a few of the other reviewers were coming from with their critical comments, but let me make a few things clear: (1) the cutting to comments from other people in the film took up no more than about 10 minutes, were well-timed, and made for a nice change of pace, (2) there was only one instance of profanity that I remember, and that one line added much to the telling of the story, and (3)Soderbergh's use of lighting and different camera angles created a beautiful flow to the film, often softening the frantic style of Gray's presentation. It certainly did not detract from the impact of the film. A few times he used a fuzzy or distorted view to create a bit of brilliant irony as Gray discussed his neuroses about losing his eyesight.
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Unlike Demme's approach with Swimming to Cambodia, which, like Stop Making Sense, tried to capture the essence of a live performance, Soderberg tries to get inside Gray's head, crawl out and display what's in there.
That I prefer Swimming to Cambodia is not too much of a criticism as Gray's Anatomy has a lot going for it.
The whole thing is carried by Spalding's energy, wit and charisma and if the stylistic, visual tropes detract from Spalding's natural performance they are at least imaginatively conceived.
I liked the vox pops inserts, but (having read the book version) I was dismayed that their addition seemed to mean that a whole chunk of the monologue was ommited (Gray's marriage to Renee).
However, on the basis of Grays Anatomy and Swimming to Cambodia (I have Monster in a box on order) I wish more of his monologues were filmed - one a year would do me fine.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2002
This is the story of a very neurotic man who can't cope with having something wrong with his eye. I loved this movie. Spalding Gray is funny, smart, insightful, and full of angst. He manages to make his anxieties hillarious. I loved the way this movie was edited. I loved the intercut anecdotes of strange things that have happened to people's eyes, the commentary on the movie, and the visual representations of Spalding's journey to ever more bizarre alternative healers. I have seen the movie four times, and it just keeps on getting better.
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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".

VIDEO:

"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.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

"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.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

"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.

EXTRAS:

Included is a 20-page booklet featuring the essay "The Eye's of the Beholder" by Amy Taubin.

JUDGMENT CALL:

"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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on June 3, 2011
Though not as on target as his earlier films "Swimming to Cambodia" and "Monster in a Box," this tale of Spalding's "macular pucker" and the many odd and outrageous ways he sought to solve the problem without surgery is a testament to the late comedian's legacy as a fantastic storyteller.
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