Swimming to Cambodia (1987)

“Who needs metaphors for hell or poetry about hell? This really happened, here on this earth.”

Synopsis:
Spalding Gray discusses his experiences while filming a small role in The Killing Fields (1984).

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Review:
Spalding Gray is one of the best-known monologists of the late 20th century, and Jonathan Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia — an edited combination of two live performances, accompanied by Laurie Anderson’s evocative sound effects — provides a fascinating glimpse at his prowess. In this unusual storytelling event, Gray intersperses humorous vignettes from his experiences filming in Thailand with a concise history of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia — an unexpected, yet surprisingly effective, marriage of ideas. Gray’s monologue is poignant rather than hilarious; he’s not a stand-up comedian, but rather an astute commentator on the intersection of personal travails and public tragedies.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Spalding Gray’s charismatic storytelling presence
    Gray
  • Laurie Anderson’s memorable sound effects

Must See?
Yes. All film fanatics should see at least one of the late Spalding Gray’s filmed monologues, and this is probably his best.

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One Response to “Swimming to Cambodia (1987)”

  1. A must.

    I’d not seen this – and it is riveting. (It may seem to take 5 minutes or so to fall into its groove, but stay with it. It does take off.)

    For the ff, ‘STC’ is the rare example of an extended, filmed monologue – which, being a theater performance, obviously has a dynamic quite different from that of stand-up. I doubt I would ever call filmed stand-up a film.

    Demme has taken a simple, direct approach in serving up the material, and he serves it well. The informative, historical tale Gray has to impart is largely that of a hell on earth, in its various forms. His manner is lively, to say the least.

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