Swimming to Cambodia | Chicago Reader

Swimming to Cambodia

Stop Making Sense director Jonathan Demme takes on another talking head in this minimalist filming of Spalding Gray's autobiographical stage monologue, which mostly covers Gray's experiences in Thailand as a bit performer in Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields. Frankly, 90 minutes of being spoken at by someone whose own commitments are never at risk, and whose ironic assurance begs exemption from the Socratic wrestling the rest of us have to engage in, isn't exactly my idea of a good time (a little ambiguous space, please, for the audience in captivity—something the raconteur never concedes, and one reason I've never much liked being told stories to). Demme seems almost too eager to play cheerleader to Gray's storytelling persona (no ironic distancing here: Demme's fictional characters should be so lucky), underlining the speaker's intentions with some overly solicitous camera strategies (moving to the emotional thrust of Gray's fist, hovering over his head to simulate a helicopter lift-off, etc). The complicity's necessary, I suppose—otherwise there's no reason to make the film—but I doubt that Pol Pot himself could have devised a more exquisite form of torture. Very much a matter of shared taste and attitude, but cultural outsiders had best beware.

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