“Documentary Now” and Spalding Gray

Changing the subject, finally, from 1,000 words about street medians and how the death penalty is a “job creator,” Better Burque watched the latest episode of “Documentary Now” last night on IFC. The parody series on famous documentaries explored “Swimming to Cambodia,” Spalding Gray’s landmark monologue directed by Jonathan Demme.

As someone who once drove from Albuquerque to Ruidoso pretty much just to see Gray perform “Gray’s Anatomy,” and began a long-time fandom not only of Gray but Laurie Anderson after seeing “Cambodia,” I watched Bill Hader as Gray last night with a mixture of glee and defensiveness. As “Parker Gail,” Hader did such a spot-on Spalding that, combined with the script written by he and John Mulaney, I was laughing and squirming at the same time.

Yes, Spalding Gray’s work centers on a solipsism that just cries out for many things, including parody. But dammit, he’s our/my solipsist, and while Hader and the entire cast were wonderful, there was a certain bite to the satire that left a few teeth marks on my person.

Which is about the highest praise a satire can garner. Squirming and teeth marks are badges of honor in the satire game, and “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything” achieves both with this huge Spalding Gray fan: Me. Moreover, amid the teeth marks is an unmistakable love for Spalding on the part of Hader and Company. Hader’s gift for impersonation extends far and wide, and he’s never terribly cruel to his impersonated victims, but there’s a gleam in the eye here throughout that evokes love for the subject.

Or maybe that’s just my bias as a solipsistic fan of a solipsist.

Integral to “Documentary Now” is capturing the directorial feel of the original, and while Demme’s attempts to visually enliven a piece that is basically a guy, a table, a glass of water, a notebook, and a pen (oh, and little schoolroom pull-down maps) aren’t much to work with, the parody replicates impeccably, while also quite seamlessly adding novel elements, including other humans, such as a parody of Gray’s girlfriend, Renee Shafransky, and a cat.

The cat is the best thing in the whole show.

“Documentary Now” has tackled several of Better Burque’s favorite documentaries, including “Grey Gardens” and “The Thin Blue Line.” The series concept of appealing primarily to documentary junkies is so deliciously narrow and, let’s face it, solipsistic, that one feels self-indulgent watching. To perform Spalding Gray is a cherry on the top of pretty much making a show geared solely to me and the very, very few folks who would do things like drive to Ruidoso to see a guy sit at a table and talk about his eye surgery for two hours.

In that, “Documentary Now” in general and “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything” is a perfect distillation of the best our Internet Age has to offer, the chance for tiny sleeper cells of fandom to come alive and revel in arcane pleasant obsessions. Unfortunately, the Internet Age is primarily filled with tons and tons of hate, crap, more hate and far less than pleasant obsessions, but there are some gems amid the dross. “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything” is one of them.




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