Swimming to Cambodia (1987)

March 23, 2017 · Tennessee Theatre · 2:00 P.M.

Presented on 35mm.

“Spalding’s unfailing ability to ignite universal emotions and laughter in all of us while gloriously wallowing in his own exquisite uniqueness will remain forever one of the great joys of American performance and literature.”–Jonathan Demme

In a small New York theater, Spalding Gray sits at a desk and recounts his experiences as a bit player in the Academy Award-nominated film The Killing Fields, about the Cambodian civil war and genocide. He relays hilarious and heartbreaking anecdotes about his search for “the perfect moment” while teasing out the ironies and obscene excesses of a Hollywood film being produced about genocide.

The second of Demme’s great performance films, Swimming to Cambodia introduced monologuist and sometime-actor Gray to middle America. This Obie-award winning monologue, augmented with a compelling soundtrack by Laurie Anderson, is sympathetically filmed. Gray is a dynamic performer, and Demme knows insinctively where to put the camera, when to cut to a new angle, and when to introduce a bit of sound design to make this performance feel like a truly living document.

Swimming to Cambodia screened as part of our 11-film Jonathan Demme retrospective, Life is Performance / Performance is Life, at Big Ears.