directed by Jonathan Demme
by Walter Chaw I learned about memoir as art watching Spalding Gray in Jonathan Demme's Swimming to Cambodia. Although I was a freshman in college when I first saw it, I'm not sure that I ever really knew what "memoir" was before, and, since, I've been hard pressed to find any examples that measure up to the bar it sets. Swimming to Cambodia also provides an impossible standard for direction, as Demme takes Gray's "monolog" format (essentially him, alone, on a stage) and turns it into something like an expressionistic piece, something that is at once inside Gray's mind and inside yours using thoughtful editing choices and clever sound and lighting design. In a year that saw the release of Predator, Full Metal Jacket, The Untouchables, Empire of the Sun, Raising Arizona, Near Dark, A Better Tomorrow II, Angel Heart, Evil Dead II, and RoboCop, it's a little astonishing to realize the best-directed film is this one with a guy sitting at a table. For what it's worth, as I was writing my own memoir of a very particular moment in my life, the only readership I really imagined for it consisted of my father and Gray--Gray, who killed himself over water in 2004, and my father, who died a year before that. If the one was the reason, the other was the way.