Immediately after watching a movie by rule-breaker iPhone-cinematographer Soderbergh, roughly his 30th feature, it was fun to catch up with his third, a period piece with relatively subdued editing and energy. The movies would seem to have nothing in common, except that I’d just read David Ehrlich’s review of High Flying Bird, saying that Soderbergh is “drawn to stories about people who try to steal back a measure of self-worth,” and that connects. So now I’ve seen all of his movies except Side Effects, and I guess Mosaic.

Our boy is Aaron, abandoned by both parents due to work and illness, he and his little brother attempt to live in a hotel room in Depression-era St. Louis with no food or income for as long as possible. He tries breeding canaries, dances with an epileptic neighbor, sees the arrest of Adrien Brody and suicide (!) of Spalding Gray while avoiding cops and death himself, and finally escapes the hotel when his travelling salesman father returns.

Gray and Elizabeth McGovern:

Aaron with Lauryn Hill:

Soderbergh made a sort of Spalding Gray autobiography, stitching together monologues and interviews from across Gray’s career into a new monologue – not one Gray would have scripted himself in precisely this way, but thoroughly captivating. The picture is nothing special, lots of 4:3 video sources – Gray’s story is everything.

The open is perfect, revealing the out-take nature of the film, a rough videotape of Spalding sitting down, attaching his microphone and beginning a story. Lots of talk about death – maybe that was always present in his stories, but you really notice it now.

Topics: childhood, christian science, his parents, his mother’s suicide, beginnings in acting, sex, conversations with audience members, his movies (three of them anyway – nobody ever mentions Terrors of Pleasure), his two wives and his children, and the car accident a couple years before he died, with mentions of R.D. Laing, Gray’s work in pornographic film, “poetic journalism,” dancing to Tubthumping and the meaning of life. It’s like the best Inside the Actor’s Studio episode, with no interviewer.

I don’t know why, but for a whole segment he is holding up a Playboy.