Showing posts with label 1987. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1987. Show all posts

10 March 2015

DVD Review - Swimming to Cambodia (1987)

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Comedy, Drama
Simply Media
Release Date:
16th March 2015 (uk)
Rating; 18
Jonathan Demme
Spalding Gray, Sam Waterston, Ira Wheeler
Buy:Swimming To Cambodia [DVD]

Jonathan Demme, like so many directors of his generation, came through the Roger Corman film school. After “graduating” he struggled throughout the later 70s, making stuff like Last Embrace which he has expressed disappointment with. However, he had a chance to come back with the more idiosyncratic Melvin and Howard which was a big critical success, and made him a director to look out for.

The 80s is really where the case can be made that Demme was one of the finest directors around at the time. He would make great comedies like Something Wild, and Married to the Mob. Simultaneously, he made performance films like the classic Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense. His fame, of course, reached it’s height with the release of The Silence of the Lambs, yet since then it’s been very hit and miss, with, for the most part, more misses than hits. He made the awful remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and vowed to only make documentaries and small-scale dramas from then on.

One of the early performance films he made was Swimming to Cambodia. Demme has made many performance films over the years and this one is probably the most similar to Stop Making Sense in style. It’s however not a music film, but a filmed monologue by actor Spalding Gray, talking about his experiences making the film The Killing Fields.

Gray only acted in a few films (and only a few worth seeing) in his career including a couple of pornos! His real love was doing these surreal monologues about his life experiences, often at the off-Broadway venue the Performance Garage in New York City. Swimming to Cambodia was filmed there and was the first of 5 theatrically filmed versions of his monologues.

Demme and his great cinematographer John Bailey film it like a normal film. It’s expertly lit; there is background of a sea, which is to symbolize the South China Sea. Spalding only has two props, which are two maps he points to at different times during the proceedings. Spalding tells the extraordinary story of how he got the part, the filming and the his relationship with his girlfriend (who later became his wife) and everything in-between.

It’s almost plays like Louis Malle’s My Dinner with Andre, which despite being a narrative film is basically a conversation. Funnily enough Demme’s new film, A Master Builder reunites the stars from that film.Grey is a captivating speaker, and very funny and frank about his experiences before, during and after the filming. It does now have a level of melancholy because Gray years later would commit suicide after years of suffering with mental and physical illnesses. It’s an 80s cult oddity that seems to be have been forgotten and should be rediscovered and cherished.

Ian Schultz