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SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA

USA, 1986 (MIFF 1988)

Director: Jonathan Demme

The inventor of his own medium, Spalding Gray combines journalism, theatre, fiction and comedy into his solo performances Onstage he sits hchind a desk equipped with only a glass of water, two maps and a pointing stick, and he talks... Gray may look like a television reporter but this evening's broadcast focuses on the dreams, doubts and passions of the newsreader... Woody Allen meets Brian Henderson?

In Swimming to Cambodia, his best known piece, (with which he toured Australia], Gray's experiences as an actor while shooting The Killing Fields form the heart of an epic meditation on illusion and reality, moving from the personal neurotic to the world psychotic in a story that encompasses poetry, humour, political education, and the confession. Linking it all is a lucid personal history of US military aggression in South East Asia and it is here that Gray is most powerful. Tossing around outrageous analogies, images, conceits and connections for our quick consideration, he paints a portrait of genocide and imperialism as perceptive as it is original, as scary as it is scathingly funny.

This piece and his other work owe their genesis to Gray's early career as the inevitable 'New York Performance Artist' both solo and with 'The Wooster Group', famous for their NYC garage performances The legend has it that it was only after seeing Demme's Talking Heads concert film that Gray conceded to film Swimming to Cambodia at all. "There was no one else in mind after seeing Stop Making Sense. I felt that Jonathan had buried his ego in the service of this film " Sure enough, Demme's technique is once again brilliantly and deceptively simple He chose wisely to simply shoot the raconteur behind his desk, ranting to his audience, yet captures the same intimacy with the performer that made Stop Making Sense a landmark in concert films.

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