Ghosts are captured on camera in“Rumstick Road,” the genuinely haunting new work that runs through Wednesday at Anthology Film Archives. Described as a “video reconstruction” of a performance from the mid-1970s by the Wooster Group, the New York experimental theater troupe, Elizabeth LeCompte and Ken Kobland’s film is by its very nature phantasmal.
This type of stuff fascinates me — the shadows of mental illness and suicide chasing through generations of families. Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Jackson Pollock come to mind. I became a huge fan of Spalding Gray when independent film channels aired his triptych of highly engaging monologues Swimming to Cambodia, Gray’s Anatomy, and Monster in a Box. I was taken aback when hearing about his death in 2004 — the tragic loss of a great creative genius who I identified with on multiple levels. And now I find out his mother committed suicide when he was in his 20’s.
Reading further about it, his death resonates with me in another way: the ability for certain powerful movies to go beyond just leaving a lasting impression, and actually haunt you. Wikipedia:
On January 11, 2004, Gray was declared missing. The night before his disappearance, he had seen Tim Burton’s film Big Fish, which ends with the line, “A man tells a story over and over so many times he becomes the story. In that way, he is immortal”. Gray’s widow, Kathie Russo, has said, “You know, Spalding cried after he saw that movie. I just think it gave him permission. I think it gave him permission to die.”
The movies Leaving Las Vegas, Elephant, and from just a week ago, Under the Skin, clawed away at me long after I left the theater. You might say those are my demon films — so much scarier than ghost & goblin movies, because this type of haunting is personal, and real.
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The Times article again:
No matter how articulate the notes that are left behind, suicides set off questions that never stop resonating in the minds of the living.
I would love to see the Rumstick Road movie — but I doubt it’ll make it out to the sticks of San Diego, and apparently, for some reason, the DVD is priced at $400.00 (that’s four hundred). So not sure how likely it is I’ll get to see it — probably a little less likely than ever seeing Escape from Tomorrow. So in the meantime, I’m going to investigate the availability of his monologues — and I suggest you do the same.
For some reason I’m connecting Spalding Gray to Alton Brown and his knives and his guns and his mint julep (tweet). Not sure why. Maybe Gray’s story about surreptitiously drinking vodka in a restaurant where the act was verboten. The great irony of this account from Monster in a Box was that he couldn’t get any vodka in communist Russia.