Monster in a Box

Director: Nick Broomfield
Screenwriters: Spalding Gray

Institute History

  • 1992 Sundance Film Festival


The follow-up effort to any particularly successful enterprise, in this case the cult status accorded to the Spalding Gray/Jonathan Demme collaboration, Swimming to Cambodia, is customarily loaded with pitfalls and often begets a pale imitation of the original. But that’s when you’re dealing with lesser talents than the sublime Spalding Gray. Drawing on a seemingly limitless wealth of experiences, ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary, Gray’s monologues are immensely appealing and consistently stimulating, and the material in Monster in a Box is more than equal to whatever high expectations we may have.

Gray in fact begins with the effects on his life that the enormous success of Swimming to Cambodia has had. First and foremost it has diverted him from the writing of his “monster” autobiography. His to-the-point skewering of Hollywood agents and power lunches, and his description of his search for nonfilm people in L.A. all provide fertile ground for the demonstration of his wit and launch him on an almost-nonstop exposition on the state of the world and his angst-ridden place in it (if indeed he has a place in it). The film is alternately funny and delightfully wry. Never condescending or vulgar, it operates on a level which manages to be both edifying and personal. Gray’s observations are consistently interesting, perhaps partly because he refuses to resort to the off-putting, contemporary, “hipper than thou” persona.

The intensity in Gray’s eyes and in his delivery is offset by his air of bemusement. He never acts smug or self-satisfied. The embodiment of the American observer and satirist, Gray evades being pegged either as an abstruse intellectual or a mere humorist. He is a real pleasure to listen to, and what greater accolade can a monologist receive?

Monster in a Box is ably directed by British documentarist Nick Broomfield from the original stage production directed by longtime Gray collaborator Renee Shafransky, and features often-evocative lighting and an emphatic musical score by Laurie Anderson.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

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