Saturday, August 9, 2008

Swimming to Cambodia by Spalding Gray

I just finished reading this book. I read it because I finished the adult reading group book in two weeks and was looking for something to read for the rest of the month. This was the shortest book in my library that I hadn’t already read, 127 pages.

I got it for a filmmaking class that I took at Gemini Ink a few years ago. The pre-class assignment was to watch to watch Stagecoach, Witness, Clerks and Swimming to Cambodia. Amazon shipped the first three as videos, but the fourth came as a book. It’s Spaulding Gray’s monologue about the filming of The Killing Fields, the genocide in Cambodia at the hands of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, which was seeded when the Vietnam War spilled across the border. The parallelism between the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and Militant Islamists in Iraq is enlightening, as is the eventual abandonment of the Cambodian allies by the withdrawal of the Americans.

According to Gray, the American ambassador sent a message to all Cambodian and American officials, advising them that the evacuation was taking place. “You have two-and-a-half hours to make it here to the embassy and then we’re taking off.” Prince Sirik Matak replied in a letter, “I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.” Two days later, his liver was carried through the streets of Phnom Pehn on a stick.

The movie was made in Thailand. Spalding describes SOBs in Thailand. That’s sexually oriented businesses. He also tokes up frequently, pursues the Perfect Moment, seeks magic mushrooms, feels guilty and worries about getting bitten in half by a shark.

When he returns to the States, he gets a Hollywood agent, because he has a sudden urge to get rich. He visits several television and movie producers in Los Angeles, then returns to New York, to live in Krummville, do his monologues off-Broadway and possibly appear on the David Letterman show.

When I didn’t get the video of Spalding, I bought the audio tape of his Head In A Box and was not disappointed. You can see him perform part of Swimming to Cambodia at


hamilcar barca said...

your description of Spalding Gray reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson. Brilliant, troubled, and a little bit of a walking/talking anti-drug message. the world needs a few more of these people.

uptonatom said...

It's Monster in a Box. Not Head...
though the slip is funny...
read it, watch it!
btw, I think the only comparison between Spalding And Hunter would be they both appeared to commit suicide...
webmaster for the Estate of Spalding Gray

Booger said...

That's right. It was Monster in a Box. Senor Wences was the one with the head in the box.