Swimming to Cambodia

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Swimming to Cambodia
Video cover
Directed by Jonathan Demme
Produced by Lewis M. Allen
Renee Shafransky
Written by Spalding Gray
Starring Spalding Gray
Music by Laurie Anderson
Cinematography John Bailey
Edited by Carol Littleton
The Swimming Company
Distributed by Cinecom Pictures
Release date
Running time
85 minutes
Language English

Swimming to Cambodia, also known as Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia, is a 1987 American film directed by Jonathan Demme, written by and starring Spalding Gray.[1] The performance film is of Gray's play and monologue, which centered on such themes as his trip to Southeast Asia to create the role of the U.S. Ambassador's aide in The Killing Fields, the Cold War, Cambodia Year Zero and his search for his "perfect moment".[1] The film grossed slightly over $US1 million.

The monologue was first published in book form two years before the release of the film.


Swimming to Cambodia was originally a theatre piece on which Gray spent two years working. The original running time of the performance was four hours long and took place over two nights. It won Gray an Obie award.

In 2001, Gray took Swimming to Cambodia back to the stage in Los Angeles; Chicago; San Francisco and Albany, New York.


The opening shots of the film depict Gray walking toward The Performing Garage in New York. He goes in and after walking in past the audience, he takes his seat behind a table. On the table is a glass of water, a microphone and a notebook which Gray brought with him. Behind him are two pulldown maps. One is a map of Southeast Asia and the other is a diagram of the bombing of Cambodia, which Gray tells the viewers/audience was called Operation Breakfast. There is also back-lit projection screen which has projected on it a picture of a beach.

Gray goes on to perform a monologue where he discusses his experiences filming a small role in the movie The Killing Fields. Interspersed with his own experiences he expounds on the recent history of Cambodia up through the coming to power of the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian Genocide. Three scenes from The Killing Fields featuring Gray are used at various points in the film.


The soundtrack for this film was composed and performed by Laurie Anderson, who would also score Gray's follow-up film, Monster in a Box. Gray returned the favor by providing the voice of a TV interviewer for her 1986 short film, What You Mean We?. No soundtrack album was released; Anderson later reused music from the film for a series of "Personal Service Announcements" she produced in 1989 to promote her album, Strange Angels.

While Sam Waterston and Ira Wheeler are credited as additional cast in this film, they only appear in clips used from The Killing Fields.

Home Media[edit]

Shout! Factory announced plans for a DVD release of Swimming to Cambodia on May 28, 2013.[2]

Swimming to Cambodia was released in the UK on region 2 on the 16th March 2015 by Simply Media


External links[edit]