My Dinner with Andre

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My Dinner with Andre
This is the theatrical release poster for the 1981 film "My Dinner with Andre."
Original theatrical release poster
Directed by Louis Malle
Produced by
Written by
Starring
Music by Allen Shawn
Cinematography Jeri Sopanen
Edited by Suzanne Baron
Distributed by New Yorker Films
Release date(s)
  • October 11, 1981 (1981-10-11) (United States)
Running time 111 minutes
Country United States
Language English

My Dinner with Andre is a 1981 film starring Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, written by Gregory and Shawn, and directed by Louis Malle.

The film depicts a conversation between Gregory and Shawn (not necessarily playing themselves) at Café des Artistes.[1] Based mostly on conversation, the film's dialogue covers such things as experimental theatre, the nature of theatre, and the nature of life, contrasting Shawn's modest, down-to-earth humanism with Gregory's extravagant spiritual experiences.

Structure[edit]

Andre Gregory is the focus of the first hour of the film as he describes some of his experiences since he gave up his career as a theatre director in 1975. These include working with his friend Jerzy Grotowski and a group of Polish actors in a forest in Poland, his visit to Findhorn in Scotland and his trip to the Sahara to try to create a play based on The Little Prince. Perhaps Andre's most dramatic experience was working with a small group of people on a piece of performance art on Long Island which resulted in Gregory being (briefly) buried alive on Halloween night.

The rest of the film is a conversation as Wally Shawn tries to argue that living life as Andre has done for the past five years is simply not possible for the vast majority of people. In response, Andre suggests that what passes for normal life in New York in the late 1970s is more akin to living in a dream than it is to real life. The movie ends without a clear resolution to the conflict in worldviews articulated by the two men. Wally reminisces during a taxi ride back home about his childhood and mentions that when he arrives at home he tells his girlfriend Debbie about his dinner with Andre, as Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1 plays in the background.

Production[edit]

The idea for the film arose from Andre Gregory's attempt to have his life story chronicled by a biographer, and Wallace Shawn simultaneously coming up with an idea for a story about two people having a conversation.[2][3] Gregory and Shawn, who had become friends through the theatre, decided to collaborate on the project, and both agreed that it should be filmed rather than produced as a play.[2] Although the film was based on actual events in the actors' lives, Shawn and Gregory denied (in an interview by film critic Roger Ebert) that they were playing themselves, and stated that if they remade the film they would swap the two characters to prove their point. In an interview with Noah Baumbach in 2009, Shawn said that "I actually had a purpose as I was writing this: I wanted to destroy that guy that I played, to the extent that there was any of me there. I wanted to kill that side of myself by making the film, because that guy is totally motivated by fear."[4]

The screenplay went through numerous developmental changes in location until being finalized as being set during a dinner at a restaurant. While Shawn was trying to find someone to direct the film, he received a phone call from director Louis Malle, who had read a copy of the screenplay via a mutual friend and insisted that he work on the project, stating that he wanted to direct, produce the film, or work on it in any capacity.[2][3] Shawn initially thought that the call was a prank due to Malle's stature and fame. Malle later suggested that the dinner setup would not work based on a rehearsal where Gregory was talking while eating.[2] Despite Malle's stature, Shawn argued over the length of the screenplay over the inclusion of numerous scenes that would have produced a three-hour film. Malle won many of the arguments which led to script cuts, but lost two arguments over scenes that were kept in the film.[2]

My Dinner with Andre was filmed in the then-abandoned Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. Lloyd Kaufman was the production manager on the film, and Troma Entertainment provided production support.[5][6][7] While the conversation between Shawn and Gregory appears to occur in real-time, filming covered two weeks. The set was created to mimic the look of the iconic Café des Artistes.[8]

Reception[edit]

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel helped bring public attention to the film on Sneak Previews; the producers told Ebert that their praise helped keep the film in theaters for a year.[9] Ebert later named it as the best film of the year, and in 1999, added it to his Great Movies essay series, saying, "Someone asked me the other day if I could name a movie that was entirely devoid of clichés. I thought for a moment, and then answered, My Dinner With Andre.".[10] The Boston Society of Film Critics Awards awarded the film the title "Best American Film" in 1982 and awarded Gregory and Shawn its prize for best screenplay.

Parodies and homages[edit]

  • My Dinner with Andre was parodied by Andy Kaufman and wrestler Fred Blassie in My Breakfast with Blassie (1983).
  • In the eighth episode of the second season of the 80s sitcom Sledge Hammer! entitled "Hammer Hits the Rock," a prisoner laments that prison is just "men talking" moments before it is announced that the evening's movie presentation will be My Dinner with Andre.
  • The 24th and final episode of the first season of Frasier was entitled "My Coffee With Niles" and involved a long conversation between Frasier and Niles which touched on many topics of their lives and involved Niles recurrently asking the question "Are you happy?"
  • In the episode of The Simpsons, "Boy-Scoutz N the Hood", Martin Prince plays an arcade game based on the film.[11]
  • In Waiting for Guffman, the character Corky St. Clair (played by Christopher Guest) displays My Dinner with Andre action figures during the tour of his shop.
  • A strip from the comic The Far Side is captioned "My Dinner With Andy". The two characters in the panel have just finished a food fight.
  • A Season Four episode of Touched by an Angel is titled "My Dinner With Andrew," Andrew being their Angel of Death played by John Dye, and much of the episode consisting of Andrew and a guest star talking in a restaurant, discussing their contrasting world views and life experiences.
  • The television show Community paid homage to the film in episode 2x19, "Critical Film Studies", in which Abed invites Jeff to dinner where the two have a meaningful conversation only to later reveal that Abed was attempting to re-enact the film.
  • In the Woody Allen film Melinda and Melinda, Shawn plays one of two playwrights arguing over life and the differences, benefits, and negatives associated with tragedy and comedy. The conversation between the two is illustrated by two "films-within-the film" involving the same plot: a woman named Melinda has a love affair with a married man. Shawn's presence, character, and arguments allude to My Dinner with Andre.
  • In the season 1 episode 3 "Movie Hecklers" sketch from the Comedy Central show Key & Peele, a character yells at a screen, "It's a visual medium, man. Enough with this My Dinner with Andre bullshit!"
  • While hosting the 70th Academy Awards, Billy Crystal jokingly named the "favorite movies" of certain famous people. He showed a photo of Bart the Bear and said "My Dinner WAS Andre".
  • In Season 2 Episode 1 of Family Ties Jennifer makes reference to "My Dinner with Andre" to Mallory, who has no idea what she is talking about.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Johnson, Malcolm, "Cinestudio Salutes Columbia", Hartford Courant (June 20, 1999)
  2. ^ a b c d e My Dinner With Andre, Criterion Collection, 715515046114
  3. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (2009-04-01). "Wallace Shawn – Film – Random Roles". The A.V. Club. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  4. ^ "WHEN NOAH MET WALLY – From the Current – The Criterion Collection". Criterion.com. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  5. ^ Make Your Own Damn Movie!: Secrets of a Renegade Director – Lloyd Kaufman, Trent Haaga, Adam Jahnke – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  6. ^ Andrew J. Rausch, Michael Dequina (2008-02-25). "Lloyd Kaufman". Fifty Filmmakers: Conversations With Directors from Roger Avary to Steven Zaillian. Google books. pp. 118–. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  7. ^ SPIN – Google Books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 
  8. ^ Taubin, Amy, "My Dinner with Andre: Long Strange Trips", The Criterion Collection (June 26, 2009)
  9. ^ Barnes, Mike (2013-04-04). "Critic Roger Ebert Dies at 70". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved April 4, 2013. 
  10. ^ "My Dinner with Andre." Chicago Sun-Times.
  11. ^ "GameSpy.com – Review". Archive.gamespy.com. 2003-09-12. Retrieved 2012-07-04. 

External links[edit]