479, 599, 762 André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films

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emcflat
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479, 599, 762 André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films

#1 Post by emcflat » Wed Mar 23, 2005 2:12 pm

André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films

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When André Gregory and Wallace Shawn—theater directors, writers, actors, and longtime friends—sat down for a stimulating meal in 1981's My Dinner with André, they not only ended up with one of cinema's unlikeliest iconic scenarios but launched a film collaboration that would continue to pay creative dividends for decades. The subsequent projects they made together for the screen—1994's Vanya on 42nd Street, a passionate read-through of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, and 2014's striking Henrik Ibsen interpretation A Master Builder—are penetrating works that exist on the edge of theater and film, and that both emerged out of many years of rehearsals with loyal troupes of actors. Gregory and Shawn's unique contributions to the cinematic landscape are shape-shifting, challenging, and entertaining works about the process of creation.


My Dinner with André

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In Louis Malle's captivating and philosophical My Dinner with André, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn sits down with friend and theater director André Gregory at a Manhattan restaurant, and the two proceed into an alternately whimsical and despairing confessional on love, death, money, and all the superstition in between. Playing variations on their own New York–honed personas, Shawn and Gregory, who also wrote the screenplay, dive in with introspective, intellectual gusto, and Malle captures it all with a delicate, artful detachment. A fascinating freeze-frame of cosmopolitan culture, My Dinner with André remains a unique work in cinema history.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• High-definition digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• Interview from 2009 with actors and cowriters André Gregory and Wallace Shawn, conducted by their friend the filmmaker Noah Baumbach
"My Dinner with Louis," a 1982 episode of the BBC program Arena in which Shawn interviews director Louis Malle
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amy Taubin and the prefaces written by Gregory and Shawn for the 1981 publication of the film's screenplay

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Vanya on 42nd Street

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In the nineties, André Gregory mounted a series of spare, private performances of Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya in a crumbling Manhattan playhouse. These treasures of pure theater would have been lost to time had they not been captured on film, with subtle cinematic brilliance, by Louis Malle. In Vanya on 42nd Street, a stellar cast of actors—including Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and George Gaynes—embark on a full read-through of Uncle Vanya (adapted into English by David Mamet); the result is as memorable and emotional a screen version of Chekhov's masterpiece as one could ever hope to see. This film, which turned out to be Malle's last, is a tribute to the playwright's devastating work as well as to the creative process itself.

SPECIAL FEATURES

• New, restored digital transfer, supervised by director of photography Declan Quinn, with uncompressed 2.0 soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
• New documentary featuring interviews with André Gregory, the play's director; actors Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith; and producer Fred Berner
• Trailer
• PLUS: A booklet featuring a new essay by critic Steven Vineberg and a 1994 on-set report by film critic Amy Taubin

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A Master Builder

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Twenty years after their brilliant cinema-theater experiment Vanya on 42nd Street, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory reunited to produce another idiosyncratic big-screen version of a classic play, this time Henrik Ibsen's Bygmester Solness (Master Builder Solness). Brought pristinely to the screen by Jonathan Demme, this is a compellingly abstract reimagining; it features Shawn (who also wrote the adaptation) as a visionary but tyrannical middle-aged architect haunted by figures from his past, most acutely an attractive, vivacious young woman (the breathtaking newcomer Lisa Joyce) who has appeared on his doorstep. Also featuring standout supporting performances from Julie Hagerty, Larry Pine, and Gregory, A Master Builder, like Vanya, is the result of many years of rehearsals, a living, breathing, constantly shifting work that unites theater, film, and dream.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED SPECIAL EDITION:

• High-definition digital master, supervised by director of photography Declan Quinn, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray
• New interview with director Jonathan Demme, director and star André Gregory, and screenwriter and actor Wallace Shawn, conducted by film critic David Edelstein
• New conversation between actors Julie Hagerty and Lisa Joyce
• New program featuring Gregory, Shawn, and their friend the author Fran Lebowitz in conversation
• Trailer
• PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Sragow

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Anthony
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My Dinner with André

#2 Post by Anthony » Wed Mar 23, 2005 3:06 pm

emcflat wrote:This DVD is in print from Wellspring, and I know that Criterion has some sort of relationship with them(?) The video is notoriously horrendus, no bonus features, etc. Anybody think there's a chance of this getting better treatment some time down the road? I know it's not exactly the kind of big-budget extravaganza that NEEDS a restored picture, but even so...

Maybe now that Wallace Shawn has a dinner scene in "Melinda & Melinda" it will put the movie back in people's minds.
I too love this movie and thought WellSpring did a horrible job with the DVD. It would be great if Criterion would put this out.

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My Dinner with André

#3 Post by duane hall » Wed Mar 23, 2005 4:54 pm

(i was just gonna post about the DVD but then started to rant.. maybe this will spark some discussion of the film!)

one of my very favorite films. it's hard to believe it garnered not a single vote in the latest sight and sound poll. i suppose critics do not find it cinematic enough to ascend, in their minds, to the highest echelon of filmmaking. yes, it isn't cinematic in any conventional sense, but it doesn't care to be. it's a uniquely successful aberration, showing Andre and Wally talking to one another, narrating stories and ideas which in an ordinary film would be rendered cinematically as frame tales which present extended flashbacks. only expert filmmaking can pull something like this off. the film wouldn't work without any one of its key components: vivid language, careful scripting and pacing, expert editing of close and medium shots, etc.

of course, if you're not disposed to lengthy conversations tackling philosophical conundrums, it may not be your bag. but i find the simple pleasure vs. worldly-spiritual journey-in-search-of-something-"greater" (wally/andre) dilemma to be a timeless one. and it is explored with great humor and idiosyncrasy in the film.

oh, right. this is supposed to be a DVD thread. umm...

special features would be manna to fans like myself, as long as Shawn or Gregory (ideally, both) contribute interviews or a commentary track.

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My Dinner with André

#4 Post by Martha » Fri Apr 15, 2005 9:50 am

I hate this movie. HATE HATE HATE.

Believe it or not, I was forced to watch it in a philosophy class in high school-- it's possible that nothing has ever made me so angry. First of all, Andre Gregory jets on his family and life entirely to go on this smug little voyage of self-discovery. So, he has no responsibility whatsoever? Nice to meet you, Mr. Selfish Asshole. Second, to make it all that much more offensive, he actually writes MOVIE OF HIMSELF TALKING ABOUT IT, and expects people to spend 2 hours of their lives watching it. Honestly, it pisses me off just thinking about. Basically, by the time to movie was over I was blinded by an overpower feeling of FUCK YOU that I've never been able to get over. And I'm really not an angry person.

(For what it's worth, all of these feelings stem from that one viewing-- I have never gone anywhere near the film since then so have no more mature responses.)

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My Dinner with André

#5 Post by jorencain » Fri Apr 15, 2005 12:06 pm

Well, if it ever is re-released, whoever does it needs to include the "My Dinner With Andre" action figures that Corky is selling at the end of "Waiting For Guffman". Those MUST be packaged with the disc.

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My Dinner with André

#6 Post by emcflat » Fri Apr 15, 2005 1:23 pm

This being my post originally, I feel obligated to reply to these ideas...

Well, I would say to Martha that your initial reaction to this movie doesn't suprise me. In fact, that is basically the reaction that the Wallace Shawn character has in the movie, and so one of the main questions of the movie is "Who's ideas are more valid?" Certainly both of these guys have their heads in the clouds a little bit. Neither is right or wrong, they just live differently. I would think you could relate to the Shawn character pretty easily.

I'm sure if I was shown this movie in High School I would have hated it too, and I think that teacher was a bit misguided in expecting teenagers to comprehend the ideas it is trying to convey. I think My Dinner With Andre is a movie for adults about how to deal with life in the modern world. Andre rejects most aspects of modern life, Shawn accepts and relishes in them (mostly.)

Probably the movie plays best to someone who would like to have this conversation or one like it with someone else. I enjoy intellectualizing things (if you want to call it that,) and I find a lot of truth in the ideas and reactions of the movie. So, my final advice is to see it again.

Also, Roger Ebert writes a fine review in his "Great Movies" section that puts it into much better perspective than I have here. Actually, back to the topic at hand, in that very article he mentions a "Restored Print" that was touring at the time (June 1999.) This can't possibly be the transfer used for the DVD, can it? If it is, how can they possibly call it restored? Bah.

A short aside in reference to "Vanya on 42nd Street," also a favorite of mine, is that Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn AND Brooke Smith also appear in "Melinda and Melinda." So clearly Woody Allen is a fan. Also, written by my favorite writer, David Mamet.

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My Dinner with André

#7 Post by kevyip1 » Sat Apr 16, 2005 12:26 am

Martha wrote:I hate this movie. HATE HATE HATE.

Believe it or not, I was forced to watch it in a philosophy class in high school-- it's possible that nothing has ever made me so angry. First of all, Andre Gregory jets on his family and life entirely to go on this smug little voyage of self-discovery. So, he has no responsibility whatsoever? Nice to meet you, Mr. Selfish Asshole. Second, to make it all that much more offensive, he actually writes MOVIE OF HIMSELF TALKING ABOUT IT, and expects people to spend 2 hours of their lives watching it. Honestly, it pisses me off just thinking about. Basically, by the time to movie was over I was blinded by an overpower feeling of FUCK YOU that I've never been able to get over. And I'm really not an angry person.

(For what it's worth, all of these feelings stem from that one viewing-- I have never gone anywhere near the film since then so have no more mature responses.)
Andre (the character in the film) is not a perfect person, but we are not there to judge him. We are to listen to his extraordinary ideas and unique perspective on life. I was also quite young the first time I watched this film, but I was enthralled. Some of Andre's opinions are quite profound, but not hard to understand:

- Man's vulnerability comes from his not knowing his future, and his holding on to some fantasies in the present.

- Living with purposefulness makes one mechanical. Life becoming habitual is not really living.

- Wally: Comfort lets you survive. Andre: Comfort is dangerous; comfort separates one from reality.

Some of Andre's outburst is, however, quite extreme:

- Boredom is brainwashing in process.

- New York is like a concentration camp where the inmates are both the guards and the prisoners.

- The 60s was the last outburst of human beings before their extinction.

In terms of filmmaking, this is a pretty sophisticated film despite the way it looks. It has a top-notch script that is neatly divided into two halves: (1) Andre's adventures, (2) the debate between Andre and Wally. The actors, especially Andre Gregory, say the lines impeccably, so that, like Ebert says, their words form vivid images in our heads. Andre's adventures are picturesquely narrated, and the ensuing debate is spirited and intelligent. The dialogs don't really try to mimic a real conversation. There is rarely any digression, no hams and haws, no pauses before a speech. This is not a documentary on what a conversation looks like (like IFC's Dinner for Five), but a pretty formal film that conveys someone's unique perspective. And Louis Malle's direction never intrudes on the dialogs and is never dull, either.

Ebert and Siskel both picked this film as one of 80s top ten. Like Wally and Andre, E & S were two middle-age guys who liked to sit and debate for hours. So it wasn't surprising they loved the film.

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My Dinner with André

#8 Post by hearthesilence » Sat Apr 15, 2006 1:29 am

I actually found a copy for rental at Blockbuster. According to imdb, this was filmed in 16mm with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio. Even though it was shot in 16, the film's got to look better than this. HORRENDOUS, I bet my old high school still has better-looking prints of educational films struck in the 50's. The skin tones shift color every reel or so...that's how bad it is.

Right now, it's going for $50, and even VHS copies are going for $30! This would be a PERFECT Criterion release, the profit's there for the taking, how much can licensing be for such a small title?

BTW, the DVD itself is underwhelming. Poor presentation, no bonuses, just a 110 minute program squeezed into single-sided, single-layer disc.

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My Dinner with André

#9 Post by Schkura » Sat Apr 15, 2006 2:22 am

I've never found a copy of this film to watch, so unfortunately my only brush with it was in an episode of The Simpsons as a kid. Martin Prince is playing the "My Dinner with Andre" videogame. There are three buttons next to the joystick labelled "Bon Mot", "Trenchant Insight", and "Tell Me More"...

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My Dinner with André

#10 Post by tryavna » Sat Apr 15, 2006 10:46 am

Schkura wrote:I've never found a copy of this film to watch, so unfortunately my only brush with it was in an episode of The Simpsons as a kid. Martin Prince is playing the "My Dinner with Andre" videogame. There are three buttons next to the joystick labelled "Bon Mot", "Trenchant Insight", and "Tell Me More"...
That's a near-perfect example of The Simpsons at the height of that show's genius. I believe it's from the episode where Bart joins the Junoir Campers (a.k.a. Boy Scouts) and goes on a rafting trip with Ernest Borgnine!

By the way, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Any DVD release of My Dinner with Andre needs to include My Dinner with Andre the Giant as a bonus feature.

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My Dinner with André

#11 Post by ben d banana » Sat Apr 15, 2006 12:42 pm

And don't forget My Breakfast With Blassie, on this DVD.

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My Dinner with André

#12 Post by milkcan » Sat Apr 15, 2006 2:31 pm

And don't forget My Breakfast With Blassie, on this DVD.
This one has some funny moments to it, but you should definitely get this dvd because of I'm From Hollywood; it's a great and hilarious documentary about Kaufman's wrestling stint with Lawler and will have you rolling on the floor with laughter!

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My Dinner with André

#13 Post by HerrSchreck » Sat Apr 15, 2006 3:20 pm

tryavna wrote:
Schkura wrote:I've never found a copy of this film to watch, so unfortunately my only brush with it was in an episode of The Simpsons as a kid. Martin Prince is playing the "My Dinner with Andre" videogame. There are three buttons next to the joystick labelled "Bon Mot", "Trenchant Insight", and "Tell Me More"...
That's a near-perfect example of The Simpsons at the height of that show's genius. I believe it's from the episode where Bart joins the Junoir Campers (a.k.a. Boy Scouts) and goes on a rafting trip with Ernest Borgnine!
Holy shit, man. I wanted to bring this episode up on the SIMPSONS film thread. This is one of the funniest SIMPS' ever. Christ did I wheeze. I have it buried away on vhs somewhere-- now I gotta go dig it out.

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My Dinner with André

#14 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sat Apr 15, 2006 8:22 pm

ben d banana wrote:And don't forget My Breakfast With Blassie, on this DVD.
I remember watching this on basic cable a long time ago. Not overly impressed, but my favorite part is when Blassie talked about the time he worked in the south sometime in the 50's or 60's, and he cut this long interview about how much he loved black people and how he ended up being chased out of town by the townspeople and the KKK (I think).

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My Dinner with André

#15 Post by milkcan » Sat Apr 15, 2006 9:46 pm

my favorite part is when Blassie talked about the time he worked in the south sometime in the 50's or 60's, and he cut this long interview about how much he loved black people and how he ended up being chased out of town by the townspeople and the KKK (I think).
Yes, Blassie evokes Andre Gregory's tales of his existential goings-on with his story; he mentions they even fired guns at him and he later discovered a bullet hole through his car.

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My Dinner with André

#16 Post by flyonthewall2983 » Sat Apr 15, 2006 10:09 pm

Wrestling villains way back in the 50's and 60's and continuing (to my knowledge) through the 80's were subject to pretty hostile crowds and fans. That incident in the south that Blassie mentions is the tip of the iceberg, as far as some of the things that I've heard about. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan once talked about being shot at during shows, being hit with a ballpen (sp?) hammer, and a number of other things during the 60's and 70's. The security at sporting events, esp. pro wrestling, was a joke compared to how it is now.

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My Dinner with André

#17 Post by CSM126 » Sun Aug 10, 2008 5:22 am

I don't know whether you can take it to mean anything or not, but I did recently see that Andre was shown on TV (can't remember the network off the top of my head), and I watched a few minutes and it was definitely a new restoration - a million light years improved over the old DVD. So at least the restoration end of things looks to be done...

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My Dinner with André

#18 Post by domino harvey » Sun Aug 10, 2008 5:57 am

I'd love to see Criterion include a book of the original screenplay and of course I'd hope for copious involvement with Gregory and Shawn. If this film gets Koko'd on the extras, I will be livid.

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#19 Post by domino harvey » Mon Mar 16, 2009 6:55 pm

criterionsnob wrote:My Dinner with Andre
Dammit, I was really hoping they'd include the complete screenplay like they have other books. I guess because this is something people would actually want to read and use, they decided not to bother

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#20 Post by Highway 61 » Mon Mar 16, 2009 7:02 pm

No kidding. Such an uninspired choice of extras for such a unique film.

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#21 Post by Cronenfly » Mon Mar 16, 2009 7:13 pm

...And let the bitching about this being an upper-tier title commence, though I have a theory that Criterion has secretly struck a deal with Hungry Man to include a TV dinner with each copy of this release, thereby justifying the former's sometimes-extravagant pricing policies in these tough economic times so the collector, in this instance, does not have to choose between buying DVDs and food. Good publicity for both parties, I feel, seeing as nothing translates Andre's arthouse aesthetic better to the home viewing environment than one pound of microwaveable food. Because as Wallace and Andre both discover, It's Good to be Full.

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#22 Post by Adam » Tue Mar 17, 2009 1:20 pm

Perhaps you simply know nothing about the cost of production, but this element probably requires it to be priced higher:
-- New video interviews with actors André Gregory and Wallace Shawn by filmmaker and friend Noah Baumbach

Shooting new video, editing, mixing = $$$$$$$$

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#23 Post by Cronenfly » Tue Mar 17, 2009 6:18 pm

Adam wrote:Perhaps you simply know nothing about the cost of production, but this element probably requires it to be priced higher:
-- New video interviews with actors André Gregory and Wallace Shawn by filmmaker and friend Noah Baumbach

Shooting new video, editing, mixing = $$$$$$$$
I did gather that the filming of the new interviews is clearly what drove this release to upper tier pricing (and I'm sure licensing fees for the BBC doc didn't help), but given that other CC lower-tiers have had the exact same sorts of interviews (e.g. Baumbach's own Kicking and Screaming; perhaps such other releases' participants required less in the way of payment/royalties for their participation) I remain slightly annoyed in this case (as with May's Wise Blood). I guess I'm just pissed off that Criterion seemingly took so long preparing this title and then announce it with scant-sounding extras (though who knows, the included materials could end up being quite satisfying, so I may very well be eating my words come June); this only really bothers me due to the higher price point, which seems unreasonable for the materials included. But all this is just perpuating the neverending bitching about Criterion's pricing policies, which does no one any good and so I will cease discussing it (or even mentioning it in jest) from now on.
Last edited by Cronenfly on Tue Mar 17, 2009 8:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#24 Post by CSM126 » Tue Mar 17, 2009 6:34 pm

I don't know what people were expecting for extras. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful film (I'd call it a masterpiece), but at the end of the day...it's two guys talking over dinner. What is there to say about that? It's a self-explanatory film. The main reason this disc is important is that it's going to offer a newer, restored print that by all rights should make the memory of that horrible old disc go away for good. That's enough if you ask me.

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Re: 479 My Dinner with André

#25 Post by Matt » Wed Mar 18, 2009 10:47 am

How funny would it have been to have a commentary with Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, though, just talking over themselves talking? Not even talking about the film, just catching up after a couple of decades.

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