Rupert Pupkin Speaks: The Criterion Collection - MY DINNER WITH ANDRE on Blu-ray ""

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Criterion Collection - MY DINNER WITH ANDRE on Blu-ray

MY DINNER WITH ANDRE (1981; Louis Malle)
I came across MY DINNER WITH ANDRE at what was the perfect time in my life for me to find it - in college. It was my freshman or sophomore year I think and I was starting to meet new people that had more life experience than I had. Many of them were from the east coast and seemed to have been exposed to more music, art and films than I had. It was an intimidating and yet exciting time for me. One thing that helped me push through the intimidation a bit was the fact that some of these new people I was meeting were girls. Ah yes girls, the great motivator for much of life's adventures. So when I would meet some of these ladies who knew more about music or had seen some movies I had never heard of, I was intrigued and saw it as an opportunity to connect with them. If I listened to that band they loved or checked out that movie they had mentioned offhandedly, I could then perhaps have a conversation with them about it. This was not a new concept to me and hopefully it doesn't sound shallow or manipulative, because my intentions were always driven by a genuine interest in the person who had recommended the music or the movie. This is where my philosophy about media kind of comes into play. I really do believe that movies (and music and art and books) are these things that obviously connect people. I know that some folks see movies as mindless entertainment and something that is quite disposable but then there are others of us that are profoundly affected by them and continue to seek out that thing that inspired us. So when I would meet a girl that spoke passionately about a movie that I was unaware of, it immediately drew me in. Here was a person who had seen this thing that had gotten into their head so much so that they felt the need to tell other people about it years after the fact. I won't go on and on about all this, but college was a pivotal time for me as far as finding my identity and the things that I was passionate about. I worked in a video store at the time and was just getting into Danny Peary's books so I was "discovering" a lot of movies for the first time and was extremely motivated to continue to do so. So when a couple girls I had met spoke highly of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, I had to track it down. We had a copy in this arthouse section of my video store and I checked it out. It's hard to describe the experience of seeing the movie for the first time as it was unlike anything I'd seen to that point. I was less an arthouse person when it came to my taste in movies and more a genre guy. I was working my way into classic cinema, but that was still kind of a new thing for me. MY DINNER WITH ANDRE turned my head around a bit in that it offered this intellectual and ardent conversation between to men and that was kind of it. Not to say that was not enough to be a satisfying viewing experience, but just the fact that the movie was very simply that and nothing more (in terms of what happened in it) was kind of mind-blowing to me. It was mind-blowing mostly because it was absolutely transfixing. It was like hanging out with two guys the likes of which I had never really been in contact with before. Had I seen more of Woody Allen's work at the time I might have drawn a comparison to some of his characters, but even that wouldn't have been exactly right. It was just completely outside my life experience at that time to hear two creative types like this have a conversation. I didn't know any actors or playwrights or directors so I was just fascinated by the idea that one could do that for a living (I understand it can be a difficult living certainly, but nonetheless). And once Andre Gregory started going into his first story about going abroad to do acting exercises with a large group of people who didn't speak English I was mesmerized. I wanted to be a part of one of the "Beehives" that he describes. It seemed so primal and yet personal and emotional as a way to connect to other human beings. It made me reflect on my own life experiences and how little I'd tried anything remotely like that. Of course I chickened out and didn't even take a basic acting class after seeing the movie, but it was still a psychologically broadening experience just to watch it. The whole thing is just mesmerizing and even though you could describe it as just a dinner table conversation between two guys, there's so many wild and out-there experiences described that you're imagination is constantly called upon to call up images of various things like huge dance hypnotic dance circles, giant vegetables and monks who can balance themselves on their fingernails. It's a more vibrant discussion and movie than you could ever really expect it to be and though there have been a few other movies like it since (WHAT HAPPENED WAS..., MELVIN GOES TO DINNER), MY DINNER WITH ANDRE is still as perfectly unique and spellbinding as it ever was. Revisiting the movie now, as an older person not without my own inherent cynicism, I still found it to be invigorating, existential, entrancing, provocative, prophetic, philosophical, pretentious and even a little silly. MY DINNER WITH ANDRE is all these things and it is wonderful.

Special Features:
This disc contains a couple first-rate supplements:
-An Interview with the stars of the film (and also the writers) Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn conducted by Noah Baumbach. This hour long look back from both actors is very enjoyable as it touches on the origins of their friendship and the film itself as well as much more. The interview is about 30 mins each of Gregory and Shawn. It's just neat to see both actors as the are today (more or less, the interview itself was conducted in 2009) and to see a filmmaker I respect like Baumbach giving them this attention and interest clearly out of pure fandom. It's two excellent conversations that play as a delightful addendum to the movie itself.
-A 1982 episode of the BBC program ARENA entitled "My Dinner with Louis" wherein in Wallace Shawn interviews director Louis Malle. This episode runs 52 minutes and it's a lovely retrospective of Malle's career to that point.

Siskel & Ebert's Review of MY DINNER WITH ANDRE:


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