Modest As Cake

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Our evening with Andre... and Wally

The film "My Dinner With Andre" was released in 1982. Last night at the Walter Reade Theater, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn got together after we all watched the movie together. Both of them had been at earlier screenings of the movie this year, for example at Soho House with Candice Bergen (Louis Malle's widow). Seeing them in person was a real-life example of being in a time machine. The two guys on the screen: longish late-1970's hair, talking the evening away until the restaurant was empty.

When I saw the movie in 1982 as a new college graduate, they seemed impossibly sure of themselves, adults nestled in an intellectual framework, with confidence that their experiences, their opinions, their most minute decisions and thoughts, were all important to share with the world. Last night, the two guys on stage: affable, collegial, surprised that their movie had even been considered by Louis Malle when they were shopping for directors. Surprised that the themes they talked about foreshadowed political developments like the Bush years (their concerns about people "being asleep" allowing fascistic forces take away what people deserve most: authentic connection with each other).

Wally described their ongoing collaborations as "lives of bizarre unity." Andre described the process of audio-recording a long series of conversations, having them transcribed, and then trying to work them into a narrative script. He said he was told that he wasn't much of an actor, and that perhaps someone like Peter O'Toole should be asked to play his part. Malle responded, "That's a great idea. But then who are you going to get to direct?" Andre said that the only direction he was given by Malle was the same direction given by John Huston to his father, Walter Huston: "speak faster." The goal in both cases was for the actors to shed their theater voices, to not have enough time to pause and therefore not enough time to "act."

Wally said he asked Malle why he chose to direct "My Dinner With Andre" as well as "Vanya on 42nd Street," another collaboration with Gregory and Shawn that was stripped down, just actors in a decaying theatre space. Malle reportedly replied: "I always loved the talkies."


At 8:59 AM, Blogger Steve Caratzas said...

I found Andre Gregory to be quite an adept actor, and was pleasantly surprised to find Wallace Shawn to not be a complete nebbish.

It was weird, however, to hear them talk about not having seen the film in decades when, in fact, they appear to have done so mere months ago!

Were they still "acting" during the Q&A?


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