My Dinner with Andre


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Sep 1, 2020
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This clip from Louis Malle’s classic 1981 movie has been doing the rounds, and my first response was approval that this deeply thoughtful, insightful film was receiving some much-deserved recognition. That paled rather when every comment prefaced it with reflex descriptions of “predictive programming” and “They place it in plain sight” or “They present it as fiction so you don’t think it’s real”. Quite apart from the scenario described being one Andre (or the person who expressed this view to him) saw as already applying then, rather than announcing something that would come to pass, there’s a tendency with this kind of glib discernment that can be as problematic as applying none at all. No need to interrogate the context; it’s a movie! Guilty as charged!

Admittedly, one might make a case based on background; Both André Gregory and Wallace Shawn went to Harvard. Shawn’s father was editor of The New Yorker. But they were predominately theatre writer/actor/directors; this was Gregory’s first film, and Shawn had only won minor roles in Manhattan and a few others. They had considerable trouble finding financing (even those who had banked Gregory’s plays blanched).

More specifically, Andre’s long and fascinating discourses are based on Gregory’s own experiences as a self-doubting New York artiste, who became disillusioned with the increasingly less alternative theatre scene and went on the voyage of discovery he recounts in the picture (taking in Findhorn and various New Age groups along the way). It’s readily apparent he doesn’t have the full picture (he clearly holds on to the ’60s being a genuine and organic surge in consciousness) and, in some respects, his fierce intellect itself represents an invitation to a certain complacency, in much the same way as Shawn’s electric blanket does. But he – both Gregory and the “Andre” version he plays – is so clearly awake to the illusory nature of the world around him and so keen to share the awareness he has, that a reductive verdict based on three minutes of the film seems outright lazy.

Gregory’s tales are absolutely riveting throughout, complemented by Shawn’s endearingly baffled responses; another one that struck me, particularly when I rewatched the film having read The Montauk Project, was his initiation-like ritual around Montauk (which reminded me a little of the death and rebirth rituals discussed by Simon Buxton in Darkness Visible).

It's possible that I’m far too partial and have a blind spot here (for years, I only had the film in the form of a tatty off-air VHS I’d show to anyone I thought might be interested), but suggesting My Dinner with Andre deserves admittance to the ranks of predictive programming is to me – to quote Wallace Shawn – inconceivable.
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Oct 11, 2020
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Thanks for the write-up, I've been meaning to watch this for the longest time. Looks like it's streaming on HBO Max, The Criterion Channel, and Kanopy.

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