Posts Tagged ‘Leonard Cohen’

Shard I

In Poems on September 9, 2009 at 10:21 pm

GazePuritano, Kyoto

heart pumped on
cold, reliable
her gaze
hunting past me:
“and have you come
all this way
just to see me?”

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“My Dinner with Andre” Part I: Wally in New York

In Communication, Life as Lived, My Dinner With Andre on April 24, 2009 at 8:47 pm

my_dinner_with_andre_xl_01-film-aMatthew Thomas, Kyoto

Am not sure if this belongs in the series on classicism or not, so I will jump in and make a determination later. “My Dinner with Andre” is the famous, or infamous, 1981 film of a dinner conversation between Wallace Shawn, the actor and playwright, and Andre Gregory, the theater director. If I were to make a twofold claim for the film: i) that it is one of the most action packed films ever made, and ii) that it effectively encapsulates the thematics of the entire 20th century, I do not think this would be overstatement. My intent here, however, is not to establish either of these postulates, but rather to simply “blog” the script in the hopes that what needs to be said works its way to the surface. Fair warning: the undertaking will require several posts.

A note on my surroundings, which may prove relevant: I am sitting in the lounge of the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland, New Zealand and plying myself with an expensive, but not unappetizing, bottle of New Zealand Merlot. I am, in short, spending money that I need not spend, and spending it merely for the pleasure of doing so. I will charge the bottle to my room, and attempt to do so unaffectedly. Why does this bear mentioning? For one, because money crops up on two of the first three pages of the script, and because money, and the lack of it, is a theme that runs beneath the entire script: Andre has money, has the freedom to travel and to spend several years trying to “find himself”; Wally does not. Still, “having money” is, as ever, a relative concept.

At the opening of the film, Wally is seen walking through the streets of New York, heading for the restaurant where he is to meet Andre. It appears to be winter, maybe February. In the opening voice-over, Wally ruminates on the life of the artist:

The life of a playwright is tough. It’s not easy, as some people seem to think. You work hard writing plays, and nobody puts them on. You take up other lines of work to try to make a living–acting, in my case–and people don’t hire you. So you spend your days crossing the city back and forth doing the errands of your trade. Today wasn’t any easier than any other day. I’d had to be up by ten to make some important phone calls, then I’d gone to the stationary store to buy envelopes, and then to the xerox shop. There were dozens of things to do. By five o’clock I’d finally made it to the post office and mailed off several copies of my plays, meanwhile checking constantly with my answering service to see if my agent had called with any acting work. In the morning, the mailbox had been stuffed with bills. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to pay them? After all, I was doing my best (17).

One of the marvelous things about the film is the tongue-in-cheek humor that is rarely, if ever, directly alluded to. A deeply serious film, Andre is also a comedy, a fact which we can recognize because we see that the writers are having fun with the characters who are in turn themselves. That is, Wally and Andre are playing versions of themselves–we assume that most of the experiences that Andre recounts in the film are based on real experiences, and that Wally’s account of his home life is more or less true to life–but exaggerated versions. As Shawn says in the preface to the script, “I knew immediately that {…} I’d have to distort us both slightly–our conflicts would have to become sharpened–we’d have to become–well–characters {…} It would be an enormously elaborate piece of construction” (14). In this initial passage, the humor lies in Wally’s conception of a difficult life: “I’d had to be up by ten to make some important phone calls.” Continue Reading