Posts Tagged ‘My Dinner With Andre’

Fan Letter and New Blog

In Free Floating on January 29, 2011 at 7:41 pm
M. Standfast, Kyoto

Sympathies, as a project, has been in remission, and yet during its dormancy the site lives on, with a small but beautiful life of its own.  Last month Sympathies received a fan letter from one Chris De La Cruz, a young man working his way through the first stages of what will surely be a lifelong wrestling with “My Dinner With Andre.”  Chris’s lovely note planted a seed in Sympathies’ curator, M. Standfast, which has borne fruit in the inauguration of a new blog, Jungian Intimations.  The new blog, now in its glorious infancy, can be found here:

Intimations will cover all things Jung, as well as allowing the “clown called I” to riff on matters autobiographical.  Thanks in advance are due to Mr. Dean Williams, who suggested long ago that we should open a site dedicated to explorations in psychology.

Here is Mr. De La Cruz’s letter:

Hi Matthew,

Today I stumbled upon your website when looking for different essays about My Dinner with Andre which has, over the past year, become one of my favorite films (tied with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). I was reading both Part I and II of your blog posts on My Dinner with Andre and found them both really insightful. I especially enjoyed the sections on impulse in Part II. I think that is something I really struggle with in my understanding of the film. You put it so clearly when you say:

“The trouble with authenticity and living on impulse is, simply, that one person’s authenticity is another’s callousness; one person’s impulse is another’s betrayal; one person’s honesty is another’s arrogance.”

It’s so true what you say. I mean where is the consideration of others if I am going on impulse all the time? Is it that deep inside me there is always this compassionate core where my impulse will react from? This whole past semester, I have really been trying to find a way in which “each day would become an incredible, monumental creative task.” I think I find it most difficult in terms of my relationships. I find such a struggle in understanding when there is a point where you can truly be with someone. I feel like the institution of marriage is counter to the idea of acting on impulse. Andre says that he questioned whether he could spend the rest of his life with Chiquita and he realized he didn’t want to be anywhere else, but when does someone reach that point? Is it after you have traveled the world and realizing that you can create this intentional, authentic experience within your own home?

Essentially, all this message comes down to is to let you know that you should really consider continuing with your analysis of My Dinner with Andre. It’s relieving to read someone else’s well-constructed thoughts on the film so that I can take a break from listening to the incessant monologue in my head. I don’t know what your reasons were for giving up – but I hope it wasn’t because you didn’t think anyone really cared.


Incidentally, Chris participates in a series of videos concerning Public Safety.  Be careful out there kids.


My Dinner with Andre Part II: Andre in Poland, “I Could Always Live in my Art, but Never in My Life.”

In Life as Lived, My Dinner With Andre on April 25, 2009 at 8:52 pm

M. Standfast, Kyoto

imageWhen we left off, Wally was just arriving at the fancy restaurant to which Andre had invited him. While Andre seems quite comfortable in his immediate surroundings throughout the film, he has not been well; in fact it is clear that he has experienced a prolonged period of painful self-questioning. Wally tells us in the voice-over that he re-connected with Andre only after a mutual friend (George Grassfield) found Andre weeping in the street:

George had been out walking his dog in some odd section of town when he had suddenly come upon a solitary man leaning against a crumbling building, sobbing uncontrollably. Well, George was about to walk by rapidly, as one does in New York, when he suddenly realized that the man was Andre {…} Andre explained to him that he’d been watching the Igmar Bergman movie Autumn Sonata about twenty-five blocks away, and he’d been seized by a fit of ungovernable crying when the character played by Ingrid Bergman had said, “I could always live in my art, but never in my life” (19).

It turns out that a few years previously Andre had lost the ability to “live in his art,” and began to struggle with living his life as well. Wally meets Andre, they embrace (“I remember, when I first started working with Andre’s company, I couldn’t get over the way actors would hug when they greeted people. ‘Now I’m really in the theater’, I thought” (20)) and move to the bar. Wally tells Andre that he looks “terrific” to which Andre responds “Well, thank you. I feel terrible” (20).

This exchange is a touchstone for the entire film, and also stands as a joke that can only be appreciated after seeing the whole film as the issue between how we read the surface expressions of our friends or lovers and how surface impressions often mask deeper issues and problems pervades the film. The exchange also indicates the shallowness of Wally’s observation of Andre at this point in the film, and his desire to simply get through the evening, even if this requires a reliance on cliche. Wally’s uncertainty about the state of his friendship with Andre and the state of the evening leads him to fall back on his “secret profession” as a private investigator. He begins to question Andre about his experiences and Andre begins his tale, which, from the very beginning, oscillates between profundity and absurdity, and between self-knowledge and self-pity.

About five years previous Andre had been invited to Poland to teach a workshop by a fellow director Jerzy Grotowski. He didn’t want to go “because, really, I had nothing left to teach. I had nothing left to say. I didn’t know anything. I couldn’t teach anything. Exercises meant nothing to me anymore. Working on scenes from plays seemed ridiculous. I didn’t know what to do” (22). Grotowski tells Andre to ask for anything he’d like as an attempt to lure him, and Andre responds: “If you could give me forty Jewish women who spoke neither English nor French, either women who have been in the theater for a long time and want to leave it but don’t know why, or young women who love the theater but have never seen a theater they could love, and if these women could play the trumpet or the harp, and if I could work in a forest, I’d come” (22). Grotowski can’t come up with forty Jewish women, but he comes close and finds forty women, plus some men, all of whom are questioning the theater and none of whom speak English. He also finds for Andre a forest which is populated by only “some wild boar and a hermit” (23). Andre agrees to go to Poland. Continue Reading

“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

Social Image and Social Reality: On Ballard’s “Conversations” and “My Dinner With Andre”

In My Dinner With Andre, Sociology on January 24, 2009 at 10:59 am

Matthew Thomas, Kyoto

In the comments section for my earlier post “On Staying in Business Hotels II: A Ballardian Perspective,” Mr. Andrew Inch introduces the concept of “psychogeography” in relation to Ballard: “His vision of the ignored edges of urban life, and the sinister presences that inhabit these spaces seems to reveal a deep engagement with the psychic impacts, and psychotic tendencies of late modern capitalism. Business hotels certainly fit squarely within the Ballardian imagination.”  Andrew points out that psychogeography is also a fitting description for Walter Benjamin’s method, if it could be called that, and indeed Benjamin’s rambling and unstructured yet somehow systematic exploration of European cities, Paris, Naples, Marseilles, will be the subject of a future series of posts.

This post, on the other hand, will put a period on Ballardania for the time being by offering a run-down of some of the highlights of Re/Search’s “J.G. Ballard: Conversations.”  We will also investigate the intersections between the Ballard material and nuggets from the inimitable 1981 film My Dinner With Andre. For readers who wish to follow up on Ballard, Re/Search has issued a whole book of Ballard quotes.  Also, The Complete Short Stories are available in two volumes, and are the best place to start digging into Ballard.

Re/Search’s 350 page book of Ballard on the phone is, admittedly, for fans only, and in these conversations Ballard runs true to form by going around and around on his pet “obsessions.” Occasionally he falls into outright repetition, but for the most part each conversation sheds new light on already familiar ground. The striking thing about reading Ballard, whether in novel form or here, is the degree to which Ballard’s interests intersect only casually with my own. Running down the list: swimming pools, beach resorts, and gated communities; Ronald Reagan; plastic surgery; the evolution of sexuality through technology; car crashes, airplane crashes; William Burroughs–none of these topics keep me up nights. Continue Reading