This week I’ll be covering three movies I found in my kitchen cabinet. It may sound strange that I store tapes in the kitchen, but I consider it a step towards minimalism that only one of my six sections of kitchen cabinets is filled with tapes. It’s been a rough year. We discovered some major repairs that needed doing, but the room where the work had to be done was filled with boxes left over from a storage space that had been cleaned out in 2010. In addition, we had an entire spare bedroom filled with tapes, and a playroom so full of unwanted toys that no playing could take place. As I had been threatening to do for years, I called a dumpster company and I filled that dumpster with four tons of absolute crap. It took me ten days to drag all of that stuff out of a four bedroom house by myself. But I’m very proud of the work I did, and I have been holding back the tide of hoarderdom for two months now. Now we are down to three shelves of movies, a trunk, two totes, and one section of kitchen cabinets. While I was going through the cabinets, I realized I had no idea that we even owned any of those movies. And that was what gave me the idea for a year of VHS.
Anyway, last night I went into the kitchen cabinet and pulled out My Dinner With Andre, and I watched it this morning. It was a difficult watch. I had to stop several times and rewind to get the point of what was being said, and I know I’ll have to watch it again. I try not to watch any new movies that may later be important when something bad is going on, because I don’t want to associate that new-to-me film with bad feelings, but as I said it has been a difficult year so far: among other things we’ve had our whole lives upended by the repairs, my son and I have been trapped in the house for two weeks with the flu, and now I have these two strange men from the past on my TV screen making me question what I should be doing with my admittedly somewhat privileged existence. If I didn’t watch films I’d never seen before until all the bad things stopped happening, at this point I might never see a new movie again. But then again, if I have the time to think and write about this, my life must not be that hard, right?
I do have a certain gratitude that I lead such a provincial life that watching My Dinner With Andre is still relevant to me, while I’m sure that a cultured person who lives in a city and sees plays all the time would find it boring and perhaps even derivative. Derivative of what I don’t know, because I don’t have the theater background to know where this film was derived from. (I could look it up, but I don’t read anything about a movie I’m writing about until after I finish the article.) I am sure My Dinner With Andre has been ripped off so often itself that watching it now probably feels less than fresh to most people, but I was completely absorbed, except when my mind would wander to the summer I spent a few years ago in a community theater production and how exhausting I found that to be, to the point where I actually had to see a doctor at the end of the summer for what turned out to be exhaustion, which I thought only happened to people in novels written at the turn of the 19th century. I completely related to Wally’s story about the mask, because something similar happened to me. My performance suffered, and the other actors in the play kept coming up to me and innocently making comments about my performance suffering as if it wasn’t perfectly obvious that it was suffering due to the director’s sudden addition of a mask!
I could not relate to Andre until about 30 minutes into the film. I was just sitting there thinking “this fucking guy” until he told the story about being in the church in Long Island and seeing the minotaur. Having had my own on and off struggles with depression and anxiety I can relate to perceiving things that are not quite right, if not seeing them with my physical eyes. But later I became certain that we were meant to relate to Wally, even though I myself am not a humanist. I’m sure the Andre character would be a tiring person to deal with. If I was his wife I would be glad he went on a lot of trips. Maybe it depends on when you watch the film, and what you have experienced. I do agree with Andre’s point about mindfulness and the Tibetans, even though he doesn’t call it mindfulness. I think when I finish writing this I will sit in my chair and do nothing.
It was hard to pay attention to the way the film looked because I was too busy mentally picturing everything Andre was saying. But I was struck towards the end by the way that Andre’s face was reflected in the mirror while Wally was making his big rebuttal against Andre’s worldview: Charlton Heston bio, cold coffee, etc. I could not remember for sure, but I think a similar shot was not used when Andre was doing all the talking. As I said, I will have to watch this again. I don’t usually notice directors’ decisions in setting up shots, but I thought that was such a striking way of doing a two shot that it must be symbolic, as in the shot itself is telling a story. We see Wally’s face because he is talking, and we simultaneously see the back of Andre’s head, and Andre’s actively listening face in the mirror. I believe that when Andre was doing most of the talking, we saw cuts to Wally, but did not see him reflected in the mirror. If that shot was used throughout the film, I did not notice it until the speech about the cold coffee and Charlton Heston.
I was a little disappointed at the end to realize that Woody Allen had re-used the music from Wally’s taxi ride (I know it wasn’t written for the film, but still) in, I believe it was Another Woman? Which feels to me like it was too soon.
My tape of My Dinner With Andre was put out by Pacific Arts Video Records in 1982, which means it is an old enough tape that it has trailers at the end of the film instead of the beginning. The trailers are for Elephant Parts, Ciao Manhattan, and Koyaanisqatsi. I know from looking at the label that it came from one of two video stores here in town, and I’m glad someone had the sense to stock it here, although I wonder who rented it. Seriously, I would like to see a list of who in this town rented this movie, so I could go and have dinner with them. I would do it too, because I have very little interaction with the outside world since I don’t work. I would call those people on that list right on up and sit them down at one of the seafood restaurants in our historic district and I would hold forth about the time I was in a play. Having no such list, maybe I will take my dad to the Waffle House and get him to talk about conspiracy theories for two hours while my husband films it.