Monday, April 1, 2013

Cindy Kleine's ANDRÉ GREGORY: BEFORE AND AFTER DINNER opens at Film Forum

Cindy Kleine is no Louis Malle. And ANDRÉ GREGORY: BEFORE AND AFTER DINNER is no My Dinner With André, though the reference to that earlier work is not accidental. Ms Kliene is, however, the wife of André Gregory, and as such is in a position to know her subject pretty damn well. She is also the filmmaker who gave us a couple of years back that rather incredible documentary, Phyllis and Harold, about her parents, a couple who, it turns out, she did not know as well as she once thought.

It is difficult to imagine another documentary being as surprising and eye/mind/spirit-opening as Phyllis and Harold -- which you should seek out, if you have not yet seen it. Her André Gregory movie is nowhere as involving or shocking, perhaps because Mr. Gregory is still alive. (Her father was already gone by the time the earlier movie was being made and her mother was not in the best of health or mental state by then, either.) Presumably, Ms Kliene (shown above) wants to keep Mr. Gregory healthy and happy as long as possible, and so I suppose we cannot expect to get too up-close-and-personal with the man. (We do see him briefly full-frontal, if that's consolation.)

TrustMovies has generally found Gregory (on-screen, acting, or in interviews) to be a very smart, literate and funny fellow, and so spending time with him now, in his late 70s, is still a lot of fun, not to mention the chance we have, thanks to some archival footage, to see him in his early years and some of his early work that was captured on film. Much of Gregory's reputation (that's he, above, in the old days) rests on his innovative theatrical work as a director, and we do see a little of that, as well as hearing from some of the actors who worked with him (Gerry Bamman, for one).

And of course we revisit briefly My Dinner With André and Vanya on 42nd Streetthe landmark Malle films that were and remain such a treat, and on which Gregory collaborated with his longtime friend and maybe muse Wallace Shawn. (They're most likely mutual muses.) We also see rehearsals taking place for a new Shawn/Gregory collaboration on Ibsen's The Master Builder, which Jonathan Demme is currently filming and which we'll get to see maybe later this year.

After a start, during which Kleine explains/shows how the two met and became friends and lovers, we get somewhat into the life and mind of Mr. Gregory. Upfront in all this would be his feelings about and for his very strange parents, European Jews who neglected to let their offspring know that they were all Jewish. (Somewhat understandable, given its time frame during the Holocaust.) Still, these particular parents were unusual, and Gregory's coming to learn more about the "work" his father was perhaps engaged in during Hitler's rise to power and madness makes for surprising, unsettling stuff.

The sections showing us Gregory's theatrical "technique" became, for me, a little tiresome after awhile. Rehearsals tend to drag for audiences, performances not so much (though part of the Gregory technique appears to be that one is always performing, so this at least keeps the energy level high). The movie finally, perhaps reflecting its subject, is rather disorganized and all over the place. But Gregory's personality helps keep us interested. He can be a grand raconteur, as proven by his tale of his experience "acting" in the would-be blockbuster Demolition Man, along side Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone. For his explanation alone of the small misunderstanding with the twatty little director of the film (barely heard from again, I might add), the movie is worth its price of admission.

In addition to his talent, Gregory (with the help of Ms Kleine) comes off as quite a likable man. Late in the movie he tells that everything we may most fear as our lives proceed does indeed comes to pass: that first day at school, sex, college, employment, cancer. It's all life imitating art. Or vice versa. Yet, for a fellow who managed to get all the way to college without ever having been "touched" (never once hugged by his parents or relatives, let alone romantically kissed or touched by a girl or another boy), he's grown up and done all right. And Ms Kleine lets us see this.

André Gregory: Before and After Dinner -- a Cinema Guild release running 108 minutes -- opens this Wednesday, April 3, for a two-week run at New York City's Film Forum. The exclusive Los Angeles engagement begins Friday, May 3rd at the Laemmle Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills. To see other currently scheduled playdates, click here.

No comments: