Sunday 2 November 2014

My Dinner with Vizzini

If you're under the age of 30, you've probably seen and enjoyed The Princess Bride. If you're over the age of 50 and you read The Blob  you may have seen and enjoyed My Dinner With André.  I have nothing to say to the middle 30-50 aged, they probably have other iconic films. What the two movies have in common is Wallace Shawn who is My in MDWA and the evil Vizzini in Princess Bride.  One thing which keeps the latter from degenerating into a rom-com pastiche is screenwriter William Goldman who also wrote the original novel.  Marathon Man, All the President's Men and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid can all be laid at his door, which is a pretty serious contribution to late 20th century film.  But I'm not here today to go on about the young people's Shawn-movie, It's time to give MDWA an airing.

My Dinner With André came out in 1981, the same year as Diva.  I've claimed that Diva is the coolest film I saw in the last century, but Dinner is the most memorable. It should be a complete sleeper and instantly forgettable because the movie consists of two middle-aged theatre chappies having dinner together in a New York restaurant, served by a truly ancient central-European waiter with white eyebrows. It's "just" a long conversation as a succession of plates are delivered, picked at and taken away again.

So here's a suggested path forward:

  1. Watch the movie if you haven't seen it already.  The link has ¡bonus eSpanish subtitles!
  2. Go away for a month and then ask yourself if you remember the scene where Andre sits on a sand-dune at night in the Sahara, or talks to insects in Findhorn, or has an unsettling close encounter with 40 female musicians in a forest in Poland. As film critic Roger Ebert says, it's like a radio-play: because you are induced to conjure up the images in your own head they are much more immediate and credible than if you'd seen someone else's version of what was supposed to have happened. Maybe you'll then accept that some memories, like mine of Uncle Jim, are manufactured in your head alone and never happened in the real world. That's why it is the most memorable film: although it may not be all a lie, you know that the truth has been bent.
  3. Cut forward 30ish years and hear what, on mature reflection, Wally, Andre and Louis Malle the director had to say about the film.  If you can't be bothered to spend 4+ hours on research then the spoiler is here. And one of the parodies here.

I put it to you, ladies and gentlemen of the cinema audience, that a film can be exciting even if there are no car-chases. In the same way you don't need to go to the frontier to have adventures: your back-yard or a taxi-ride to Megacorp can be your Mount Impossible.  There's much to like about the film but a key moment is when Wally, having listened with growing frustration to the older man topping one his own bizarre experiences with another, finally finds his voice and takes a stand for science and rationality against New Age flakery.  Go Arts Block!

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