When one hears the name Andre Gregory, it’s hard to envision anything outside of a restaurant, with the legendary theater actor/director opposite his best friend Wallace Shawn, chatting about life and everything it has to offer. However, the man behind a few of modern cinema’s greatest experiments (ranging from My Dinner With Andre to Vanya On 42nd St.) has lived as intriguing a life as one would imagine an artist of his regard to have lived.
The focus of a new documentary from his wife Cindy Kleine entitled Before And After Dinner, Andre Gregory is once again back in the spotlight, and thankfully we the public have been invited by this intriguing documentary to see the artist in ways we haven’t previously.
Again, best known for his work on the big screen with director Louis Malles, Gregory is as interesting a documentary subject as one could imagine. Having made his name in the experimental theater of the late ‘60s, Gregory became one of the true masters of modern theater, starting off his career with a legendary portrayal of Alice In Wonderland. Following that staging, he became a name in both theater and cinema, still works to this day.
Kleine’s film is a rather interesting beast. More so a love letter to a husband from a wife, we become privy to Gregory’s more intimate topics, ranging from his relationship with his parents to his current relationship with Kleine, but not much else. The artist’s work is discussed, but admittedly glanced over in many ways, with very little time devoted to something like the Alice staging that got him started, or his subsequent stage work.
Thankfully, Kleine invites us in for rehearsals of Gregory’s long talked about staging of Ibsen’s The Master Builder, of which the final result will itself become a film directed by Jonathan Demme (the picture has already been shot, allegedly). The production has been in the works for Gregory for at least a decade and a half, and while his relationship with star Wallace Shawn is, again, glanced over in many ways, the practice sequences are absolutely thrilling. Shot in an intimate style, there is a kinetic energy found within these moments, and the following beats of Gregory discussing his actual work, along with the archival footage of him doing the same, are engrossing to no end.
However, this is in many ways a portrait of a relationship. With equal time devoted to Klein’s past relationships, and also a possible connection between Gregory’s father and the Nazi party, the film feels a tad too scatterbrained for its own good. The introduction of the Nazi implications adds an interesting level of depth to Gregory’s relationship with his parents, but it doesn’t feel as fleshed out as one would like such a possibly revealing bit of news. His father fuels his work, or so says Gregory himself, and this is easily the film’s most interesting theme and also one of its most thoroughly discussed.
And while it may feel a tad too breezy in some instances, there are moments here that are absolutely haunting. Be it the sight of Gregory attached to an IV or his proclamation that people are “always nervous about going somewhere” and that his place of fear is death, the film truly thrives when we see just how thoughtful this man truly is. Paired with sights like him in the middle of a drawing class, the film really works in these type of human moments.
Overall, Before And After Dinner is a solid documentary that feels like a love letter penned by a wife for her significant other. At best a curio for those not quite familiar with Gregory or those only familiar with him by name, Before And After Dinner is a perfect film to throw on when that copy of Vanya runs its course.
The film is currently playing in New York, and opens in Portland at the NWFilmCenter. Here are the dates:
at 7 pm
at 4:30 pm