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My Dinner with André (1981)                                Vanya on 42nd Street (1994)                                   A Master Builder (2014)

 

When André Gregory and Wallace Shawn—theater directors, writers, actors, and longtime friends—sat down for a stimulating meal in 1981’s My Dinner with André, they not only ended up with one of cinema’s unlikeliest iconic scenarios but launched a film collaboration that would continue to pay creative dividends for decades. The subsequent projects they made together for the screen—1994’s Vanya on 42nd Street, a passionate read-through of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and 2014’s striking Henrik Ibsen interpretation A Master Builder—are penetrating works that exist on the boundary between theater and film, and that both emerged out of many years of rehearsals with loyal troupes of actors. Gregory and Shawn’s unique contributions to the cinematic landscape are shape-shifting, challenging, and entertaining works about the process of creation.

 

  



Directed by Louis Malle
USA 1981

In Louis Malle’s captivating and philosophical My Dinner with André, actor and playwright Wallace Shawn sits down with friend and theater director André Gregory at an Upper West Side restaurant, and the two proceed into an alternately whimsical and despairing confessional on love, death, money, and all the superstition in between. Playing variations on their own New York–honed personas, Shawn and Gregory, who also wrote the screenplay, dive in with introspective, intellectual gusto, and Malle captures it all with a delicate, artful detachment. A fascinating freeze-frame of cosmopolitan culture, My Dinner with André remains a unique work in cinema history.

****

Bring two New York intellectuals together and they'll beat each other's ears off swapping stories about their psychoanalysts. Here Malle celebrates just such an encounter, recreated by the original participants: a sad, never-quite-made-it playwright (Shawn) and a brilliantly successful director (Gregory) who dropped out to 'find himself' in a quest ranging from Grotowski in Poland to Tibet, the Sahara and remoter Scotland. Just two people talking, shot mostly in close-up. Riveting, exhilarating stuff.

Excerpt from Time Out review located HERE

 

Poster

Theatrical Release: October 11th, 1981

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Comparison:

Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC vs. Criterion (2-disc) - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray

1) Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT
2) Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC MIDDLE
3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray RIGHT

Thanks to Daniel Mott and Brent Wilson for the Fox Lorber DVD captures!

Box Covers

 

  

 

Also available in Criterion package of André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films (My Dinner with André, Vanya on 42nd Street, A Master Builder) also released on June 15th, 2015

  

Distribution

Fox Lorber

Region 0 - NTSC

Criterion Collection - Spine # 479 - Region 1 - NTSC Criterion Collection - Spine #479 - Region 'A' Blu-ray
Runtime 1:50:56 1:51:32 1:51:43.279
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 5.29 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s
1.66:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 8.63 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

1080P / 23.976 fps Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 46,694,699,634 bytes

Feature: 30,202,945,536 bytes

Video Bitrate: 32.00 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:  Fox Lorber

Bitrate:

 Criterion DVD

Bitrate:

 Criterion Blu-ray

Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0)  English (Dolby Digital 1.0) LPCM Audio English 1152 kbps 1.0 / 48 kHz / 1152 kbps / 24-bit
Subtitles None English, None English (SDH), none
Features Release Information:
Studio: Fox Lorber

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Filmographies & Awards (text screens)

DVD Release Date: 25 August 1998
Keep-Case

Chapters 12

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Aspect Ratio 1.66:1

Edition Details:

• New video interviews with actors André Gregory and Wallace Shawn by filmmaker and friend Noah Baumbach (1:00:36)
• “My Dinner with Louis,” an episode from the BBC program Arena, in which Shawn interviews director Louis Malle (52:08)
• 30-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Amy Taubin and the prefaces written by Gregory and Shawn for the published screenplay

DVD Release Date: June 23rd, 2009

Transparent Keep Case 
Chapters: 17

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1

 

1080P / 23.976 fps Dual-layered Blu-ray

Disc Size: 46,694,699,634 bytes

Feature: 30,202,945,536 bytes

Video Bitrate: 32.00 Mbps

Codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

Edition Details:

• Video interviews from 2009 with actors André Gregory and Wallace Shawn by filmmaker and friend Noah Baumbach (1:00:36)
• “My Dinner with Louis,” an episode from the BBC program Arena, in which Shawn interviews director Louis Malle (52:08)
• A booklet featuring an essay by critic Amy Taubin and the prefaces written by Gregory and Shawn for the 1981 publication of the film’s screenplay

Blu-ray Release Date: June 16th, 2015
Transparent Keep case
Chapters: 16

 

 

 

Comments:

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were obtained directly from the Blu-ray disc.

ADDITION: Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray May 15': The short story on this is the 1080P grain which gives the film some texture making it far less 'video-flat' and more like it was shown theatrically. It is a dual-layered transfer with a very high bitrate and we must believe the best representation of the film we will likely ever get on digital. The higher resolution really does give it some much-needed depth and film-like presence.

The audio also improves - authentically 1.0 channel mono using a linear PCM transfer - there is depth not present on the SDs. It has strength in the dialogue voices that is not there on simple Dolby. There are optional English (SDH) subtitles on the region 'A'-locked Blu-ray disc.

Supplements duplicate the 2009 DVD: "There are 2009 video interviews with actors André Gregory and Wallace Shawn by filmmaker and friend Noah Baumbach. Amusingly Gregory has really aged but Shawn looks about the same. Strung together it's an hour-long piece shot exclusively for the Criterion Collection. “My Dinner with Louis,” is a 52-minute episode from the BBC program Arena, in which Shawn interviews director Louis Malle and lastly there is a 30-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Amy Taubin and the prefaces written by Gregory and Shawn for the published screenplay. Excellent work." 

What an enjoyable film experience - that continues to grow on me - this is especially true in the higher resolution. Those that haven't seen any of the André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films package should probably pick that up but we can recommend fans to double dip on this for the improved presentation - both video and audio Recommended.

***

ADDITION: Criterion - June 09':  I believe this was 16mm and blown up to 35 and the production is rather pragmatic. The single-layered Fox Lorber is easily dismissible. The OOP (out-of-print) DVD from 1998 was in 1.33:1, full-frame - probably open-matte, aspect ratio where the Criterion is 1.66 - and presumably accurate. Due to the source quality this is not our greatest disparity in quality (see De Sica's Two Women) but it's dramatic enough. The Criterion detail, colors and contrast are unarguably improved and it has more information in the side edges (less on top/bottom). The Criterion shows some grain but I bet this looks very authentic and textured in Blu-ray - although a 1080P rendition for consumers is not in the cards at this time.

NOTE: There is a, fairly recent, UK DVD edition from Optimum HERE but I don't own to compare.

While the audio on the Criterion is expectantly flat and occasionally scattered - it towers above the F/L which has background hiss issues that tended to disturb the viewing experience. The old edition has no subtitles where Criterion, expectantly, offer optional English (sample below).

There is no commentary but Criterion have added a second DVD of supplements.
There are new video interviews with actors André Gregory and Wallace Shawn by filmmaker and friend Noah Baumbach. Amusingly Gregory has really aged but Shawn looks about the same. Strung together it's an hour-long piece shot exclusively for the Criterion Collection. “My Dinner with Louis,” is a 52-minute episode from the BBC program Arena, in which Shawn interviews director Louis Malle and lastly there is a 30-page booklet featuring an essay by critic Amy Taubin and the prefaces written by Gregory and Shawn for the published screenplay.
Excellent work.

I saw this years ago but never really warmed to it, but my Criterion viewing changed that quite a lot - it's either the transfer of my taste has altered (probably both). Wally Shawn is such an intriguing character with his urchin looks and distinct voice - who can forget him in The Princess Bride. I truly believe Criterion have done the best they could with My Dinner With Andre in the SD-DVD format. A memorable, and now almost an iconic, film expression that few can forget. About time Criterion - Recommended!   

****

ON THE FOX / LORBER: This is often regarded by DVD-ophiles as one of the weakest looking transfers ever put to digital. Unfortunately, it is also the only release on DVD of this film and it continues to fetch prices above $100 in online auctions.

Matt Lipson from Criterion has confirmed that they own the rights and are planning to release it in the near future.

 - Gary Tooze

***

ON THE FOX / LORBER: An early and out of print DVD from Fox Lorber. The transfer is lackluster with chroma errors, color fluctuation and a green tinge, lots of damage during reel changes and dust and scratches all over. There's an irritating film error in chapters 7-8 (a white blob and a hair moving around). The picture is pretty soft but at least it's progressively transferred. This DVD is very pricey at Amazon Marketplace and I certainly don't think it's worth >$100 but the film is great and I do hope someone will re-release it to DVD in the future. Meanwhile, I don't think there's much difference between a VHS and this DVD.

 - Daniel Mott

 


DVD Menus / Extras

 

(Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC LEFT vs. Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC RIGHT)


 

Criterion Disc 2

 

Menus Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray (same extras as DVD)

 


CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Criterion DVD Subtitle Sample

 

 


 

Screen Captures

 

1) Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC TOP
2) Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC MIDDLE
3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 


1) Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC TOP
2) Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC MIDDLE
3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 


1) Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC TOP
2) Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC MIDDLE
3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM
 


1) Fox Lorber - Region 0 - NTSC TOP
2) Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC MIDDLE
3) Criterion - Region 'A' - Blu-ray BOTTOM

 


Vanya on 42 Street [Blu-ray]

 

(Louis Malle, 1994)

 

Also available in Criterion package of André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films (My Dinner with André, Vanya on 42nd Street, A Master Builder) released on June 15th, 2015

  

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Channel Four Films

Video: Criterion Collection - Spine # 599

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:00:27.845

Disc Size: 45,887,097,174 bytes

Feature Size: 35,323,809,792 bytes

Video Bitrate: 34.98 Mbps

Chapters: 23

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: February 28th, 2012

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.66:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

LPCM Audio English 2304 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 2304 kbps / 24-bit

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• New documentary featuring interviews with André Gregory, the play’s director; actors Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith; and producer Fred Berner (35:42 in 1080P)
• Trailer (2:14 in 1080i)
• Liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Steven Vineberg and a 1994 on-set report by film critic Amy Taubin

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: In the early nineties, theater director André Gregory mounted a series of spare, private performances of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a crumbling Manhattan playhouse. This experiment in pure theater—featuring a remarkable cast of actors, including Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and George Gaynes—would have been lost to time had it not been captured on film, with subtle cinematic brilliance, by Louis Malle. Vanya on 42nd Street is as memorable and emotional a screen version of Chekhov’s masterpiece as one could ever hope to see. This film, which turned out to be Malle’s last, is a tribute to the playwright’s devastating work as well as to the creative process itself.

 

 

The Film:

A table, some chairs, many shadows reaching out into the unseen depths of an abandoned theater, and a long night of truth-telling.

These are the elements of "Vanya on 42nd Street," a film which reduces Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" to its bare elements: loneliness, wasted lives, romantic hope and despair. To add elaborate sets, costumes and locations to this material would only dilute it.

The movie is the result of a five-year theatrical experiment.

Excerpt from Roger Ebert at the Chicago Sun-Times located HERE

The actors and spectators for "Vanya on 42d Street" make their entrances casually, drifting into one another at the New Amsterdam Theater and making idle conversation. That chitchat has evolved into Chekhov almost before a movie audience is ready to notice. By the time the viewer fully apprehends the grand, cavernous scale of this crumbling theater or the naturalness of the actors, the performance is under way. This is bare-bones Chekhov, though it is hardly Chekov without cachet.

Under the direction of Andre Gregory, this version of "Uncle Vanya" (filmed simply yet enthrallingly by Louis Malle) has a significant pedigree. Evolving over a period of years as a workshop production, and available only to small, select audiences, it developed the inevitable mystique, which is only heightened by Mr. Malle's participation. With Wallace Shawn in the title role and memories of "My Dinner With Andre" as a quirky, dazzling collaboration by these principals, "Vanya on 42d Street" has a lot to live up to.

Excerpt from Janet Maslin at the NY Times located HERE

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

The film is sparse and the image quality - thick, rich and grain-infused. Vanya on 42nd Street looks wonderful on 1.66:1-framed Blu-ray for those who can appreciate textured, authentic, film-like visuals. Colors are frequently seen as bold pastels. The low-level lighting does not produce extensive noise - although it exists. This Blu-ray has consistent, appealing 16mm (shot on Super 16) visuals that you easily become accustomed to. This probably looks exactly like the film Vanya on 42nd Street and it advances handily beyond SD - for those who can recognize and appreciate the prevalent grain and flat, glossless image.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Criterion supply a linear PCM 2.0 channel track at 2304 kbps. As you could appreciate the film-cum-play has no effects worth noting - and 'dialogue' is the name of the game. This vérité audio is occasionally scattered, flat, unremarkable but exports minor depth in a couple of instances. In short it seems faithful to its limited roots. There are optional English subtitles and my Momitsu has identified it as being a region 'A'-locked - like all Criterion BD discs to date.

 

Extras :

Supplements consist of a Criterion-made documentary from 2011 entitled Like Life: The making of Vanya on 42nd Street featuring interviews with André Gregory, the play’s director; actors Lynn Cohen, George Gaynes, Julianne Moore, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, and Brooke Smith; and producer Fred Berner. It runs 35-minutes in 1080P covering the rehearsal process, playing for an audience, Louis Malle and the 'end process'. There is also a trailer and the package contains a liner notes booklet featuring an essay by critic Steven Vineberg and a 1994 on-set report by film critic Amy Taubin.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
I wasn't very receptive in my initial viewing of Vanya on 42nd Street. I did some research, persevered and took another 'screening'. It becomes surprisingly easy to forget the lack of costumes, props or appropriate backdrops. You can really focus on the dialogue and appreciate the impressive performance art involved. This was quite a unique presentation and one I intend to revisit - as the mood resurfaces. As usual Criterion's Blu-ray transfer appears faithful and the glossless, warm image, exposes the film's raw qualities as distinctly as a cinema viewing could. This is a rare treat - one we can recommend to those open enough to embrace its earthy, artistic qualities. Certainly recommended! Most will be highly impressed with what Vanya on 42nd Street offers... if you allow it. 

Gary Tooze

February 26th, 2012

 

Also available in Criterion package of André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films (My Dinner with André, Vanya on 42nd Street, A Master Builder) released on June 15th, 2015

  

 


A Master Builder [Blu-ray]

 

(Jonathan Demme, 2014)

 

Also available in Criterion package of André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films (My Dinner with André, Vanya on 42nd Street, A Master Builder) also released on June 15th, 2015

  

 

Review by Gary Tooze

 

Production:

Theatrical: Westward Productions

Video: Criterion Collection Spine #762

 

Disc:

Region: 'A' (as verified by the Oppo Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 2:07:30.059

Disc Size: 46,034,526,766 bytes

Feature Size: 28,242,137,088 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.50 Mbps

Chapters: 15

Case: Transparent Blu-ray case

Release date: June 16th, 2015

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 and 2.39:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3436 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3436 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), none

 

Extras:

• New interview with director Jonathan Demme, stage director–actor André Gregory, and writer-actor Wallace Shawn, conducted by film critic David Edelstein (33:41)
New conversation between actors Julie Hagerty and Lisa Joyce (33:09)
New program featuring Gregory, Shawn, and their friend the author Fran Lebowitz in conversation (52:52)
Trailer (2:14)
PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Sragow

 

Bitrate:

 

 

Description: Twenty years after their brilliant cinema-theater experiment Vanya on 42nd Street, Wallace Shawn and André Gregory reunited to produce another idiosyncratic film version of a classic play, this time Henrik Ibsen’s Bygmester Solness (Master Builder Solness.) Brought pristinely to the screen by Jonathan Demme, this compellingly abstract reimagining features Shawn (who also wrote the adaptation) as a visionary but tyrannical middle-aged architect haunted by figures from his past, most acutely an attractive, vivacious young woman (the breathtaking newcomer Lisa Joyce) who has appeared on his doorstep. Also featuring standout supporting performances by Julie Hagerty, Larry Pine, and Gregory, A Master Builder, like Vanya, is the result of many years of rehearsals, a living, breathing, constantly shifting work that unites theater, film, and dream.

 

 

The Film:

A Master Builder unites Academy Award-winning director Jonathan Demme with two of American theatre and cinema's most ingenious provocateurs, André Gregory and Wallace Shawn. It is based on Gregory's near-legendary theatrical production of Shawn's adaptation of Ibsen's Master Builder Solness. Halvard Solness (Wallace Shawn), a successful and egomaniacal architect who spent a lifetime bullying everyone around him, now faces his own mortality. When Hilde (Lisa Joyce), a mysterious young woman, comes to visit, the once dominating, controlling and narcissistic Solness finds himself revived in every possible way. Intense, intimate and painful, A Master Builder is a witty, mystical and psychologically complex interpretation of Ibsen's masterpiece.

Excerpt from MRQE located HERE

Like a lot of people, I tend to have this vague knowledge that Wallace Shawn is more than the guy with the funny voice and the odd face, that he's a playwright and an actor who has been a central part of some of the artiest of art-house films. "A Master Builder" offers up a glimpse of the more somber, serious-minded Shawn, and it's an eye-opening reminder of what he can do that even his less completely comedic roles don't always hint at. In fact, it's almost strange when something like his frequent screen persona emerges.

Shawn plays Halvard Solness, the architect of the title, who is a petty tyrant even as he receives visitors on his sickbed. First is Knut Brovik (Andre Gregory), father to Solness's apprentice Ragnar (Jeff Biehl) - himself engaged to the firm's secretary/bookkeeper Kaia Fosli (Emily Cass McDonnell) - begging his former student to allow Ragnar to take the lead on an upcoming project, so that he can see something his son built before he dies. Then comes Dr. Herdal (Larry Pine), who is not just the family physician but probably the only friend Halvard's wife Aline (Julie Hagerty) has. And, finally, there is Hilde Wangel (Lisa Joyce), a 22-year-old traveler who claims Solness made certain promises to her ten years ago, an encounter he finds it distressingly difficult to remember.

Excerpt from eCritic located HERE

 

Image :    NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.

A Master Builder looks authentic on Blu-ray from Criterion.  The film offers two aspect ratios: a 1.78:1 in the opening death-bed scenes and the bulk of the film is in a 2.4:1 widescreen ratio. Another modern film shot with the versatile Arri Alexa - Demme uses it with plenty of hand-held, intentional, jitter - perhaps adding a vérité 'live' theatrical sense. Lighting is at a low level and some sequences are quite dim. This is dual-layered with a reasonable bitrate and we can guess that it is a solid representation of the film. The frequent close-ups are impressive with a crisp sense of detail. This Blu-ray has no discernable flaws and supplies a wonderfully 1080P presentation with plenty of depth.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio :

Criterion use a DTS-HD Master 5.1 surround at a strong 3436 kbps, although there is nothing in the way of aggression to export although the track handles the film's subtleties and dialogue with casual ease. I made some notes that I recall hearing some classical music - yet I can find no evidence of what it was. Perhaps I am mistaken? Anyway, there isn't a lot of separation and the robust transfer easily handles what the film requires. There are optional English subtitles and my Oppo has identified it as being a region 'A' disc.

 

Extras :

Criterion include some new extras - we get a 1/2 hour interview with director Jonathan Demme, stage director–actor André Gregory, and writer-actor Wallace Shawn, conducted by film critic David Edelstein about the 'Making of' A Master Builder. Also a new 1/2 conversation conversation between actors Julie Hagerty and Lisa Joyce recorded by Criterion in February 2015 as they discuss their roles in A Master Builder. Lastly a 52-minute long new program featuring Gregory, Shawn, and their friend the author Fran Lebowitz in conversation about their long collaboration in theatre and film. There is also a trailer and the package has a liner notes booklet with an essay by film critic Michael Sragow.

 

 

BOTTOM LINE:
I can see why critics distanced themselves from A Master Builder, but I liked the long dialogue scenes and Wallace Shawn does require some suspension of disbelief as the love interest of the gals. Yes, it has an artsy-edge and the jittery camera movement and frequent close-ups may deter some - but I am okay with both. It's worth seeing in my opinion but it may not be a film one revisits often. The Criterion Blu-ray package offers a flawless a/v presentation with interesting and relevant extras. For those open to the artsy-theatre leaning - this is recommended! 

Gary Tooze

May 24th, 2015


 

  

 


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