‘ANDRE GREGORY: BEFORE AND AFTER DINNER’ ★★½
The Cinema Guild presents a documentary by Cindy Kleine. Running time: 108 minutes. No MPAA rating. Opening Friday at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
Updated: July 30, 2013 6:26AM
Remember Andre from “My Dinner With Andre,” the 1981 film by French director Louis Malle? Two intellectual theater types, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, talk over cailles aux raisins in a Manhattan restaurant, as staged in a hotel in Richmond, Va. Gregory and Wallace scripted their dialogue by transcribing months of prior off-camera conversations. Gregory muses metaphysically about wandering around the experimental theater world.
“Andre Gregory: Before and After Dinner” is an intimate documentary by Gregory’s wife, Cindy Kleine. Scenes in their New York loft apartment record rehearsals of a Henrik Ibsen play, with Gregory directing Shawn in the lead role. Other parts chronicle Gregory’s theater career, including his lauded 1970 staging of “Alice in Wonderland.”
The film is mostly an admiring account of an irrepressible raconteur who fancies himself a shaman. Klein says she was 39 and Gregory was 63 when they married in 2000. Her 2008 documentary, “Phyllis and Harold,” portrayed her parents, and now she portrays her own marriage.
Describing his manic-depressive father as “non-human,” Gregory asks in archival footage: “Why did he terrify me so much?” To investigate a French intelligence report about a Nazi scheme to devalue the franc in 1933, Kleine engages two researchers, one in Germany and another in France, to inquire if Gregory’s father and uncle (born Zelik and Gregori Josefowitz) indeed conspired with Hitler’s finance minister. Yet Kleine does not interview the finance historian at Princeton University, who cited the troubling archival document in his 2001 book.
Kleine could have used Gregory’s lifelong trajectory to tell a larger story of the international avant-garde theater scene. Instead there is overmuch fuss about his coterie of dear companions.
Her bio offers a clue: “For two years I cared for injured eagles, hawks, and owls at a raptor rehabilitation center in Vermont.” Kleine assembles an appealing diary video of a rare bird.