My DVDs of My Dinner With Andre

There are a handful of films where I feel like DVDExotica hasn't even fully formed yet if they're not to be found on this site.  My Dinner With Andre is one of them.  ...Valentina is another, if you were curious.  Not just because I'm a big fan of the film and it's been on my "to cover" list since before I even started this site.  Although, yes, that's certainly true.  But for whatever reason, largely subconscious, everything from the nature of the film itself to its history on home video feels like a necessary, load-bearing building block for what DVDExotica was intended to be.  So here we finally go.
This film's hard-coded into the zeitgeist, to some almost infamously, as the movie where two people just sit and talk over dinner for two hours.  Besides little parodies in everything from The Simpsons (the My Dinner With Andre arcade game) to Waiting for Guffman (My Dinner With Andre action figures), there have been at least two legitimate feature films titled My Dinner With ____ (Jimi and Herve, neither of which had the guts to maintain the single conversation format along with their titles).  There are so many television episodes, short films, articles... But none of that really matters; it's just a great movie: poignant, funny, thoroughly unpretentious and surprisingly re-watchable.
It's such a great collaboration.  Wallace Shawn really comes into his own here as a performer and writer, who, sure, is ostensibly playing himself, but is also doing a lot more than just speaking in his own voice.  And you couldn't cast his foil any more perfectly than Andre Gregory.  But it's not just two theater guys talking theater, or existential philosophy, but a layered play taking place with deliberately crafted characters.  And the real collaboration I'm talking about isn't actually the two of them, but between Shawn and director Louis Malle who sees the vitality in the material and brings it to life (with the help, it's always fun to remember, of Lloyd Kaufman and Troma films!) with his mise en scene.  He's doing so much more than I think people realize, because they just see two guys sitting at a table.  But for example, do you really think it's a coincidence that in the exact moment Andre says "an act of murder has been committed" describing the times he calls his doorman Jimmy, the waiter walks behind them?  This isn't documentary, that extra was directed to cross camera during that line.  And just a minute later, when Wallace is saying, "if I were to confront myself that I'm sharing this world with a starving person in Africa somewhere, well, I wouldn't feel so great about myself," we see a black busboy clearing the table in the mirror behind him.  While he says, "I blot those people right out of my perception," he's actively ignoring that busboy.  This film is so rich.
Fox Lorber first issued this film on DVD all the way back in 1998, and it looks it.  That fullscreen and barebones disc was all we had, though, until Criterion picked up the DVD rights and turned it into a 2-disc special edition.  In 2015, Criterion upgraded it to BD, sold separately or as part of their 'Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn 3 Films' boxed set, with Vanya On 42nd St and A Master Builder.
1) 1998 Fox Lorber DVD; 2) 2009 Criterion DVD; 3) 2015 Criterion BD.
So yes, the Fox Lorber DVD is fullscreen.  In fact, it's at an excessively skinny 1.29:1.  Criterion's DVD corrects this to 1.64:1 (the case says 1.66:1, but okay, close enough), which the BD maintains.  To be fair the old disc is at least not interlaced (neither are either Criterions) and more or less open matte, with plenty of extra vertical information, though you can see Criterion's adjusted framing does reveal more along the sides.  Even more obvious is Criterion's color correction, which you can see was desperately needed.  The Fox disc is overcast with reds and yellows, and the saturation peaks are blinding (I can't tear my eyes away from those blue glasses on the shelf behind the bar in the first set of shots).  And the boost in clarity to HD is remarkable.  It was scanned in 2k from the original 16mm A/B negative; just look at the clear and sharp detail that was previously a smeary mess in 1998.  The grain is well captured and thoroughly displayed.  The encode leaves some light macroblocking, but what do you want?  It's not a UHD, it's a 2015 2k BD, and it looks better than I would've expected even after seeing the 2009 DVD.

All three discs present the original mono in 2.0, though it's been remastered for the Criterions and you can hear the difference.  The Fox Lorber DVD also lacks subtitles, which both Criterions provide.
Fox Lorber's DVD is completely barebones, but Criterion's DVD cooked up some fantastic special features.  Primarily, there are all new, half hour interviews with Shawn and Gregory, both conducted by Noah Baumbach, which illuminate just about everything you'd want to know about their thinking behind the film and the effect its had on their careers afterwards.  Unfortunately, Malle had already passed, but his perspective and insight is rescued by a 1984 episode of the BBC show Arena called My Dinner With Louis: The Films of Louis Malle, where Shawn interviews Malle about his body of work at dinner for almost an hour.  I just wish they'd spent a little more time on My Dinner With Andre, but they get to it eventually.  Also included is a 30-page booklet with notes by Amy Taubin and introductions by Shawn and Gregory.

The blu-ray doesn't add anything more, but it preserves everything from their DVD, including the booklet.
I just love this film; and I was so happy to be able to get it on disc.  And what's more, I was pleasantly surprised how worthwhile each subsequent upgrade was.  I would've been quite happy with each older edition, but Criterion really did right by it.  Twice.  If there's a UHD, you bet I'll be there, too.  But if not, this blu is already all I need.  Or, actually, the whole Andre & Gregory boxed set is essential, because My Dinner With Andre is still the best of the three, but they're all superb.

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