One of the many pleasures of Cindy Kleine's documentary about her husband Andre Gregory, which recently previewed at Film Forum (it's opening there on April 3), is watching the ongoing rehearsal of Wallace Shawn's translation of The Master Builder.
The rehearsal radiates retrospectively over the entire film, encapsulating Gregory with some degree of irony and a great deal of seriousness under the blanket of Ibsen's masterpiece about the artistic personality. Gregory has always been Shawn's master builder creating the parameters for the playwright/actor's quirky teleology. It's apparent that Shawn's famous tete a tete with Gregory dictates the style of both Vanya on 42nd Street and The Master Builder -- which are conversational in the best sense of the word. Kleine's direction lovingly captures her husband's facial expressions and in particular his hands as they react to intimate directorial moments, but her film fundamentally embraces Gregory by paying homage to his esthetic.
After all it's called Andrew Gregory: Before and After Dinner and it's more my dinner with Andre than My Dinner with Andre could ever be (after all she eats with him all the time). Besides the extent to which the film is about a host of Gregory's interests that range from shamanism to the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, there is the drama of history.
Gregory's father was a Jew who fled Russia before Stalin, escaped Germany while remaining curiously connected to influential Nazis, and brought his family to America from England on the last boat, departing on the eve of the bombing of Britain -- something that may account for Gregory's love of ocean liners, but does little to shed light on the question of his father's enigmatic character.
"You can't go back," is the filmmaker's final word on the subject. "Access denied. Where Andre found his father was in his work."
This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture.