Saturday, August 30, 2014

Wallace Shawn heads up! A Master Builder at the Cinematheque

I have always liked Wallace Shawn as an actor. As with, say, Bob Balaban, there's a really charming everyman quality to what he does, but there's also simply this quality of "Wallace Shawnness" that can't be easily described, that includes his somewhat smaller-than-life appearance and his lispy, high-pitched voice, which so enhances his capacity to convey ineffectual indignation (his articulation of the word "inconceivable" in The Princess Bride is one of those truly unforgettable line deliveries in cinema, even if you don't really have that much invested in the film). I didn't have much luck getting through the one filmed version of a play of his I attempted, The Fever. I didn't see his apparently controversial appearance in Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story (which was released after I'd gotten tired of Moore; I watched about fifteen minutes of it and turned it off, not having seen Shawn's scene, and now that I've read about it I want to see it again). But I always enjoy his appearances in films. I loved him in Tom Noonan's under-appreciated directorial effort The Wife, which cinephiles (and Tom Noonan fans) everywhere should seek out. I still have fond memories of his turn in Paul Bartel's Scenes From the Class Struggle in Beverley Hills, a film that really should get released on DVD/ Blu-Ray. And of course, I am a great admirer of My Dinner With Andre, one of those films every movie lover of my generation had to see at least once, which will screen at the Cinematheque soon. His responses to Gregory's aesthetic, um, excesses have always struck a chord with me, even if he's somewhat a figure of fun in the film (I've certainly seen people laugh aloud at some of the things he says, though I don't think I've seen it theatrically, so who knows how people will take it these days? Myself, to the extent that that film presents a combat between visions of art and life, I've always sort of found myself in Shawn's corner, to be honest).
There is still a chance to see Shawn onscreen in a small role in Richard Aoyade's The Double, at the Vancity, which has two remaining screenings, and which I very much enjoyed; it kind of feels like Terry Gilliam meets Franz Kafka, but it's based on an early short novel by Dostoevsky. Shawn is good in it, as always, though it's not a particularly revealing performance. The big news, however, is that he's going to be appearing in A Master Builder, which sees him again collaborating with Andre Gregory, in a film directed by Jonathan Demme. The material sounds compelling - a cruel man with a big ego tries to make amends for his past excesses; based on the description, I can identify. In fact, it sounds like a must-see, and how many years has it been since I saw My Dinner With Andre? Maybe it's time; it is, after all, a great film...

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