Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
December 21
My Dinner With Andre October 11, 1981
My Dinner with Andre opens

The 1991 arthouse hit My Dinner with Andre was borne out of extended taped conversations by playwright and actor Wallace Shawn and theater director Andre Gregory. The two were old friends, and they had the idea to make a movie based, as Gregory told Sight and Sound magazine, “on ourselves.” As he related, “After months of study, of sifting through and cataloguing the material, sentence by sentence, in a sort of confused and miserable way, certain themes began to emerge; somewhere inside several layers of wrapping, there were certain subjects, certain concerns. Also, two fictional characters, distinct and amusing, seemed to be vaguely visible underneath the incomprehensible surface of the actual people we were." The film that came out featured these polar opposite personalities talking about the Big Stuff over dinner, and it became one of the most celebrated American independent films of its day, partly due to its surprising — and surprisingly achieved — box-office success. Bought by New Yorker Films after its premiere at the 1980 Telluride Film Festival, My Dinner with Andre was distributed by a team including now-filmmaker Jeff Lipsky in a manner that would be almost unheard of today. It was kept in theaters for weeks even though grosses were declining, and it was even extended after Gregory "groveled and begged" in front of New Yorker's Dan Talbot. As recounted in David Rosen's Off Hollywood, the grosses picked up, and on continued modest advertising spends, the movie became a surprise hit. Critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert on their weekly television show raved the film, declaring it one of the best of the year, and it went on to play at New York's Lincoln Plaza an astonishing 54 weeks — something that would be simply unheard now. In L.A. at the Westland Twin theater, the film's grosses in week 17 were three times what they were in week one. In the days before home video, pay-per-view and streaming, and before the internet forever changed the notion of the water cooler, "word of mouth" meant something a little different in the film world than it does today. It meant that audiences knew that had to see something when it came out, that they couldn't wait until some future delivery window, and that if they didn't urge their friends to see it they'd miss out on something great.


More Flashbacks
Working Girl Dec. 21, 1988
Working Girl Opens

With Carly Simon's anthemic "Let the River Run" scoring Melanie Griffith's Monday-morning commute from Staten Island to Wall Street, Mike Nichols' Working Girl, which opened December 21, 1988, is an upbeat fantasia celebrating female empowerment, class mobility, and the underlying soundness of our financial system.

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December 21, 1988
Working Girl, a fable of money

Just days before Christmas, director Mike Nichols delivered Working Girl, a new brightly wrapped present of the American dream. If Oliver Stone’s 1987 Wall Street showed the greed and cruelty behind that fueled America’s financial professionals, Nichols' Working Girl gave that same capitalist dream a positive––and feminist––spin. A downtown secretary (Melanie Griffith) steals the identity of her investment banker boss (Sigourney Weaver) in order to sell a sure-fire marketing idea. But rather than being a political fable of the Man––er, Woman––keeping the hero down, like the 1980 feminist comedy Nine to Five, Working Girl was a fable of class mobility. In her New York Times review, Janet Maslin commented, "One of the many things that mark Working Girl as an 80's creation is its way of regarding business and sex as almost interchangeable pursuits and suggesting that life's greatest happiness can be achieved by combining the two," In some ways, the film serves as a counterpoint to Pretty Woman, the 1990 film that should have perhaps switched titles with Nichols' comedy. The film proved a feelgood hit, with the Carly Simon anthem "Let the River Run" going on to win the Academy Award for Best Song in 1989. Significantly, the original title to this stirring track was “The Wall Street Hymn.” While the big hair to big money story hit box office gold, the 1990 TV sitcom spun from the story was fired soon after its broadcast premiere.

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