Flashback
A look back at this day in film history
November 28
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
Meet Me In St. Louis November 28, 1944
Meet Me in St. Louis opens in Technicolor

Opening November 28, 1944, Vincente Minelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis was one of the most commercially successful pictures of its day.

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November 28, 1938
Michael Ritchie born

Michael Ritchie, one of the most skilled yet underrated Hollywood directors of the 1970s, was born in Waukesha, Wisconsin, on this day in 1938.

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November 28, 1946
Dante's Divine Comedy of Horrors

In many ways, Joe Dante, born on this day 62 years ago today, is a film director from another age. Dante, a New Jersey native whose parents were golf pros, grew up in 1950s America and continues to embody the ethos of that decade in much of his film work. His influences, for example, include cartoonist Chuck Jones, champion of colorful 50s film comedy Frank Tashlin and B-movie mogul Roger Corman, and it was Corman who first initiated him into the world of movie production after Dante had spent some years as a film critic. Dante first enjoyed success with the Jaws­-inspired creature feature Piranha (1978) which he followed up with the werewolf movie The Howling (1981), another Corman production. Afterwards he graduated to big budget movies, often working for friend Steven Spielberg, and scored with hits like Gremlins (1984) and Innerspace (1987) and also indulged in nostalgic joint exercises like Twilight Zone: The Movie (1982), Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) and episodes of Spielberg’s Amazing Stories TV show. His work has always affectionately looked back on a time when cinema was all about tall tales, monsters, aliens and other such fun excesses of the cinema of bygone years, and Dante tapped into this most directly in Matinee (1993), his film about a William Castle-like producer whose productions thrived on gimmicks and shock tactics. Since the early 1990s, though, Dante has worked mostly in television, where he directed the cult series Eerie, Indiana, only occasionally returning to the big screen for movies like the kid-oriented Small Soldiers (1998) and Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003). Now, however, Dante looks set to return to the fore with two projects which will that staple of 50s schlock horror, 3-D technology, which is popular once again 50 years on thanks to its revitalization through digital technology.

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