In the nineties, André Gregory mounted a series of spare, private performances of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya in a crumbling Manhattan playhouse. These treasures of pure theater would have been lost to time had they not been captured on film, with subtle cinematic brilliance, by Louis Malle. In Vanya on 42nd Street, a stellar cast of actors—including Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, Brooke Smith, and George Gaynes—embark on a full read-through of Uncle Vanya (adapted into English by David Mamet); the result is as memorable and emotional a screen version of Chekhov’s masterpiece as one could ever hope to see. This film, which turned out to be Malle’s last, is a tribute to the playwright’s devastating work as well as to the creative process itself. –The Criterion Collection
Louis Malle (born October 30, 1932, Thumeries, France—died November 23, 1995, Beverly Hills, California, U.S.) French motion-picture director whose eclectic films were noted for their emotional realism and stylistic simplicity.
Malle’s wealthy family resisted his early interest in film but allowed him to enter the Institute of Advanced Cinematographic Studies in Paris in 1950. After studying at the institute, he worked as an assistant to filmmaker Robert Bresson and codirected the documentary Le Monde du silence (1956; The Silent World) with underwater explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau.
Malle’s first feature film, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (1957; Frantic), was a psychological thriller. His second, Les Amants (1958; The Lovers), was a commercial success and established Malle and its star, Jeanne Moreau, in the film industry. The film’s lyrical love scenes, tracked with exquisite timing, exhibit Malle’s typically bold and uninhibited treatment of sensual themes. Social alienation… read more
A summation of Malle’s fiction and documentary, while reuniting Andre and Shawn as the faces of his American period. Its naked performance arises seamlessly immersive a blending of mediums - film, theatre and reality - emerging fluently buoyant, for as long as Vanya, with the bitter tea and flares of its portrait, holds up its end - that's to say, invariably, given its lucid revival herein. A dynamic elegy, from artist (Malle) to artist (Gregory & Co.) to artist (Chekhov); also, one to contrast the bombast of Wright’s recent Tolstoy reading.
Quite fine, really. As moving, much of the time, and melancholy as it needs to be. But Brooke Smith simply is NOT plain, and she's right to fret to Gregory pre-performance about how awkward her performance feels; Andre's assurance, delivered with thespian elan, that "That's the point!" is not convincing, and neither, at least not entirely, is this version of the play. But when it works it evinces a terrible gravity.
Louis Malle and Andre Gregory collaborate in this piece that is a cross section of creativity and drama. The performances are an outstanding blend of theater and filmic prowess. A truly powerful thing to witness, and a culmination of everyone involved in their own artistic mediums working in orchestral harmony.
Also: Girish Shambu on the video essay, Brian Darr on Méliès, Kurt Jensen on Mamoulian and more.