Mar 24, 2007

The Other Side of Henry Jaglom

OOn Feb. 23, I had a telephone interview with director Henry Jaglom, on assigment for the publication "Micro-Film", about his film Going Shopping, which had just been released on DVD.

Going Shopping is a very enjoyable film, one of his best works to date, featuring his wife Victoria Foyt in the central role (and is a revelation as always). This features most trademarks we associate with the films of Henry Jaglom. First, there are strong female roles, and usually with more shades and quirks that you see in any Hollywood movie, and in roles big or small, everyone gets a chance to shine. (There are more interesting female characters in this one picture than half a dozen studio films.) And then there is the improvisatory nature of his work... in which the viewer feels like a fly on the wall as the camera unobtrusively gazes at characters with overlapping dialogue, unpredictable emotions, virtues and flaws... it gives a synthesis of real life, not "reel life", all happening at once.

Jaglom's films infuriate many people, even women who aren't impressed with the neurotic wounded creatures that the female sex is often portrayed as. And for that matter, his loose, meandering structure (typical of his pictures in the 1980's) wore thin the patience of many. His impressionistic films aren't made to please the general masses who can only appreciate the cookie cutter formula of Hollywood, and even though this picture, and his previous film Festival in Cannes (2001), are somewhat conservative in approach, they still show Jaglom exploring his themes, with his unique style that wavers between documentary and narrative.

And in my 20 years of compulsive film watching, I've made a point to see all of his films, for despite their imperfections, they do achieve something unique and insightful. Plus, I admire that still after 35 years, he continues to make his pictures outside of the Hollywood mainstream.

In my 45 minute interview, we talked about his approach to filmmaking, the female roles (especially in Going Shopping), and the independent scene. Out of respect to Jason at "Micro-Film", I divert any more exposition on this to his magazine. I admit being nervous to speak to Henry Jaglom at first, and perhaps my style of questioning was a bit wishy washy, but it still led to the answers I wanted to receive, partially I'm sure because he was inciteful enough to know where my questioning was going.

Somehow, we got on the subject of The Other Side of the Wind, which may be the greatest unfinished-unseen film of all time. Made by Orson Welles in the early 1970's, it features John Huston as a veteran director trying to make a picture in the Easy Rider era. While all principal photography was shot, (according to whom you believe) either the footage was never edited fully, or it has been, but Welles' estate is miserly suppressing the film from release. Welles was a mentor to Peter Bogdanovich and Henry Jaglom (both of whom appear in this film). Mr. Jaglom offered to send me a DVD of a segment from this film featuring himself with director Paul Mazursky.

A week later, I receive the disk in the mail along with a postcard for his next film, and a note. I was stunned to see that the DVD contained twenty minutes of footage from this modern Holy Grail of movies. This compilation of dailes and rough edits (none of which had final audio) however made me believe in movies all over again. This mixed bag of scenes shows Jaglom and Mazursky in an amazing unbroken take as they freely improvise about the state of modern cinema, with scripted moments of John Huston barking at his cronies. All of this is shot in harsh constrast lighting, recalling Touch of Evil and other Welles classics.

Equal parts exhilarating and overwhelming, this film is a crystallization of what independent filmmaking really stands for. While I realize this is a rough cut, one must accept the technical crudities, and the uneven rhythms that classical Hollywood has programmed us to perceive as "wrong". These are all the expenses paid for getting a little closer to the true ways in which humans behave. One comes away from this a little wiser due to its uncompromising text, somewhat invigorated by the unconventional filming style. Orson Welles is often considered the first independent filmmaker, and under his namesake one could also compare the films of John Cassavetes or Henry Jaglom... all deeply personal directors with a unique style, creating their singular worlds of truth within or without the cookie cutter moviemaking of Hollywood.

1 comment:

Will Sloan said...

You've seen 20 minutes of The Other Side of the Wind?

I salute you for doing what every other geek has only dreamed of.