Henry Jaglom is an original and to me that is high praise. Because in the business known as The Hollywood Film Industry originality of any kind is hard to come by. Excellence yes, there have been many wonderful works that have been products of that much maligned factory of commercial cinema. But in general originality is not something that has been aspired to or encouraged. A repetition or variation on last season’s biggest hits seems to be the order of the day more often than not. Thus the large number of sequels and remakes. And even the description of a work by the filmmakers themselves and their publicists attest to this when they refer to an upcoming film as “A cross between Casablanca and The Guns of Navarone” or some such thing.
Then off somewhere to the side of the road stands Henry Jaglom, a filmmaker who follows his own impulses and his heart and not the dictates of this seasons box office prognostications. He also makes films in a manner and style that leads narrow visioned traditionalists to declare that his works are not even movies and sets critics (who as a rule should know better) to scratching their heads wondering how they should respond to his latest offering. But then there are the fans whose number keeps growing every year that look forward to his every release as a breath of fresh air in a mansion of expensive antiques that has been closed up for too long.
Jaglom is called “The Independent’s Independent” because he writes, produces, directs and sometimes stars as well as edits his films. And if that wasn’t enough he also releases and distributes them through his Rainbow Films banner. I can think of no one else in the industry who does all of this so regularly, (over 30 years) and with so much success. But to me what makes the films truly independent and original is the way he creates them. Godard is quoted as saying that he believes in a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order. Jaglom also works in that unorthodox fashion. He has been quoted as saying that he writes his films after he has shot them. This is due to the improvisational nature of so many of his earlier films. With those he would come up with an idea or a premise, engage many of his actor and non actor friends (sometimes including his brother) and allow them to take it from there effectively “improvising” their dialogue with careful direction from him, while a film crew captures it all. Then in an editing room sometimes for a year or more he will sit and stitch it all together usually in an unorthodox and I might add extremely entertaining cinematic/theatrical experience. They wind up being films that you not only enjoy but want to talk and argue about with your friends.
My favorite is Someone to Love (1987) because it is about so many things at the same time. It is about Henry, his friends, his lover, his relationship with his brother; his emotional state of being, his filmmaking method and it gives us the best and last view of Orson Welles on film. It also serves as a fitting Swan Song for the great man and his love of cinema. In it he says to Jaglom, who was a longtime friend; “You make movies unlike anyone I’ve ever seen and I’m here to see how you do it.”
For many years I taught a class called; Independent Films and Filmmakers. And each semester I would start with a film by Henry Jaglom because I knew that it would quickly establish what the class was all about. Filmmaking mavericks that went their own way in creating what is often memorable cinematic experiences for us at a fraction of the cost of the stuff coming out of the mainstream industry. This was a smart move on my part because Jaglom’s films always stirred things up and got their thought processes going which always led to interesting and provocative discussions on the subject.
Now like any adventurous artist whether it be filmmaking or whatever Jaglom’s work has changed and evolved over the years. With his body of work (19 films) it is possible to break them into periods as one does with the work of some artist like Picasso. But that’s an endeavor for a more scholarly approach. What I’m suggesting now is if you haven’t seen a Jaglom film give it a try. Start with Someone to Love (1987), go back to Always (1983), and jump forward to his latest Queen of the Lot (2010) and the one that preceded it Hollywood Dreams (2006) both featuring his newest discovery Tanna Federick. I think you will find it a different and rewarding expansion of your film going experience.