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Who is Henry Jaglom?

A seriously funny movie about the man, his films, women and other issues

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Who is Henry Jaglom?

Richard Lundun & Calliope Films present a film by Henry-Alex Rubin & Jeremy Workman. 52 minutes, released in 1997. On DVD from First Run Features. Bonus: Who Isn’t Henry Jaglom?, 32 minutes, 2007.
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    DVD review by Ray Young

        Unfortunately not included with the bonus features on First Run Features’ new DVD of Who is Henry Jaglom? is the introduction taped in the late-1990s for a PBS broadcast of the film, in which directors Henry-Alex Rubin and Jeremy Workman tried to describe their documentary and its thorny subject:

        Jeremy Workman: “Henry Jaglom is a maverick among mavericks. He’s so out on the fringes and doing something so different that no one knows how to classify him. He doesn’t even fit. He fits nowhere.”

        Henry-Alex Rubin: “He invented this way of making movies, of turning the camera on someone and forcing them to answer very personal questions.”
        JW: “There were people who thought he was a feminist, women who felt he was a misogynist, and what we found when we were making this was this scope of opinions.”
        HAR: “He’s one that lives his life to the fullest. In fact, a little too much. He thinks that life is only worth living if you’re arguing, if there’s tension, if there’s agitation. And I think his style of filmmaking is perfectly reflected in his attitude. That’s what I think ultimately attracted us.”
        JW: “We would be in the editing room and we’d have arguments over ‘who was Henry Jaglom?’”
        HAR: “The film is sort of a soup, a casserole of opinions and ideas that we throw out to you in some sort of organized fashion.”
        JW: “Alex one day would say, ‘He’s this incredible filmmaker, he’s doing stuff that no one in the world is doing.’ And I’d say, ‘No! He’s a hoax, he’s a hustler…’”
        HAR: “You really have to decide what you think of this man…”
        JW: “And the next day Alex would say, ‘This guy is a joke, what are we wasting our time for?’ And I’d say, ‘No, Alex, this is an amazing filmmaker who’s doing stuff that nobody’s doing!’ When we realized that’s what we would do over and over and over again, that’s when we realized that’s what the movie would be about…the movie’s about ‘who is this man?’”
        HAR: “People will hopefully be engaged enough by the movie to make their own opinions. And people, after they watch it, often argue…”

        Both of them are young and impassioned, with Rubin’s calm, fair-haired preppie offsetting Workman’s dark, disheveled intensity. As you hear their case, it becomes apparent that, to study the comedic, introspective and self indulgent films of Henry Jaglom, you need that kind of bipolar energy and (at least) two voices to keep pace.

        Like the inquisitive, hyperactive mind trying to manage several thoughts at once, Jaglom’s pictures—A Safe Place, Tracks, Eating, New Year’s Day, Someone to Love—delve into a wide range of concepts and emotions, with most of it boiling down to women. He’s had actresses, wives, exes, girlfriends and female assistants chat directly to the lens, generally without the benefit of a script, about anything from compulsive behavior or basic wants and desires, to relationship problems or the woman’s task (or science, or debacle) of dealing with men, age, weight, appearance, and how they’re perceived (or how they believe they’re perceived) by others.
        “Filmmaking for me is not about imposing,” he says of his method. “It’s about extracting…what I’m trying to do is allow, evoke and let things emerge.” Using an approach similar to Cassavetes and the early nouvelle vague, Jaglom ferrets out thoughts and feelings. At the same time he could be construed as an actor’s director, provided the actor is willing to go the distance for him.
        Assembled shortly after the release of Jaglom’s Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995), Who is Henry Jaglom? is a grab bag of clips and interviews with a large and eclectic bunch: Andrea Marcovicci, Dennis Hopper, Karen Black, Milos Forman, Candice Bergen, Louis Malle, Sally Kellerman, Ron Silver, Brooke Smith, Bob Rafelson…along with some of the less famous friends, fans, critics and acquaintances who’ve known him. Rubin and Workman include old home movies from Jaglom’s personal collection—like the crazy photographer in Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, even his most mundane and private moments have been inexplicably preserved on celluloid.

    RubinWorkmanJAGsm.JPG
    Rubin & Workman in the mid-‘90s (click to enlarge)

        Whether it educates the viewer about Jaglom’s craft and philosophy, or merely exploits his sundry quirks depends on individual interpretation. As Jaglom discusses it in Who Isn’t Henry Jaglom? (2007), a half-hour bonus interview shot specifically for the DVD, Who is Henry Jaglom? often seems less about the creative process than in painting him as an eccentric despot. It’s a pity Rubin and Workman aren’t in the new film to defend themselves: at sixty-six years old, Jaglom has lost none of his youthful exuberance and continues to mount persuasive arguments. He doesn’t dislike Who is Henry Jaglom?—in fact, he gives copies of it to actors he’s about to work with for the first time as a combination introduction and forewarning.
        (Who Isn’t Henry Jaglom? is hosted by Jeff Goldsmith, a writer for Creative Screenwriting magazine. Affable and prepared with a page of middling questions, Goldsmith appears wary of tripping over landmines and keeps Jaglom at arm’s length. His failure to register Henry’s ‘cuteness’ at one interval, or to volunteer the name of actress Martha Plimpton when the filmmaker draws a blank relating key moments in Last Summer in the Hamptons and Who is Henry Jaglom?, expose a lack of expertise on Goldsmith’s part. Though Jaglom could have easily made short work of him—Candice Bergen calls Henry a ‘kamikaze intellectual’—he remains charitable and lenient, though not entirely passive.)
        Despite whatever shortcomings it has, it’s hard to knock Rubin and Workman’s achievement, and harder still to not get swept up in the squall. Obligatory talking-head interviews are enhanced by colorful backdrops (Marcovicci’s nightclub, Kellerman’s yard, Bergen’s eye-popping Lady from Shanghai wall décor) and there are a number of Jaglom’s public and television appearances, along with revealing footage of him at work.
        Rubin and Workman were granted unlimited access to the director’s archive, so we’re privy to some indisputable gems, such as the heated rifts on the set of Last Summer in the Hamptons; Jaglom’s on-air deflation of talk show host Bob Costas; and his doubts over the honesty of the other people being interviewed: “Everything that everybody is telling you about me is totally subjective from their point of view. None of it has any reality. I know what they think they think they know about me, but I know what I know about them and their perception of me, which has nothing to do with the reality of me.” He’s playing for the camera here, but he’s also sincere, and it’s easy to believe the man is genuinely and irretrievably lost in his passions.
        He ends Who is Henry Jaglom? with a run-on philosophy that shifts between insecurity and inner strength: “If you try to be liked, you end up doing neither this nor that, because you’re doing something for people to like you. If you want to be known for who you are, and gotten for what you really are in life—and then, therefore, cared for, as we all want to be cared for as opposed to being liked, but cared for for what we are—then you can’t do anything to make it happen, because if you try to make yourself liked and it ‘works,’ it’s not you being liked, it’s your act.
        “If you make a film to be liked, it’s not your film anymore that’s being liked, it’s what you did to get liked. If you are, in your personal life, uncompromising, you will be uncompromising in your creative life. I don’t know how you can be uncompromising as an artist if you are ‘full of it’ as a person.” There’s very little doubt he’s committed to every word of that.

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  • For a Flickhead article about three Jaglom films, click here

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