Sunday, September 20, 2009

Is Henry Jaglom the real Woody Allen? IRENE IN TIME opens; Q&A w/ filmmaker

Henry Jaglom (shown below, right, with his new leading lady Tanna Frederick) may be an acquired taste. It took TrustMovies awhile before he realized how hooked he'd become on this guy's films. Now, he can't wait for the next one to pop up -- which it does, every couple or three years. Since 1971, beginning with A Safe Place, Jaglom has written 19 films and directed 18 of them (two are cur-
rently in post-produc-
tion). His latest, which

has been running for three months already in Los Angeles and is making its New York City theatrical debut this Wednesday, is titled IRENE IN TIME. For my money, it's one of his best.

After I finished watching the film, I turned to my companion and wondered aloud: "Is Henry Jaglom maybe the real Woody Allen? Of course, I received a big "What are you talking about?" as a response. I then tried to explain: "Well, he's the movie-
maker who has consistently, for almost 40 years, made these small, personal films that seem to say exactly what he wants. They're funny and charming but much more west coast than east. He's stuck to his guns and done what he wanted and come up with an oeuvre that's his own, while Woody, over the years, has begun to seem all over the place and often appears to have lost his focus. I don't know: Just a thought."

Jaglom's new movie stars that red-headed wonder who will either drive you crazy or win you over (maybe both): Tanna Frederick, who starred in this writer/director's last released film, Hollywood Dreams (made in 2006; my review for GreenCine is here) and who is the director's latest "find." Ms. Frederick excels at playing needy. I have never seen another actress do "needy" to the degree that she manages it, and it 's probably this characteristic, more than any other, that will separate the Tanna-lovers from the Tanna-haters. I must be a needy-lover because, though I withheld and resisted Ms Frederick for a time in both films, she finally won me over.

In Irene, Frederick plays a young woman who is still madly in love with her dead dad. Their relationship was clearly a highpoint that the character is intent on re-achieving with her new significant other, but either her choices are so poor or the man-pool around Los Angeles is so feeble that she's constantly picking Mr. Wrong and having to start over. This makes for a good deal of amusement along with way (the film runs only 95 minutes), with the occasional feeling of been there/done that (needy women and Mr. Wrongs are nothing new to cinema). But this is where Jaglom's POV and movie-making skills come to the fore.

I suspect Henry is an obsessive fellow -- god knows, his characters often are -- and these obsessions make for much quirky humor and charm. And yet his films manage to seem simultaneously obsessive and off-the wall, an odd and interesting combination that somehow keeps them centered. Jaglom also takes a single subject (often expressed in his titles: Going Shopping, Eating, Baby Fever, Someone to Love) and runs with it, beating it back and forth (some might say to death) until it (and we) cry uncle. I enjoy this, but I realize that some people don't. With Irene, the subject is father-daughter love, how wonderful it can be, and how -- well -- deadly, too. His lead character Irene sings with a interesting group of musicians, and the first song we hear "I'm Dancing With My Father" (a lovely little tune) pretty much lays out the territory we're going to cover. Other songs throughout the film are sweet and clever, too, but this first one absolutely nails things. (This lovely music is by Harriet Schock, shown above, second from left.)

I suspect father and daughters with consider the movie more closely that sons and mothers; I certainly thought a lot about my daughter, post-movie. And I believe that Mr. Jaglom has used his daughter Sabrina in this film (she comes through quite nicely, too). I forgot to ask him, in our interview, about that relation-
ship. (Or even if she was his daughter; she might be a niece.) Jaglom, as usual, has assembled a fine cast, many of whom (like Andrea Marcovicci, left) have appeared in other of his films and seem now a a part of his own private stock company.

Throughout the movie, Irene keeps trying and failing and needing some more. Surprises happen, a mystery must be solved, and an important new character turns up. We laugh, we think, we feel, and -- here's where Jaglom usually gets to me -- we're put in touch with some weird kind of "truth." I usually leave a Jaglom film as though I've discovered something new and rich -- but only part of that something. Just a touch, mind you; an idea not fully formed; a half-moment. But this is enough to quite content me. I hope it
will you, too.

Irene in Time opens Wednesday, September 23, at NYC’s Quad Cinemas; two days later it hits everyone’s favorite Queens art theater, the Kew Gardens Cinema.


When Susan Senk, the PR person handling the New York release of Irene in Time, suggested I might want to do an interview with Mr. Jaglom, I said, "Of course!" The writer/director and I talked for quite awhile by phone, and then did some emailing to finish up. Following is the heart of the interview:

There's maybe a spoiler ahead -- almost immediately -- and because Irene in Time is such a "dear" movie -- of the sort, I think, that many people will take to heart -- perhaps you should put off reading this interview until you've seen the film. (Or at least skip the first question and the four-paragraph answer that follows it.)

TrustMovies: Is Irene in Time darker than some of your earlier films? Does the end of the film indicate that Irene has gone to her death?

Henry Jaglom: It certainly suggests this as a possibility. But my first two films suggest something dark, as well: A Safe Place and Tracks -- where Dennis Hopper comes back from Viet Nam carrying a body on a train.

I sometimes have endings that are suggestive and subjective -- rather than the kind you'd take literally. In “Irene,” the end indicates this, I think. The father seems, in all the clues he has left, to be trying to bring her back to him. I have asked a lot of audiences about this, and a large number felt that, at the end, Irene transcended time and joined her father. Others saw it more literally as a suicide.

So it all depends. I have been very influenced in my life with films that have this dual dimension. Portrait of Jennie affected me a great deal. At the end there’s this gigantic thing where they cannot be together because of the time difference. Also in A Guy Named Joe, and in A Matter of Life and Death… films with that sort of dream of love being bigger than anything else. Love beating death, time -- winning over all kind of logic. This kind of thing has always been a very big attraction for me, poetically. In this case (Irene in Time) it’s that complete love of and for a father than made it impossible for Irene to live in the real world.

I don’t mean the movie to be bleak. Younger audiences seem to take it in the dual dimension way. I purposely didn’t want to give a hard, bleak feeling to the movie. The only place that Irene can survive is in meeting her father in some post-time zone -- where she is how she now is, and he is as he was.

Music seems more important here than in almost any of your other films that I can recall. And it’s so good, too!

The music is live here, in this film, and so it is important. The character is a musician, and the songs are part of her act and her life.

I do think that I have used music throughout my films in an extraordinarily impactful and powerful way. If you see the more romantic films, you’ll understand that.

You seem to be very high on Tanna Frederick these days.

Yes, and Tanna is also in my third film, Queen of the Lot. She has been inspirational to me.

You seem to have been inspired by many of your leading ladies.

I have! I’ve been married to two of them, in fact: first to Patrice Townsend. For Sitting Ducks, we actually shot the film in the house we lived in while we were getting a divorce. And more recently, to Victoria Foyt. She starred in Deja Vu, Going Shopping and Baby Fever. And now Tanna and David Proval are in a play I’ve written opening next month in L.A. called Just 45 Minutes From Broadway.

You know, Cassavetes always said, and this was regarding his wife Gena Rowlands, that the person you know best is who you can get the most special performances out of. I think that’s so true.

Can we talk a little about my thoughts regarding your being the real Woody Allen kind of filmmaker? That you have actually been the moviemaker who, for close to 40 years now, has been making your kind of film, despite ups and down, good and bad reviews and everything else. But you just keep on making very personal movies – often quite funny ones – about exactly the kind of subjects you want to tackle.

This makes complete sense to me. Orson Welles said, after watching my third film: “This could be no one else’s film!”

There are certain filmmakers who really do know what they want to do and are doing it. You can say this about many people’s films, actually: Clint Eastwood, for instance. If you really have a signature and want to be making films, you tend to do this. Robert Altman is another one. There was never any question that he was doing anything different from what he wanted. Bergman, Truffaut, too, and of course Orson was the greatest example of this. Every film he made, he wanted to make, and he is my role model in that sense.

I realize that I am both loved and hated for what I am doing. But it’s a great feeling to know that you are doing what you want to do. It is a great gift I’ve been given to be able to do this.

How do you see your change or growth over time as a filmmaker? Or does this even apply to you?

It doesn’t apply to me. Not exactly. I think what has grown and changed is the kind of ability to figure out how to get what I want more efficiently. But what I want has not changed. Not at all. From my very earliest film, what was there has been exactly the movie I wanted to make. The difference is: now I know better what to tell an actor or an editor: How to create the impact that I want. But my goal and my intent has not changed at all.

It is also a question of the economics. I never made films to make money, but just to make the film. One day I was sitting down to lunch with Orson. I said, “I am so frustrated: I only have six more days to shoot!” Orson said to me: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” And that is the trap of Hollywood. When somebody shows promise, they start getting offered all that money and attention in exchange for their vision. One guy in particular said to me, “I like your films. My wife makes me look at all of them. Get in touch with me when you want to make a real film.” Meaning one that costs tens of millions of dollars. I am lucky in not wanting to do this.

Which of your films did you have the most fun making?

I’d have to say, because of my great friendship with Orson: Someone to Love. Playing with Orson: What could be better?

Last Summer in the Hamptons
is also one of my favorites: Creating a dreamlike kind of thing, going for Chekhov… But I don’t agonize about my films.

For me the most fun was maybe the movie you made in Cannes…

The Cannes movie! There, again, I had the limitation of having to film it while the festival was actually going on. This gave me such limitations! And I had to make it in just two weeks!

But it had a kind of professional look not always found in your other movies.

You’re right. I felt it had to have this. For someone who had grown up seeing films like La Dolce Vita and A Man and A Woman -- the most romantic film ever made. Anouk Aimée was about 30 then, and she was in her 60s when we were making Cannes. I love films with older women because those women don’t get seen that often. With Déjà Vu -- which takes place largely in London – I had the chance to work with Vanessa Redgrave and her mother!

Can I ask about this new movie mentioned on IMDB: Always but not Forever? Who’s this Ron Vignone, who is directing? Does this indicate a career change for you, from directing to writing? And before I forget, How old are you, actually?

Ron directed this one because I have been spending so much time doing plays as well as movies. Last year we shot a play version of my film Always, and Ron filmed and edited it. I saw the advantages for the first time of this whole new technology. I saw the possibility of making -- or at least editing -- films with hi-def. I have always edited all my films by myself. More traditional filmmakers have had an editor. But with this new technology, I can turn a film over much quicker.

So are you still doing all this yourself?

Yes, but doing it with an assistant who knows the technology. I am cutting my films now on high –def and then going back to 35 mm. I make copies of the whole film on hi-def, then edit on high def, and then go to 35 millimeter. My first experience with this was on Irene in Time - - I used hi-def and managed to put the old footage together with the new -- using Tanna’s old footage of her younger self, together with the current footage. This gave me a kind of freedom and awareness that I didn’t have before. Hi-def is so much more fun -- and more flexible.

Back to your question about how old I am: I am now 66. But it’s just a number: My father, at 94, once said to me, “What is this 94 business? I am only about 70.”

One thing I am trying to do now – and I’ve never told this to anyone before -- I am trying to do the alphabet with my movies: Have a movie that begins with each letter of the alphabet. I didn’t think of this earlier enough unfortunately because I already did three movies beginning with the letter S: Sitting Ducks, Safe Place and Someone to Love. I would not have done that, if I’d realized sooner. But I try to set myself little entertaining goals -- like this one -- to see if I can live long enough to have finally a film for every letter in the alphabet.

Anything else you like to talk about or tell me? (He thinks a moment.)

I want to reach ten per cent of the American audience. That’s my goal. Orson once told me that a filmmaker should be true to the audience most like himself. Because they are interested in the things that you are interested in. Don’t step outside and try to be something for everyone. I don’t mind spending my life striving for this. There are three hundred million people here in the US. But I don’t really need that other 270 million. Reaching 30 million is just fine with me.

The photos, except for the one at top, which is courtesy of and
copyrighted by, are all from the movie.)

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