Heny Jaglom, writer and director
of such idiosyncratic films as Always, But Not Forever, Eating,
Venice/Venice and the newly released BabyFever, has cast
himself into an enviable reallife, recurring role: that of an independent
film maker who has produced eleven films over the last 22 years
without a dime of support from the studios. "You may like my
films, you may hate my films," says Jaglom," but they’re
my films. I’m the only free person in this town."
How has Jaglom established this
kind of independence? He reduces it to a simple formula of technology
and low budgets. "With the new technology it’s just getting
better and better for independents," he says. "Satellites,
cable, and video allow you to support yourself. Suddenly I own a
library of 10 movies. You don’t have to get millions of people in
the theater before the film disappears forever. Movies can have
a life. They exist in libraries and you can target an audience.
All my movies make four or five times what they cost. We sell to
Europe and Paramount buys the video rights and I use that money
for prints and advertising. It’s a very nice system."
Judging by the offices of his production
company, Rainbow Pictures, the system has given Jaglom more artistic
independence than wealth. Establishments in Hollywood range from
the elegant and chic to the seedy and funky, and Jaglom’s digs tend
toward the latter. The stationery says "penthouse" but
his third story offices on Sunset Boulevard are a comfortable mess
in what may have been an apartment building in the 1940s. Books,
movie posters and publicity materials are stacked everywhere and
the floors creak under worn carpeting. Snapshots are tacked casually
to the walls; Henry and Orson Welles; wife and actress Victoria
Foyt with their little girl, Sabrina. Jaglom, in khakis and trademark
black cap pulled low over his eyes, can be tracked through the offices
by following his voice, for he is talking and moving all the time.
When finally settled into the old wicker furniture, he is fully
attentive and ready to talk.
And talk he does. "My wife
calls me a Chatty Cathy," he says. "Do you know that doll?
Pull the string and she talks." Verbalizing is more than a
social habit with Jaglom. The very act of talking embodies a philosophy
of life to which Jaglom is devoted and it accounts for the heavy
use of unscripted dialogue used in all his films. "There will
never be an action sequence in my movies," he states flatly.
"I’ve been lucky enough not to have had too many action sequences
in my life. The life I lead and the lives of people around me have
to do with talking, feelings, words, emotions. I want my films to
be as much as possible about life. Most films, unfortunately, tend
to be mindless distractions."
Jaglom’s films are low-budget,
dialogue-laden, comic art films in which relationships and issues
are analyzed at length and with great humor, often supported by
a very large cast of female characters speaking directly into a
video camera. Almost always set in Los Angeles in one or two locations,
Jaglom’s spare films have no background music but contain interludes
of romantic standards. He often casts himself as the male lead (usually
a film director) and is married to BabyFever‘s star, Victoria
Foyt. Sound familiar? "I have often been accused of being a
West Coast Woody Allen," Jaglom admits. "I like a lot
of Woody Allen’s films, but I think he’s different from me in that
he makes fun of his characters. I really don’t want to make fun
of them. I want them to expose themselves, be who they are and let
the audience react to it."
Exposing the self is a theme that
runs consistently through Jaglom’s work. He took the idea to the
extreme in Always, But Not Forever, his 1987 film that documents
the end of his first marriage. He plays himself, his ex-wife Patrice
Townsend plays herself, and the movie was filmed in the house they
shared as a married couple. "I was labeled an emotional exhibitionist
after that film came out," says Jaglom, "but I don’t think
of myself as an exhibitionist. It goes back to the pain I suffered
when I was little from people lying to each other, not telling the
truth, hiding. All this socially structured behavior."
The answer, as Jaglom sees it,
is in sharing emotions. "I think the worst thing in the world
is not to talk," he explains."Not to share your feelings
and thoughts with those who are really close to you. I get thousands
of letters every year from people who say they thought they were
the only ones. They feel robbed of their lives. To me that’s the
best reason to make films; to share with people that we’re all taking
the same journey. I don’t think you can over-analyze anything but
I do think that people who constantly pick over things are funny,
which is why my films turn out to be comedies."
It is also why Jaglom’s films dwell
almost exclusively on women and their issues. He has been frustrated
in his efforts to get men to open up in front of the camera. Jaglom
is probably film’s most ardent feminist. He is passionate about
women and the difficulties of surviving in a man’s world. Raised
mostly by women in New York City, he was exposed to what he calls
the feminine virtues, the ability to talk and share and nurture.
Eating, a film about women
and food, is quintessential Jaglom and probably his best-known film.
A group of women gather to celebrate the birthdays of three women,
one who is 30, one who is 40, and one who is 50. The party is being
videotaped and as the day progresses each of the women speaks into
the video camera about their relationship with food and their disappointments
with life, i.e., men. When the cake is finally served the same plate
circulates around the room over and over. There are no takers, not
in public anyway.
Jaglom uses real actresses but
lets them speak for themselves in their own words, a lesson that
he learned while doing his first film, A Safe Place. "I
wrote a scene for Jack Nicholson and Tuesday Weld who were both
good friends of mine and very articulate," he recalls. "I
had them do the scene and it was flat. I realized that both Tuesday
and Jack are more interesting than what I wrote for them. So I had
them do it in their own words and it was wonderful compared to what
I wrote. So now I try to cast people who are close to the issue
in the film and let them speak for themselves."
The casting scene in Venice/Venice is true to life. At auditions he asks the actresses about their
experiences with whatever the film’s theme is. "I made an absolute
rule for myself," he explains. "I don’t want to impose
my thoughts, especially because I deal so much in women’s issues,
on what women’s relationship to food is, or to having babies, by
writing different characters. That’s not my job. I write the story
and guide the narrative, but when the actors look into the camera
every word is their own, based on their own experience." To
facilitate this process Jaglom has the actors keep journals for
months before filming begins. They record their memories about food
or babies or men or whatever the issue is and draw upon it when
they are being filmed. Jaglom comes in at the editing stage, juxtaposing
one cameo against another. "I edit every frame of my movies
myself and try to find balance without lying. If I see most of the
women wanting babies in a certain way I can’t say, ‘Well I have
to be fair and balance this out.’ I have to represent what I find."
BabyFever repeats exactly
the same structure as Eating. Woman gather for a baby shower and
one of the guests is videotaping the event, going from one woman
to another asking hove they feel about having babies. The video
camera acts as truth serum and eventually the biological clock is
heard ticking everywhere through such insightful revelations as,
"I don’t feel that I’m living my life as a woman. I feel that
I’m living my life as a highly evolved, sensitive man," and
"Men keep asking me out to dinner. Dinner doesn’t do it anymore.
I don’t need dinner. I need a baby."
It is no surprise then, with his
extreme sensitivity to women’s issues, that his first film, A
Safe Place, which all takes place in a young woman’s mind, was
discovered by Anais Nin on a trip to the United States in the 1971.
She took it on a lecture tour to women’s groups at various colleges
across the country. "When she saw the film she said, ‘Now there
are two Henrys in my life,"’ says Jaglom. "She used the
film in her lectures and gave me my first audience."
The use of a video camera within
a film to record a social event is a device that intrigues Jaglom,
who has used it in every film for the last 12 years. Lawrence Kasdan
pioneered the technique in The Big Chill and Steven Soderberg
dealt with its darker aspect in sex, lies and videotape.
For Jaglom it is a whole new form of filmmaking, one that was wholeheartedly
endorsed by Orson Welles, whose last movie appearance was in Jaglom’s Someone to Love. "It seems to me the video camera enlarges
the canvas," Jaglom explains. "In most films you tell
a story about two or three characters, four if you’re very ambitious.
But if someone has a video camera at a party it can be used as a
theatrical device to expand the range so that instead of two or
three points of view you can have 30 or 40 people talking. It’s
harder to dismiss the issue because if you see three or four people
you can just say they’re neurotic."
Jaglom is making films at the rate
of about one every other year, each making a little more money than
the one before. "I make movies for about 10 percent of the
audience," says Jaglom. "That’s my goal. I have about
half of that now and with each movie I get half a percent more.That’s