More Than Meets The Mogwai

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

More Than Hollywood Dreams: An Interview with Henry Jaglom

Conducted last year, but only portions [on the film GOING SHOPPING] have been previously published.

AG: This film [GOING SHOPPING, 2005] is the third in a loose trilogy, which includes EATING [1990] and BABYFEVER [1994]. Was this your plan from the start?

HJ: It was. It’s not a trilogy as planned, what’s planned is to do a series of films -- this happens to be the third, and I hope there’ll be more -- examining specific aspects of women’s lives in a way that I feel conventional films –- theatrical and commercial from Hollywood -- have neglected to focus on.

AG: Did you have a shooting script? You have a reputation for working loose with actors.

HJ: That’s a myth about me, really. I work loosely with the actors, but I had a 122 page script. Working loosely entails encouraging actors to use, sometimes, their own language, or to go off into a different direction once they’ve accomplished what I need them to do in the scene. And then I can frequently use what they’ve given me in the final edit. They come up with surprises for themselves and for each other, and I love that. But there’s very much a guided script that has to be followed in order to make the whole thing work.

AG: For continuity purposes?

HJ: Yeah, and to have the dialogue that I want to make happen. The myth that has been attached to me is that I just let actors go, but that would be really difficult. But I certainly am actor-friendly and love them [for being able] to tap into their own lives and their own language to sort of meet them in a reality of what I’m getting at, what I’m looking for. And in a film like this – [GOING SHOPPING], have you seen it?

AG: Yes.

HJ: Whatever they say to the camera about the issue in the film, and this applies to the others in the series –- EATING and BABYFEVER, too -– where there is a device of them talking to the camera, that is not scripted. That is entirely those women and their true relationship to the theme of the film. And in this case, it’s shopping.

AG: The use of fragmentary interviews?

HJ: Yes, that’s them. Those are the people’s real thoughts. I just then, in the editing room, try to rhythmically place them in and give a fair representation of them and find a way, and have them emerge in and out of the narrative story without interrupting it. For me, it gives the possibility of a larger scale. When I’m doing a film about something I’m interested in – a theme, rather than a particular character, the theme becomes the more important thing. I feel if you create a tapestry out of these women talking about their own feelings throughout the film, you can create a much broader canvas in which there’s not just the usual two or three or four or five characters, but so many more views on the subject that you hopefully get a sense of women’s lives in respect to that particular subject.

AG: They compliment one another?

HJ: Yeah, and that’s the job of editing. It took me a year and a half to edit the film, because it’s interweaving these two very different things: a straightforward narrative that unfolds, and the counterpoint of the people talking to the camera about the issue of the film.

AG: As far as the editing is involved, have you gone through a lot of different rough cuts?

HJ: Yes, constantly. I’m showing them to audiences and then, through inviting audiences, I listen to what they have to say. It’s a process, you know, a year and a half or sometimes two years. For me, it’s trying to compose music, to have the right balance, and it’s a complicated process. The shooting is actually the easiest part, trying to get it all down on film. And then I have at least 25, or 30, cuts of the film that I’ve shot. And I’ve got to narrow it down, and decide on which pieces work, and how to reconstruct them [so] that they’ll tell the story and give the emotion that I want.

AG: How long did you shoot for?

HJ: Three weeks.

AG: Going back to your earlier films now, would you say that your use of Orson Welles in SOMEONE TO LOVE [1987] was the first time you attempted this fragmentary use of real interviews?

HJ: That’s the first movie I tried it in, actually. And it was really because of the issue of loneliness in that film that Orson was watching, because we had Orson play this character that was watching everything going on. That’s when he said to me that if I can accomplish this -- if I could try to make it seamless -- he felt that it was possible for me to accomplish something that had not been quite done before. It’s a fascinating thing trying to make it seamless, that’s the big job. Trying not to get the audience taken out of the narrative by hearing these interviews, but to still have the interviews have an impact that compliments your emotions from the narrative.

AG: What happens when you have disparate styles of acting, perhaps from two acting schools, with the way you work?

HJ: That’s a problem. It’s a great question, and you know, I haven’t been asked that question in all of the interviews I’ve ever done (laughs). That’s a first class question, and there’s no real answer. And this is all I can say about it: usually that doesn’t happen, because I’m in the casting, and I try to find people who work from their emotions, their openness in a certain kind of way. I come from the actor’s studio and my training with Lee Strasberg in the Actor’s Studio was all about the moment to moment reality. There are actors who have a different sense of training, and those actors I usually don’t work with very well. There have been cases -– I don’t know if you’ve seen a film I made called FESTIVAL IN CANNES

AG: I have.

HJ: Well, in that one, Maximilian Schell, of course, comes from a very different school of acting. But we worked beautifully together. He felt very liberated. He felt liberated because it was the first chance to be himself. Jack Nicholson in my first film, A SAFE PLACE [1971], he’s said to this day he’s never been as much himself, the true jack Nicholson, as in any film because what I do is try to get the fullness of their character up on screen rather than have them play some separate character from themselves. But Jack’s work comes from a sort of similar creative background, whereas Maximilian Schell comes from a completely different one. Or, Vanessa Redgrave, for instance. It’s a wonderful process if you can get people to open up areas, especially when they are really skilled, really talented actors who have always worked one way – off of a script, off of a literary narrative, more from the outside, and to get them drop some of that protection, and use the spontaneity of what they’re feeling and what their impulses are in a different kind of way. I mean, something wonderful happens if the actors are willing to do it.

AG: And it seems they certainly flock to you, even if the paychecks are not substantial.

HJ: The paychecks are not what they usually get, for sure. I don’t know if they flock to me. There are some who, I’m sure, wouldn’t do it, but I think the way I work is what actors want mostly. This is what they want mostly. They want the chance to go back to what excited them originally when they wanted to become actors in the first place. A lot of that is what happens in my films, they get to take risks, big leaps of imagination, they know -- I think they know -- that if they fall on their face, I’m not gonna use that piece of film, you know, in the editing. But it gives them the chance to kind of fly, and frequently, their films and careers have been locked into safe projects, things which the public wants, or they know how to do, and this gives them a chance to go back to why the wanted to be creative and film actors in the first place, even if it’s not very financially remunerable. So, some of the stars that I’ve used have been the most open, the most excited, to be used this way.
AG: What are you working on now?

HJ: I have two films, one coming out in the spring, which is called HOLLYWOOD DREAMS [2006], and it’s about a girl who moves from Iowa to Hollywood to look for fame. She’s obsessed with fame. And it’s really about that kid from every town in this country, or in the world actually, who feels different, somehow not quite, you know, not quite normal or who they’re supposed to be socially, who feels they don’t fit in someway, who has this dream about obsession, about fame, and they head to New York, or Hollywood, with the intention of becoming famous, and that’s what’s in their mind for whatever psychological reason -- lack of being seen in life, lack of parental guidance -- that they find their way all over the place to NY and Hollywood in search of this dream. And this initially has very little to do with art and has more to do with this tremendous need for attention. And that’s what this film is about, that driving need. It follows a young woman from Iowa who comes here to achieve that dream. It has to do with wanting fame. Not about this particular fad at the moment (Reality Shows), but wanting to be famous, needing to be seen on that big screen, needing people to talk about you. Needing to read about yourself in the paper, or see your photo in the newspaper.

I’ve found an extraordinary young actress named Tanna Frederick who embodies this part. She’s actually from Iowa, and she’s given a great performance. In addition, there are a lot of great parts for other actors as well: Karen Black, and she’s wonderful. David Proval from “The Sopranos”.

[I interject about Proval being in Martin Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS [1973], mixing him up with Richard Romanus, who has previously worked with Jaglom and also appeared in MEAN STREETS.]

HJ: I’ve never worked with Proval before, no. Richard Romanus, yes, and he was in MEAN STREETS. Did you see “The Sopranos”? He [Proval] played Richie Aprile, the most vicious killer in the world and he gets killed by the sister, but I’m using him in a very different way. It’s set in Hollywood, and he’s a gay Hollywood producer -- it’s a complicated thing, but I’m using him. I have wonderful actors in different roles, showing up to support this performance from Tanna.

AG: And you’re also using Justin Kirk, from “Weeds”?

HJ: Oh, wow, you know who he is. He’s from “Weeds”, but he’s more renowned for his role in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of ANGELS IN AMERICA. And he was extraordinary in that, and tremendous in this, too, I think. And that’s coming out in the spring. And on my editing table, there’s the movie IRENE IN TIME, which is about the relationship between fathers and daughters and how that affects girls for the rest of their lives in their choice of men.

AG: Is this [HOLLYWOOD DREAMS] the first time you’ve professionally worked with [longtime friend] Seymour Cassel?

HJ: Yes, but we’ve known each other forever. He was the first actor that I knew when I was in college, and he invited me to the very first screening that ever was held of John Cassavetes’ SHADOWS, and I’ll never forget that. It was a midnight screening in Manhattan, and it changed my life. Cassavetes' film showed me that you didn’t have to make films the Hollywood way; he shot it with no money on the streets of New York with real actors and mixed with real people. Goldoni, the young girl, is appearing in IRENE IN TIME, and she’s not been in that much since then. I grew up on that film, and it was an important thing for me. And Seymour was an important part, showing me around, as he was a working actor and I was just this kid that was so excited. Anouk Aimée is another actress like that –- when I saw A MAN AND A WOMAN [Claude Lelouch, 1966], I was just so floored with her, but it never occurred to me that twenty-five years later I’d have the opportunity to work with her in a movie. It’s extraordinary.

HJ: Orson Welles was in my first movie [A SAFE PLACE, 1971]. I wanted him to play this magician. I thought it was impossible, just “how am I gonna get Orson Welles in a movie when I haven’t made one before” type-of-thing. So I called up my friend, who was actually Peter Bogdanovich, who I’d been friends with since teenage years. He was programming a theater in Manhattan called the New Yorker with great old Hollywood movies. And I was obsessed with new movies coming out of Europe, the Fellini’s, the Bergman’s, the Godard’s, and he was believing that the great movies were the old ones made by Ford and Howard Hawks, and we’d always argue about this. And I knew he knew Orson Welles because he’d interviewed him, before Peter got the opportunity to direct.

AG: Back when he was a critic?

HJ: Yes, when he was a critic, but he was a smart critic because he got to meet all these people by interviewing them, you know. So I called him up, and asked him. He said Orson would never do a film for a first time director, but I convinced him to introduce us and flew to New York, and I met this gigantic man in his hotel room with these great flowing purple pajamas. He said, “What are you doing here?”, and I said, “I want to persuade you about being in my first movie”. He said “Where’s the script?” I said, “Well, I don’t have a script yet, because if you’re not in it, I can’t do it. There’s a perfect character for you to play”. He just says, “I’m not interested”, and I just kind of brought up CITIZEN KANE [1941] and how it was his first film – and “Why won’t you do mine?” And that sort of stopped him in his tracks. He said, “I’ll sit down here but I won’t listen”. And he folded his arms as I started selling him, persuading him to play a magician. As I knew he loved magic, I created this character of the magician. In the end, it worked. We became friends, and for the last ten to twelve years of his life, we had lunch every week. And finally, I got to show the world this really sweet supportive man, instead of the ogre thought by many, in SOMEONE TO LOVE [1987, Welles’ last film as an actor]. In fact, I just discovered Orson is on youtube, which is really weird, but it seems like something he’d like.

I am in the OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND, which has been long lost, but according to Peter, it’s finally coming out. The rights have been figured out, and Orson’s ladyfriend, Oja Kodar, who produced it and is in it, is putting it together with Peter.

AG: And she [Oja Kodar] appeared in your SOMEONE TO LOVE [1987]. Getting seduced by Monte Hellman.

HJ: Well, Monte tries, but she eventually goes after me. I love to use directors -- Milos Forman is in NEW YEAR’S DAY [1989], for instance –- because there’s something about seeing them in front of the camera that I love.

AG: What’s your best Orson Welles story?

HJ: The best thing he said to me was during lunch one time. I was complaining about a movie -- I don’t even remember which one -- about how I wanted to make them my way and I didn’t have the money outside of the studio system and I didn’t have enough time. There was a general lack of time, money, but a tremendous pressure. And he said to me, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations”. I was taken aback, and he repeated it and explained. If you don’t have limitations, you don’t produce art. If you don’t have limitations, you just throw money at a project. “You just become Spielberg” were his exact words. If you don’t have the money and you don’t have the time, you see these limitations but you’re forced to produce art by finding creative, artistic solutions to your problems, rather than just an economic one. And it’s been the most important lesson of my life. Every time I’m mad in the middle of a film, wishing I made that deal with this studio that came to me two weeks earlier, or whatever it is, I think of that, remember Orson saying that, and I think long and hard about what the creative solution is. Orson continuously made creative alleyways all of his life..

AG: I have to ask about your involvement in one of your early films as an actor -– PSYCH-OUT [Richard Rush, 1968].

HJ: Originally I was just an actor, and I starred in “Gidget” – which was awful -- on television. And I was pursuing a career of acting, even though I always wanted to be a director, but really, how do you become a director? So, I found my way in as an actor. And Jack Nicholson was my friend. We used to go to all of these foreign movies together, and I knew Jack very well, and we were hanging out almost every evening in those days. So, anyway, he was starring in this movie and relayed that there was this part for me. He recommended me to the director [Rush], and I got the part. It was just a fun experience.

[A discussion begins about my very favorite of Jaglom’s films -– the very brave and uncompromising ALWAYS [1985]. I mention how Nicholson and director Bob Rafelson can be glimpsed in the opening wedding party, which comes from footage of Jaglom’s actual wedding to ex-wife Patrice Townsend.]

HJ: Oh my god, I worked so hard for audiences not to see that, that I cut it out of the frame. How did you see that? That is amazing. I initially took it out because I didn’t want the audience to be distracted. There were four or five big movie stars that were at my wedding, and I didn’t want, you know, Michael Douglas and Candice Bergen to be at the corner of the frame, or else audiences would say, “oh look!” I’m very impressed that you saw that.

AG: Personally, I thought it was a nice touch, rooting it firmly in its Hollywood locale, a place not known for its long-lasting marriages.

HJ: Yes, exactly, and if it were today, I would have left more in, and I wouldn’t have minded that. But during that time, I was in my Purist’s Phase -- it should just be an everyman’s party, not a Hollywood function.

AG: About SITTING DUCKS [1980], was that kind of your version of a “Road To” movie?

HJ: It is a “Road To” movie -- I made two art movies that nobody wanted to see, A SAFE PLACE [1973] and TRACKS [1976] -– and I thought they were both quite good, and I was really disappointed I couldn’t find an audience for them, so I thought screw it, what do they want, a silly road to movie, a comedy, with a happy ending where they steal the money? And I had a lot of fun doing that, and I put my brother in it –- that’s my brother who stars in it [Michael Emil], along with the guy with the moustache [Zack Norman] that raised the money for me, because nobody would give me any money at that point in my career.

AG: Both of which first appeared in TRACKS [1976], on the train?

HJ: Yes, they both first appeared in TRACKS because they were the only other people on the train. At one point when I was shooting with [Dennis] Hopper, they were on the train, my brother because he was doing the bookkeeping and Zack because he was the financier, so I put them in for a funny little bit. But they were really great, so I wrote SITTING DUCKS for them. I also wanted to make it at that time because I was tired of fighting audiences. And it became quite a big success.

AG: Obviously, it’s very different from anything else you’ve ever made!

HJ: Completely different, completely different (laughs) but it was fun. It’s not what I want to do, but I had fun.

AG: A SAFE PLACE [1971] [suggested reading: Jeremy Richey's look at the film, located here]

HJ: That’s the only film of mine that does not exist on DVD or VHS because Columbia will never ever pay the music rights. I had these great old songs, and it’s not worth it to them, because it’s such a poetic and abstract film that it’ll never do well commercially. I made it for Columbia, who was horrified, and I had these big stars with Jack Nicholson.

AG: How technical did you bother to get on your first film, A SAFE PLACE [1971]?

HJ: What they did was assign me the cinematographer from a big commercial success right before that [Dick Kratina, LOVE STORY, d: Arthur Hiller, 1970]. And so it was a very conventional Hollywood crew, but I wanted to start shooting in a very unusual way, and they kept telling me it wouldn’t cut, it wouldn’t cut, it wouldn’t cut and I couldn’t do that, couldn’t do this, and couldn’t do that. So I complained to Orson, my actor, that they’re always telling me that it won’t cut or won’t fit -– what should I do? He said whenever they [the studios, the crew] tell you it won’t cut, or won’t fit, and you wanna try something that’s not on the page and they’re not understanding, tell them that it’s a dream sequence. I asked him why, but he just said to tell them. So after lunch I do this, and they’re saying, “you can’t do this, can’t do that, and it won’t cut”. So I just say, “but it’s a dream sequence!”. Well, everybody just lighted up – “Oh, well if it’s a dream sequence, what if I get up on my back over here, and shoot it up from here.” They were so cooperative for the rest of the movie, so again I asked Orson – “what is this, and why does this work.” And he told me, “You know, most people think life is logical, but the only thing in life that’s not are dreams, so that’s the only thing that’s not logical to them. So if you let them think it’s a dream sequence, it frees them up from their conventions of their logic, and lets them get creative.” That’s another great piece of advice Orson gave me.

AG: Finally, what would you want to impart to someone if they were to watch every one of your films back to back. What kind of sense of yourself would you like people to have?

HJ: I just want everybody to feel OK about being who they are. I just hate closets of any kind. Everybody should just come out of every closet. There was a 1970s album called “We’re All Bozos on this Bus” by the Firesign Theatre. That’s my credo -- we’re all bozos on this bus, and so we’re all on the same journey. There’s pain, loneliness, sadness, and difficult problems. Women are treated in a certain way, and aren’t given a certain understanding. But, in the end, we need to keep this perspective in mind.



Blogger Jeremy Richey said...

This is great...I wrote a long appreciation for A SAFE PLACE a while back and it is great to hear his thoughts on it...

8:28 AM  
Blogger aaron said...

Thanks, Jeremy. If you don't mind, I'd love to link to your piece on A SAFE PLACE. I think it's a very valuable look at the film, and I must have read it at least three times!

7:38 PM  
Blogger Jeremy Richey said...

Wow, thanks so much for the nice words...please feel free to link up to it...thanks again...

7:15 AM  
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