More Than Meets The Mogwai

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

An Act of Humanity from a Supposed Cynic: A Scene from Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT (1960)

If there was a moment in all of THE APARTMENT (1960) that economically expresses the innate character of the lovelorn, corporate-climber C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon), it would be this one:

Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) greets Baxter in the downstairs lobby of their monolith building. She notices the addition of his name at the top of the list of the corporate offices (this taking place after Baxter has seen Kubelik at her worst, following her spontaneously-planned, pill-popping suicide attempt at the titular apartment; she assumes that he’s been promoted due to his helping his boss/her married paramour (Fred MacMurray) out of this messy situation; and she’s right).

There’s knowingness in their gestures to one another, and a resignation on the part of MacLaine as she figures he’s assimilated with the depicted businessman credo of cheating on your wife (after Baxter points to an attractive bimbo waiting in the corridors). In the scene, we’re actually aligned with Kubelik, something fairly rare in the film when Lemmon’s on-screen; we’re insinuating and deducing this, too. He’s finally sold out.

But, no, once Kubelik’s on her way, the camera pans left and we’re left to witness – off into the distance – Lemmon’s two-step past the “hot date”, as she’s swept off by another white collar.

(Other viewers may point to the earlier scene where Baxter frenetically changes channels in front of his tinfoil-ripped t.v. dinner before defiantly turning it off, signaling his morose displeasure at the mundane luxuries that accompany his loneliness in the few remaining conscious hours that make up the time away from his humdrum drone workplace. But this feels rote and commonplace, and as cynical as it may seem on the surface, the added charm of the late-night movie gag (“we proudly present…Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, and…Lionel Barrymore in…GRAND HOTEL!, but first…”) takes something away from the focus on Baxter’s glum demeanor.)

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

My Review of Lucio Fulci's THE PSYCHIC (1977)

is up at "Film Fanaddict". Even though I've seen the long out-of-print VHS more than once, I'd consider this viewing to be my first, if only for Severin's thankful inclusion of excised material and my own better comprehension of Fulci's multifaceted, if uneven, directorial career.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Great Cameos in Film History: Stacy Keach in THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JUDGE ROY BEAN (John Huston)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Curse of THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (Gunter V. Fritsch, Robert Wise, 1944)

“The MAIN and CREDIT TITLES are SUPERIMPOSED on a series of line drawings of elves, small forest creatures, tree limbs, and other grotesqueries drawn in the delicate, fanciful, and yet frightening style of Arthur Rackham, The DISSOLVES from one card to another are accomplished by a gust of wind blowing autumnal leaves past the title as the card begins its dissolve. The drawing on the last card shows an oddly shaped tree trunk.”

And so begins the RKO production of THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, with a title sequence conjuring up the fairytale illustrations of artist Arthur Rackham with nary a mention of the sinister feline creature seen in the original DeWitt Bodeen-Jacques Tourneur creation to help set the mood for what’s about to transpire. Through this studio-imposed title -- a title that was to lure unsuspecting paying customers into thinking they’d be seeing a direct sequel -- RKO was, perhaps, shooting themselves in the foot; their wily trick wouldn’t remain undiscovered for long, and the film’s eventual legion of admirers would have to contend with decades of making a qualifying statement about this mislabeling, and how the film’s virtues and poetic qualities are vastly different -- but just as valid -- as the Tourneur original. It was a grave disservice to producer Val Lewton (who preferred the titles AMY AND HER FRIEND or THE UNSEEN PLAYMATE, from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem quoted in the film’s dialogue), but in today’s context, RKO’s insistence on retitling takes on a different, elegiac meaning for what these B-movie programmers came to represent: the smuggling in of far more intellectual conceits or ideas than their guise would otherwise suggest. It’s a blessing and a curse, but I’ve come to believe that the unfavorable title is a test for prospective viewers to leave their preconceptions about “these types of films” at the door. Within its opening minutes, THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE demands to be taken seriously, and if you were to ask any child psychologist, it is.

Ann Carter, as Amy Reed, the spawn of CAT PEOPLE’s coupling of Kent Smith and Jane Randolph, has the right kind of earnest credulousness to portray the introverted child at the centre of the film. Attuned to a different sort of wavelength than her immediate classmates, Amy’s sullen dreaminess speaks to those in the audience who played outfield in little league but had a far more concentrated gaze on a flitting butterfly in their immediate vicinity than any kind of potential right-field hit. A cause for concern for her parents, but not her armchair psychologist teacher (semi-John Ford regular Eve March), Amy is looked at as a stern disappointment by both Smith and Randolph (exempt is her Jamaican butler, played by calypso singer Sir Lancelot, who actually spends the most time with Amy through the course of the film). Our initial incident occurs when Amy sincerely believes that her birthday party invitations have been mailed through a knot in the family’s backyard tree (an actual episode from Val Lewton’s boyhood, as revealed in the recent TCM doc by Kent Jones, THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS), her gathering remains unattended and her parents just don’t understand. Soon after, the ethereal presence of Kent Smith’s first wife, the “Cat Person” of the original, Irena Reed (Simone Simon), begins to appear to Amy as a much-needed invisible friend. The two dance and play, and maybe it’s not unreasonable to hazard a guess that Irena may turn out to be a malevolent spirit, out to take revenge on the daughter of the union that resulted in her demise, but from Simon’s first frames into her appearance, I could tell that this was not to be: her gallic nonchalance and charismatic persona seems at peace in the otherworld. And those few attempts by Amy’s parents to speak of Simon’s ill-temperament from the original are not particularly needed, and they feel shoehorned in by Lewton simply to appease the studio heads and to keep those wise audience members content with the knowledge that at least the filmmakers are trying to work in a reference to the earlier film.

If ghastly, old-fashioned horror is what Lewton needed to provide, he could do no better than adding the town eccentric, Mrs. Julia Farren (Julia Dean), a forgetful elderly lady (with a daughter she believes is an impostor) that Amy visits from time to time, even after she gets the scare of a lifetime by Farren’s retelling of the “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. Dean’s full-flushed face and booming voice solely occupy this, her first sequence, as she appears in medium shot barreling down the center of the frame and causing Amy (along with her butler) to scramble out of Farren’s dilapidated, extravagant home. It is this added drama with the Farren daughter/mother that culminates the close of THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE: as a horrendous rainstorm beats down outside, Amy sneaks out of her bedroom to play with Irena, while her parents, downstairs with Amy’s teacher, receiving a lesson in better understanding the “Inner World of Childhood”, soon learn of their child’s disappearance and amble out to find her. After some hysterics with the deranged daughter of this town eccentric, the final scene is of a heartfelt reunion for father and daughter, as Kent Smith sincerely encourages Amy’s belief, and ensures her that he can see Irena, too (the audience is aware of the fact that he can’t, but this small step towards respecting his daughter’s reserved instincts and fantastical inclinations is Lewton’s idea of a happy reconciliation). Irena has served her purpose, and Lewton, DeWitt Bodeen, and directors Gunther V. Fritsch and first-timer Robert Wise never confirm one way or the other that she is either the otherworldly, benevolent specter or the inner workings of Amy’s imagination, starved for human contact, the imagining a friend with the looks of her father’s deceased first wife combined with a fairytale rendering from a storybook.

It is this committed ambiguousness in Val Lewton that keeps one coming back for more, from the shadowy unseen horrors in CAT PEOPLE to the precision in not tipping the scales with Irena in this name-only sequel. Lewton is that rare breed of auteur producer, stamping his strapping personality over every frame while assimilating into the background, never arguing for his credit but insisting on what goes where. This is a magical, timeless, literate series of genre films with a sense of unparalleled poetry speaking out from the sinuous darkness.


Yes, darling.

Tell me tha real truth. You can see my
friend, can't you?

Oliver doesn't even look out into the garden. He leans down
and brushes a kiss on Amy's forehead.

Yes, darling, I can see her.

Amy turns, smiles at him, and hugs him closely.



Some websites containing information on the making of THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE:

The Val Lewton Screenplay Collection (an unbelievable resource).

The Val Lewton B-Unit (which includes Manny Farber's review of the film).

AFI Tribute to Robert Wise (with a page on THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE).

And last, but certainly not least, here's Michael Guillén of "The Evening Class" and his extraordinarily organized Val Lewton Blogathon. You'll also find Guillén's interviews with both child actress Ann Carter(-Newton) here and Val E. Lewton here.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Larry Gross on ZODIAC (David Fincher, 2007)

I'm going to be back later this week with my thoughts on the recently released ZODIAC: Director's Cut, but first, I thought it would be useful to point out a favourite review of the film. It's written by screenwriter Larry Gross for Movie City News, and it's located here.

Gross' take is an incisive, exploratory look into the very formal properties that make up the Fincher film, and his thoughts on how it's an autocritique of the earlier SE7EN (a film I actually dislike) make it simply some of the best writing on film in the year 2007 (critic Bill Krohn makes a similar statement in his review for "Cahiers du Cinema", but unfortunately, there's no easy hyperlink, though I heartily recommend purchasing the May 2007 "online" version at the website if you're more than curious).

Labels: ,

Monday, January 14, 2008

Billy Idol - "Dancing With Myself" (d: Tobe Hooper)

Still my favourite (unofficial) version of "I Am Legend".

Labels: ,

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Byrds' "Truck Stop Girl" (1970)

I've been obsessively listening to this second track off of the first side of the second LP of The Byrds' notoriously titled "(Untitled)" album (for more info on the notoriety, click here) this week. At first listen, I thought the rather nasally-inflected vocals were handled by usual lead singer/founding father Roger McGuinn -- but that fountain of information, Wikipedia, proves me wrong: it's actually Clarence White, the guitar-playing child prodigy and former one-third of a band of Bluegrass brothers known as The Kentucky Colonels.

White, a member of that ever-shifting Byrds roster in later years, first temporarily joined as a session player on their "Younger Than Yesterday" album (1966), but he wouldn't come into his own or join as a full member until the [legendary singer/songwriter] Gram Parsons era, his guitar-plucking presence most notably felt on the country-twinged "Sweetheart of the Rodeo" album in 1968.

This song, written by Lowell George and Bill Payne of Little Feat, was recorded in 1970. The lyrics are simplistic and tell an uncomplicated narrative of a love spurned, but, I think, it's a well-deserving example of how The Byrds transcended their 12-string Rickenbacher folk-rock roots for a more mellowing, all-encompassing country-flavoured style in the late '60s and early '70s (as much as I like their earlier career-making Dylan covers, it's this period -- with such albums as "The Notorious Byrd Brothers" (1968) and "Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde" (1969) -- that I couldn't possibly part with).

It's also particularly haunting to hear White sing the last set of lyrics, as he would be killed in an automobile accident a scant three years later; he was 29.

Here's an Mp3, followed by the lyrics:

His tail lights flickering as he pulled up to the truck-stop
The same old crowd was hanging out again tonight
He said, "fill up my tank while I go check my load."
"It feels like it's shifting all around."

He was the kind of man, do all he could
Above all he had integrity
But he was so young and on a ten city run
In love with a truck stop girl

As he went inside he was merrily greeted
By the girl with whom he was in love
She held out a glass and said, "Have another."
"This is the last time we can meet."

With her hair piled up high and a look in her eye
That would turn any good man's blood to wine
All his eyes could see, all his eyes could see
Was the stares from all those around him

He ran out to the lot and climbed into his rig
And drove off without tightening down
It was a terrible thing to see what remained
Of the rig that poor Danny was in

He was young and on a ten city run
In love with a truck stop girl

Labels: ,

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films (1957)

I'm nearing the close of "Hitchcock: The First Forty-Four Films" (1957) by Eric Rohmer & Claude Chabrol. While covering and offering illuminating commentary over Hitch's Brit period (broken up by studio: The First Gainsborough Films [1923-1927]; British International [1927-1932]; Gaumont-British [1934-1937]; and Gainsborough-Mayflower [1937-1939]), these Nouvelle Vague critics and directors really excel and move from this obligatory coverage when contemplating the myriad ways Hitchcock's American period can be read and interpreted. Through including such intriguing concepts as their groundbreaking Catholic readings (later refuted by Robin Wood), Rohmer and Chabrol would set the bar high for scholars who would choose to write about and take on this esteemed, essential auteur.

Here's a brief two-paragraph excerpt from my favourite chapter so far -- "Figure and Number: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951)":

“Hitchcock’s art, thrown into particularly sharp relief by this film [STRANGERS ON A TRAIN], is to make us participate – by means of the fascination exercised over each of us by a figure that is almost geometrically refined – in the vertigo of the characters; and beyond this vertigo we discover the essence of the moral ideas. The current that goes from the symbol to the idea always passes through the condenser of emotion. It is never a theoretic or a conventional connection. The emotion is a means and not an end in itself, as for example it is in the horror plays of the Grand Guignol. This emotion is on the other side of the form, but on this side of the idea. Because of this, it sometimes leaves us with both a bitter taste in our mouths and the sense of Unity which is the Unity of the world itself.

In the midst of chaos, the Unity is always discernible and provides a source of light that plays some of its most beautiful rays over the somber facets of Evil. Nature traverses this film from end to end – the everyday nature of festive evenings and sunny afternoons, but also nature with a capital N, or more exactly cosmos, a world spinning amidst other spinning worlds. Each gesture, each thought, each material or moral being, is the depository of a secret capable of explaining everything: and this light dispenses as much fear as comfort. The same principle on which the foundation of the world is based is simultaneously the principle that can preside at its destruction. We ask ourselves, as do the protagonists of SHADOW OF A DOUBT in the film’s closing moments, if the world doesn’t at times go mad. This idea, expressed in that film by words, is presented here in a concrete, irrefutable fashion. We are literally caught up in the maelstrom of universal gravitation. Edgar Allan Poe, the author of Eureka, has not been invoked in vain.

Labels: , , ,

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.