The Unflappable Henry Jaglom
by Caveh Zahedi
"I don't try to appeal to the other 90 percent."
Henry Jaglom is an absolutely unique voice in contemporary American cinema. In a cinematic landscape in which most films are interchangeable, and in which few films have a distinctive style or vision, his films are utterly his own and resemble no one else's. Consequently, he has tended to divide viewers - some people love his films and some people hate them. On the occasion of the DVD release of his film Eating, we asked autobiographical filmmaker Caveh Zahedi to interview the famously autobiographical Jaglom.
Preface - In which Caveh Zahedi has a few words he would like to say before the interview begins.
Caveh: I would like to warn the reader that this interview didn't start out too well. The truth is that I had very mixed feelings about Henry Jaglom's films - in some ways I loved them, and in some ways I hated them - which put me in a somewhat awkward position. I wanted to be honest, but I was afraid of offending him if I was too honest, so I decided to start out with fairly neutral questions and save the harder stuff for last. It turns out I miscalculated, and that he was much less offended by my "honest" questions than he was by my "neutral" ones.
Chapter 1 - In which I get started on the wrong foot.
Caveh: I was wondering how many of your films are out on DVD already?
Jaglom: All of them except for the three from Paramount. Last Summer in the Hamptons is out, Venice/Venice is out... I mean, I don't want to list all my movies. All of them are out except for Tracks, New Year's Day, and Someone To Love.
Caveh: And why is Eating just coming out now?
Jaglom: Because it was owned by another company. MGM and I let the contract run out and they wanted to buy it and release it but I found this company that I liked better so I made a deal with them.
Caveh: Which company is releasing it?
Jaglom: You know... Sorry, I don't have that info.
Caveh: That's okay, it's not important.
Jaglom: It is important! It's the name of the company releasing them...I didn't think you were going to ask me that question. I don't remember their name.
Caveh: It's on the back of the DVD, right?
Jaglom: New Video. I think it's just called New Video.
Caveh: So, why not release it through your own company?
Jaglom: We don't release video.
Caveh: But you release films theatrically, right?
Caveh: Are you in a bad mood, Henry?
Jaglom: Not at all. I just don't understand. I'm giving you answers. You ask why don't I release videos. Because I don't do that. I don't know that end of the business at all.
Caveh: But isn't it fairly inexpensive to release videos?
Jaglom: No. But I release them through Paramount or through bigger people who have distribution networks so that they'll play in Blockbuster and all of that. I can't do that myself. I have my hands full producing and directing. I release some of my movies theatrically, but not all. My last film, Festival in Cannes, was released through Paramount Classics.
Caveh: And have you done audio commentaries for all the DVDs?
Jaglom: All except for Festival in Cannes.
Caveh: How do you feel about DVD commentaries in general?
Jaglom: I love them. My friend Peter Bogdanovich recently did a commentary for The Lady Eve which I watched recently, and it's terrific that you can do that right after you see the movie.
Chapter 2 - In which I try to get things back on track.
Caveh: Who are your some of your favorite filmmakers?
Jaglom: Well, [Stanley] Kubrick was a gigantic pleasure to me. [Federico] Fellini was my inspiration, I mean 8 1/2 was the single most important film of my life. [John] Cassavetes both in his filmmaking and then in person became sort of a mentor to me and was an enormously important influence. The first movie that I was ever invited to a screening of was Shadows, which was shot on the streets of New York and improvised. And it blew me away. I was 18, in college, and my friend Seymour Cassell, who worked with Cassavetes on his films, invited me. And I sat there at a midnight screening, looking at a film that really was like our life, not like a Hollywood movie.
Caveh: So, you knew Cassavetes from the start?
Jaglom: I didn't know him. I saw the film. Then Seymour introduced me to Cassavetes and we slowly became friends. He encouraged me to make films my own way. But his filmmaking really encouraged me. I mean he was the first true independent filmmaker in America. So that was an enormous thing. But Fellini and the Europeans - Godard and Truffaut, and to some extent some of the English filmmakers of the sixties, and certainly Ingmar Bergman - all had a huge influence, and were the people that I was excited about. Bogdanovich and I used to fight all the time because he loved all the old Hollywood movies and I loved all the new European movies, the New Wave movies and so on. They influenced me more. I mean, I personally loved the old Hollywood movies, especially the romantic movies and all of that. That's what Hollywood Dreams is very much about, the obsession with the past and so on. But as a filmmaker, I was much more influenced by Olmi, and by Schlesinger, and by the filmmakers in Europe who were doing exciting new work. As far as Americans, every two years or three years, when a Kubrick film would come out, that would be a great event for me.
Chapter 3 - In which disagreement occurs over the definition of art.
Caveh: How do you feel that your films have changed or evolved since you've started making them?
Jaglom: That's an interesting question. I don't know that I know the answer to it but it's a terrific question. I edit my films myself and I am just much clearer now. It's less hit or miss for me. I know casting a little better, and editing a lot better. I think I've just become more skilled. But basically I am always trying to find the same emotional content and achieve the freedom that I first felt when I knew nothing about film. I do think my freest film - the film that is the least audience-affected and therefore the most totally honest film I've ever made - was my very first one. Because, knowing nothing about an audience then, I made a film that was totally impossible for an audience to hook into. A very small percentage of the audience was willing to go there, and I suspect that, without me consciously or deliberately doing it, with each film I've become a little more aware of what works for an audience. And that certainly
affects me to some extent in how I pull the film together.
Caveh: And do you think that is a good thing, a bad thing, or both?
Jaglom: It's both. I think it is good because I make the films more accessible, and I get bigger audiences. And I think it's bad because I think whenever you give up any kind of freedom of intention, of creative intention, with the thought of an audience, you're compromising in some way. So, it's a hard balancing act to not be influenced at all by the audience, and yet to have more and more knowledge about that.
Caveh: But isn't there something also good in being in the interpersonal realm as opposed to just the personal realm?
Jaglom: I don't think so. I don't know what you mean by that because I think if you are in the personal realm and are telling the truth, the film will touch those people who are available to you emotionally. And that's the audience you should want. Unfortunately, as I have gotten bigger and bigger audiences, I, like everybody else, have sort of desired that. And there is a danger there. Fortunately, I think I still hold back to a large degree. I am still aiming at about ten percent of the audience that I think will be interested in my kind of work. I don't try to appeal to the other ninety percent but am more conscious of that ten percent now than I ever was before, and of not losing them.
Caveh: What I meant is that if you're in a relationship with a person, you have to sort of speak to them in a language that they can understand.
Jaglom: I don't feel that about film or any art form. And I don't think your job is to speak to people in the way they understand but to do your work as honestly and fully and truthfully as you can, and then hope you are not so isolated that there won't be people who will get what you're saying and respond to it. But not to try to do anything in order to communicate it. I really believe that, yet my point is I increasingly betray it as I've learned what works for
audiences. If I can feel I'm doing that without compromising the integrity of what I'm doing, then I do it. But I'm still not completely comfortable with my knowledge or with my awareness that I am saying, "Oh, they need that. Put that in."
Caveh: I understand what you're saying but I guess I disagree with you.
Caveh: You can't just be yourself.
Jaglom: I know, you've said that you feel that. I don't agree.
Caveh: Can you just elaborate on why you think that art is not about communication?
Jaglom: I didn't say art wasn't about communication. I said that it's not about trying to communicate. It's trying to express yourself and then hoping that you communicate. I don't think somebody should do a painting in order to make it accessible to an audience. They should do what they want and what they feel and then hope that the audience will find them. And I don't think that a film should be any different from that. That's fundamentally the difference between the people who think that film is art and those who think of it as just popular entertainment. Now I always hope my films are entertaining. I've got one foot in each camp. And I happen to like comedy and I do that a lot, which is entertaining and which is easier for audiences. But at the same time, in form and structure, I frequently violate an audience's expectations because I just feel it's more exciting to find my own expression. I don't think my job is to just communicate. That's not what an artist is.
Caveh: Do you mind if I continue in this vein?
Jaglom: No, if you’d like to.
Caveh: I actually think that your films have gotten better and better…
Jaglom: I don’t. I think that they just get more and more communicative. I think they get more and more accessible. And I hope they’re not getting worse. But I don’t think that they’re getting better. I just think that I’m not making them quite as difficult. I think that there was some psychological reason for me in the beginning--insisting on making them as difficult as I did. I don’t know, did you see A Safe Place, my first film?
Caveh: I did.
Jaglom: I think it’s as good a film as I am ever going to make, but it touches a specific audience very immediately and it does a lot of arm pushing away to a large majority of the audience.
Jaglom: It is a totally truthful rendering of an internal landscape for me of this young woman. And for me I am sort of happy I didn’t know more about audiences when I made it. It made my life hard. It made it five years before I could get financing for my second film. But nonetheless I feel more proud of that film in some way than any film I am ever going to make because I think it’s as pure as I can possibly be.
Caveh: You talk about this dichotomy between making art and making entertainment. But isn’t it possible to look at art as having its own two-pronged dichotomy which is both self-expression and communication? Communication doesn’t need to be entertainment.
Jaglom: There are people who think that. But no, communication can be just the basis of somebody receiving your work. Trying to get them to receive your work means that you are trying to manipulate them in some way. It is something other than art then and is more in the area of entertainment.
Caveh: Oh, I see. So you feel it is manipulative if you are trying to communicate something?
Jaglom: Yes. Say I wanted to get a bigger audience now, say I wanted to get people who really like action and adventure films. Then I would be like Spielberg or somebody who does that very well. I just don’t want to be that. I don’t want to do that. I have never had an interest in that. So, it is like liking a certain kind of painter that maybe only five or ten percent of the people like. Or I might like a certain piece of music that isn’t for everybody.
Caveh: Uh huh. Now…
Jaglom: Eating is a perfect example because people suggested a lot of things I could do to make that film appealing to men. And I said that’s not my job. I think those men who are artists or certain kind of men will understand and respond to it. But I know that it’s going to alienate most men and women. And men walked out of theatres all over the country. They got in fights with their girlfriends or wives. I’ve heard reports from theaters all over the country that the women insist on staying, and then they came back with their girlfriends, or they came back with their mothers. Men just really rejected the film. So, you can say, well, I should have tried to do such and such or so and so to get more men in. I’ve got a film coming out this Spring called Going Shopping, which is a kind of sister film to Eating, and it’s about women and shopping. And because I’ve learned what I’ve learned I’ve got men in there…I’m not sure that I’ve been as honest as I was in Eating, I hope I have been, but I’ve been more entertaining and I’ve made it more male-friendly. And I’m a little concerned about having done that, even though I don’t think I’ve really done anything very dishonest. But still I have that issue going on with me all the time.
Caveh: Is that issue of wanting a bigger audience just a financial consideration?
Jaglom: No, because a person wants to communicate. They want their film to be seen. That’s the split. You want to do the work as well as you can and at the same time you want to find as big an audience as will accept your film.
Caveh: What about people who make films that are so self-referential that there is nothing that is coming across to anybody else?
Jaglom: Then they’re not successful artists. I think you do have to communicate but I don’t think you have to think about communicating, you just have to think about expressing yourself. And I think good artists are artists whose work communicates to some extent. But to who? Do I want to communicate to the person who wants to see an explosion? Or who…what kind of a mentality do I want to communicate to?
Caveh: Well, obviously, to your ideal viewer.
Jaglom: My ideal viewer, for instance for a film like Eating, was female. I thought whatever men are willing to go along is just fine. But, you know, you learn how to get different segments of the audience interested. And you’re affected by it, whether you want to be or not.
Caveh: Yeah, I understand. I mean, I love Eating. And I think you’re absolutely right. You don’t want to make that film for men anyway.
Jaglom: But most men don’t love it.
Caveh: Yes, I understand that too.
Jaglom: And women really do. Almost every woman who sees that film really loves it.
Caveh: But you’re communicating to the women.
Jaglom: Yeah, but these male segments who really respond to it, who are more open to it, are a minority.
Caveh: Yeah, of course.
Jaglom: So if I had to appeal to the majority then I would have to take away something from the film that makes it authentic for the women. And I’m not prepared to do that. This is a very present issue for me right now because I just finished, as I said, this new film, Going Shopping. And I am checking myself. I am finishing the editing within the next ten days. It’s got to go to the negative cutter and there are a couple of things that I’ve put in there that I am just fighting with myself about – should I leave them in or should I take them out? I know that they are very entertaining and I’ve seen how people respond…So it’s just an issue that I’m dealing with. Sorry if I’ve been going on about it…
Caveh: No, no, no – I’ve been going on about it too.
Chapter 4 – In which I propose my theory of the tripartite nature of Henry Jaglom’s career.
Caveh: When I look at your films, I see them in three phases. In the first phase, the films are more experimental. Then there is this autobiographical section in the middle where you’re often in them and you’re the center of them, and those are very personal and autobiographical. And then more recently, they’ve been kind of spreading out again towards other people.
Jaglom: Yeah. That’s accurate, I think except for probably Sitting Ducks, because I was so fed up with the fact that my first two films were so difficult for people that I decided, okay, what do they want? Beginning, middle and end. Fine. So I made a little comedy, and I had this big success with the film, and much to my amazement, it’s the only film of mine that I am not happy with. It’s the film of mine that made more money than all my films probably.
Jaglom: No, that’s not true. Always did pretty well and so did Eating. But anyway, the general trajectory of what you’re saying is true. I started with going from more poetic and difficult films to more personal films and then to larger subjects. One of my favorite films is in what you would call that personal area, and that’s Venice/Venice, and I had the hardest time finding an audience for that film. For me, it renders the most accurately of anything I’ve ever done what my perception of life is. So for me it is one of the most successful films I think I could ever possibly make. And yet, I think probably along with A Safe Place, it was the hardest film to find an audience for. It’s an interesting struggle.
Caveh: So there’s no reason why you moved away from the more autobiographical style?
Jaglom: Because I already did it! I satisfied myself with expressing my own angst and various aspects of my struggle in relationships. I don’t think those films were just autobiographical because a lot of people identified with a lot of aspects of them. But they fulfilled a need that I no longer have which is to be the center of the film myself.
Chapter 5 - In which I bring up the subject of money.
Caveh: I went to film school in L.A., and the word on the street about Henry Jaglom was that he’s independently wealthy, he finances all of his films with his own money, and that’s how is able to do what he does.
Jaglom: Oh. I didn’t know that. I am independently wealthy, which is a very nice thing because I’ve never had to take a waiter’s job. But I’ve never financed a film on my own, not even once—and I’m fortunate because my films do very well in Europe. John Goldstone has been producing my films now for the past six films, through his company in London, which produced all the Monty Python films, which I distribute domestically in America.
Caveh: Through your own company?
Jaglom: Through Rainbow Releasing, yeah. He’s financed those films and prior to that Zack Norman has raised money for four of my films. As I told you, after A Safe PlaceI couldn’t get anything made. A Safe Place was paid for by Columbia. My second, third and fourth films were financed by Zack Norman, who raised the money from dozens of doctors and dentists through tax shelter scams and so on. And then my films began to be successful enough that Europeans gave me so much for Germany, so much for France… I do do it myself though, I put it together myself. But I wouldn’t use my own money in the film business, you’ve got to be crazy.
Caveh: Because it would disappear very fast?
Jaglom: I don’t know, I just wouldn’t do it. I’m too much a product of my upbringing. My father was a very intelligent and extraordinary business person so I would never think of doing that. But I didn’t know that people said that, that’s interesting. In a way it’s the opposite - because I came from a wealthy family my ego was about proving that it wasn’t about money. So people who come from poor families can more logically want to become a Spielberg or a Lucas and want to make big, huge things and spend tens of millions of dollars and all of that. For me it’s very important to make a film for a million dollars or less, or two million at the most, and show that it can be done and that it’s not about the money, probably because of some chip on my shoulder as a result of being wealthy. Louis Malle said he had the same issue. coming from a wealthy family. We didn’t want people to think it was easier for us. I don’t care about that now, but I’m talking about twenty years ago. I didn’t want anybody to think that, so my point was I wouldn’t take these offers for big budget movies. I would make a small budget movie when I could put the financing together and show them that it was not about money.
Caveh: Okay, so basically all your films pay for themselves?
Jaglom: Oh Yeah. They’re all in profit actually. Oh well, no, that’s not true. A Safe Place, Venice, Venice and Tracksare my three films that did not make money.
Caveh: You’ve said that you don’t want to be constrained by entertaining and all that, but wouldn’t you be freer if you just financed them yourself?
Jaglom: No. First of all people can imagine anything they can about people who have money, but you don’t just spend millions of dollars financing stuff yourself, you know. and…
Caveh: I certainly would if I had the money.
Jaglom: Maybe I don’t have enough money to do that, or maybe my money is invested and needs to stay where it is, but it just never would occur to me. And I am lucky enough not to need to… I can always put together the million dollars that I need because my films make money.
Jaglom: The advantage of making films for comparatively low budgets and aiming at a specific audience is that you know for sure that it’ll always make a few million dollars, and that’s profit.
Chapter 6 – In which the definition of the word “ego” causes further friction.
Caveh: Here’s kind of a more abstract question.
Henry: Any question’s okay.
Caveh: Okay. I want to talk about ego.
Henry: (laughs) I like the introduction. Yeah…
Caveh: Some people don’t like your films because they feel like there’s a lot of ego in them…
Jaglom: Yeah, especially the autobiographical ones…
Caveh: Yes, exactly. That period especially…
Jaglom: Yeah, especially Venice/Venice. Rocky Mountain News had a headline: “Jaglom on Jaglom Again. Who Cares?”
Caveh: (laughs) Well, I’m interested in this question because I get this all the time with my films. And yet, I have the same reaction to your films. Some thing about them really bothers me. But, at the same time, what I like about your films is they’re so messy in terms of the human component, and they’re so embarrassing. But there is a lot of ego in them…
Caveh: So I just wondered if you feel like that’s a problem with them or if you feel that ego is just part of the human condition and should therefore be included in the film?
Jaglom: No, I think it should be included in the film. I’m very vain about my films. I keep editing a film, like I am doing tonight, until I am satisfied. I keep going. So, the final result is always—like it or hate it—it’s my film, frame for frame, what I want to do. So, no, I am very pleased with what I do. So if the films are messy, they’re that way because I want them to be. If they’re egocentric, it’s because I want them to be. But I think I’ve also kind of put that away along with the autobiographical focus. It’s no longer about me, so I don’t feel like that’s true anymore… I am trying to deal with the issue of the film. Eatingis certainly not an egocentric film…
Caveh: No, not at all.
Jaglom: The issue of the film isn’t my issue. It’s the issue of the women around me in my life. The same is true with Going Shopping.
Caveh: But with Eating, I feel like even though it’s not about your ego, one could argue that it’s very much about the women’s egos.
Jaglom: Well, all my films. Yes, that is a stupid criticism that a lot of people have put out, which is that everybody is narcissistic in my films. And they don’t like everyone being egocentric or narcissistic. But the truth is that everybody is thinking about themselves and when people are dealing with issues from their own point of view, if they’re honest, they’re reflecting that. And people are not used to that being as boldly or openly expressed. And if my characters are self-involved, which is the basic criticism, it’s because we’re all self involved, and people just aren’t comfortable admitting that. When you go behind closed doors everybody is thinking about whether they’re happy or not, and whether their life is what it should be, and whether they’ve got issues or problems worth solving. People are self-involved. My goal in my films all the way through is to make people feel less crazy about what they’re going through. To give them permission as much as possible to feel like it is okay to be self-involved, to know that whatever your problems are, you’re not alone, there’s other people who have them, and it’s part of the human condition.
Caveh: I agree with what you’re saying completely, I’m just wondering - do you feel that the ego is a problem that one should try to transcend or is it something you embrace?
Jaglom: I embrace it completely. I don’t think there’s anything problematic about acknowledging ego. No, I think if you look at a little child - I have two little children - there is nobody more egocentric than children. And they learn slowly to hide it and cover it up. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t develop empathy or caring about other people. That’s one of the things I like most about Venice, Venice, I go into this, what I call “good narcissism” as opposed to “bad narcissism.” Narcissism that allows you to start with yourself and then embrace others, rather than pretending you’re not involved in yourself and that you’re only empathetic to others. I don’t think that there is anyone on the planet that that’s true of, including Mother Theresa.
Caveh: I’m with you here. I am just trying to understand something for myself really. Here is something in art that can be very elevating. Some art is very elevating. You watch it and you feel attuned to your higher nature.
Jaglom: Well, that is not what elevating necessarily is…tuning into your higher nature.
Jaglom: If it reflects really clearly the human condition, like a Picasso… You know, it’s not elevating in the sense that… A Picasso doesn’t appeal to your higher nature, it tells you the truth about human beings. I think art is about telling the truth about human beings, not appealing to one’s higher nature. That’s religion.
Caveh: Yeah, I guess it is religion.
Jaglom: Well, I’m not a religious person.
Caveh: Okay, then you’ve answered my question. (They both laugh)
Chapter 7 – In which I admit to having mixed feelings about Jaglom’s films.
Caveh: You know, I have such mixed feelings about your films. I find that in most of them there are things that really bug me, but there are also things that I just love. Like in Eating…
Jaglom: What bugs you in Eating?
Caveh: In Eating, what bugs me…
Jaglom: Did you suggest the self-involvement of the women in there?
Caveh: That bugs me a little…but I appreciate what you’re doing. What bugs me is a certain unattractiveness to the women…
Jaglom: Yeah, showing that. Well, see, I was attacked by a certain kind of feminist… Gloria Steinem warned me about this. Certain feminists would attack me because they think you’re not supposed to show all the flaws. You’re not supposed to show, like you say correctly, the unattractivenss - the neediness, the desperation, the fragility, the fucked-up-ness. The point is, they think you’re supposed to show how to get out of it. Well, I don’t know how…nobody knows how to get out of it. I think the truth is to show people an accurate reflection of themselves and to make them less isolated, and as I said, let’s nuts. So to me it’s about warts and all. I think I did that with myself in my own movies…
Caveh: Yeah, they are very warty…
Jaglom: (laughs) Very warty. And Orson [Welles] even warned me on my first one, on Always—He said “My God, all this baby talk with your wife …people are going to go crazy, it’s really going to offend a lot of people.” I said I know but this is who I am. This pathetic, needy creature. And…what am I going to do, try to show myself to be something else? Or make a joke of it like Woody Allen and try to be sort of ironic and intellectual about it? It just doesn’t make sense to me, I just want to try to tell the truth. And you know, I swear to God, whatever you think, that is my motivation; there is no other motivation. And the truth is messy, and the truth is in many ways unattractive. Many aspects of human behavior, my own certainly included, are unattractive, and I try not to cover that up for myself or for the characters in my movies. And there are women, you know, politically-oriented women, who think that you’re not supposed to do that. And you’re supposed to just show, like in terms of Eating…you saw the documentary about me, right?
Jaglom: There was that woman at a football game. They found some women who started screaming “He hates women.” There are women who think because it shows unattractive behavior… but every woman I know will tell you, privately, or admit it if they’re that way inclined, that that is the way women are when they’re alone with each other. They behave that way, and I’m just showing this behavior. I didn’t make it up!
Caveh: You know what it is? It’s like, I feel sometimes embarrassed about being part of the human race…
Jaglom: Sure. But we’re fucking pathetic creatures…
Caveh: I know but that’s the part that is always hard in your films, the part that makes you feel the mediocrity of existence.
Jaglom: I totally understand that. And what is really nice about you is you’re acknowledging that. A lot of people will instead of acknowledging just get pissed off. Because they’ll try to defend against that part of themselves that admits that. And they’ll pretend that they’re not like that, it’s these people in this movie that are like that, and that’s wrong, that’s bullshit because we’re not like that. Yes, it is unattractive, it is messy, and it is pathetic. It’s also sweet and human. And as long as you don’t hurt other people… The sweetness for me is that people are just sweet in their patheticness. And I’ve always felt the need to try to make people feel that it’s okay to feel as pathetic as we really feel, not to try to pose ourselves as some kind of heroic creatures though we may occasionally be capable of heroic acts. Are you familiar with the Firesign Theatre?
Jaglom: They had a record out in the seventies called “We Are All Bozos On This Bus.” For me, that’s what making all my films is about. We are all Bozos in this world. We’re all just on the same weird journey.
Caveh: You are very accepting, much more than most people are…
Jaglom: Yeah, I am accepting, and I know it alienates other people. And again, what’s interesting is that it alienates men more than women. Because women are much more accepting…even though they are self-critical as hell, they’re much more understanding of human fragility. Men are still pretending. They’re taught to pretend – “Be a big boy,” “Be strong,” “Don’t go there.”
Caveh: That scene with Gwen Wells in the bathroom is an amazing scene…
Jaglom: But now look, Gwen Wells was one of my closest friends, was a bulimic, did throw up… and was willing… you know how brave that is to show that in a film? She wasn’t playing a bulimic. Nobody in Eating is playing… I got half of those women from Overeaters Anonymous. Gwen, by the way, was the one who got me a lot of them. And none of them pretend to be anorexic who aren’t…they are talking about themselves. And they are just so brave, you know. And that’s why I love people from organizations like AA or OA because those people have learned that the truth is you get up and tell it, you don’t try to hide it. You expose it. You don’t feel ashamed of it. You have to embrace who you are. Gwen is a great example. She was my favorite actress for that reason…
Caveh: She was great in that film…
Jaglom: She’s amazing. She was amazing when she was sixteen in A Safe Place.
Caveh: But when she does that thing about “I’m a bitch.” That’s not her, right?
Jaglom: That is her, yes. She was very much capable of …a lot of my women friends in real life hated Gwen. She could be an incredible bitch. And she was a sweet, sweet girl too. And she just wasn’t scared to show it. And that is what I look for in my actors. I really look for people who are brave about themselves, about revealing the unattractive aspects of themselves as well as whatever is easy to reveal. Gwen… that’s great that you singled her out, because to me she was exemplary. She exemplified the kind of work that I try to do.
Chapter 8 – In which the meaning of life is addressed.
Caveh: What’s your ultimate life goal that you still want to do?
Jaglom: One of the critics, John Richardson, from Premiere, said that I don’t want anything more or less than to capture contemporary reality itself. That’s really my goal and each one of my films is sort of for me a chapter in some big film novel that I am trying to write, you know. So it’s just to make as many chapters as I can before I become too feeble to be able to do it. Just to keep making the films as truthfully as I can. And try to reflect the time we live in, and my culture, you know, as honestly and as accurately as I possibly can. And especially for women, since I consider women so misrepresented on film by Hollywood, and so overlooked, so fantasized about by the sort of sixteen-year-old adolescent mind in Hollywood that runs the place. My job is to try to tell women the truth about their own lives in film, and try to represent that truth back to them so that they see themselves on film. As corny as this sounds, I want to make people feel less crazy about themselves, less alone, less like they’re nuts. More like it’s okay. We’re all going through this thing together somehow and it’s okay. Not to worry about people telling you that you are too self-involved, or you shouldn’t have this eating issue because people are starving in China, you know. Whatever the subject is it is important to try and let people know that they are okay, that their lives are okay and that they should not, in addition to whatever problems that they have, feel guilt about those problems, that it’s all part of who we all are. I just really honestly want to try to communicate that and keep communicating that. That’s my goal.
Post-Script – our subsequent e-mail correspondence.
After our conversation ended, I was inspired to send Henry Jaglom an e-mail. Here is what I wrote:
Thanks for taking the time to answer all my questions, but mostly thanks for being open and honest. I was a bit worried about offending you during the interview, and didn't realize until the end that I could be much more honest than I was. So in the name of greater honesty, I would like to say a couple more things - First of all, I was kind of disappointed by your DVD commentary for "Eating." I felt that you often simply reiterated (or worse, simply described) a lot of the things that had already been shown or said in the film. I would have loved to know more about the making of the film, scene to scene. I would therefore like to cast my vote for a more pre-planned and filmmaking-oriented DVD commentary for your next film. I've done a couple of DVD commentaries for my own films, and I know it's a really hard thing to do, but I think it's important. Secondly, I've had a very ambivalent relationship with your work mostly because it's really astonishingly similar to my own films, but different enough that it occasionally rubs me the wrong way - in the way that only something very close to one's own concerns can do. You make certain choices which are radically different than the choices I would make, which often causes a kind of aversion, but the essential similarity in terms of project and shared assumptions is really rather astonishing. I kind of wish I had talked to you more about these specific choices, but again, I was worried about being too critical in an interview meant primarily to promote your DVD release. But the differences are really far less striking than the uncanny similarities. For instance, my first feature film was a re-enactment of a crush I'd had on an art student in which all of the actual people played themselves. And I've been accused of all of the same things that you get accused of.
Anyway, it was a pleasure and an honor to talk with you, and I look forward to continuing the dialogue over the coming years.
With sincere best wishes,
P.S. My question about "trying to communicate" vs. "self-expression" was really a question about editing. What do you do when you think a shot is hilarious, and then you have a test screening and no one else sees what you think is so funny, but they all think some other moment which you hate is hilarious? Do you just ignore them, as I have often done, or do you chalk it up to a loss of perspective and listen to other people? I find this a maddening issue, and really am interested in what you have to say about this. I don't think I'm always right about what I think is funny, or moving, or effective. But I'm certainly not interested in making a film by committee either. Any thoughts?
Henry wrote back:
I screen my movies dDOZENS of times in Rough Cut form and ask everyone invited to tell me every response they have, especially negative, to make sure they UNDERSTAND my intention, not that they necessarily like my expression of it...but I AM influence by them in terms of comedy, I admit, and I HAVE changed things to get the laugh I want sometimes,,,But on TRACKS there was a scene that I kept in throough 12 screenings because it always got a huge laugh until I finally and painfully took it out because it was fake and cheap and I couldn't sytand it being there despite them all LOVING it...
Hope that anwers your question...it was fun talking with you and I NEVER mind criticisma or negative comments, Orson was always amazed because I carried aroun bad reviews that I loved like People Magazine saying of one of my films IF THIS MOVIE WERE A HORSE I'D SHOOT IT!
To which I replied:
Thanks. One more question. My question about ego is really this: isn't art that is more egoless better than art that has a lot of ego? In the same way that people with a lot of ego can be annoying and unpleasant to talk to, and people with less ego are more pleasurable to talk to? I guess I believe that egolessness is one of the criteria of good art. Which is why I find your films a bit confounding. Because there's something really interesting about the ego that is in them, and yet I can't help feeling that this element diminishes the artistic element. I appreciate the embrace of ego (we're all human, after all), but I guess I believe in striving to overcome ego, both in life and in art.
I watched Deja Vu last night and I really liked it. I really appreciate what you're saying. But again, I'm always a bit bothered by the lack of attention to form - you seem to have very little interest in the language of cinema, which I guess is really the main thing that keeps me from fully embracing your work. Do you disagree with this, or is form just not something that interests you? And isn't art about form?
To which he replied:
SO silly...who had bigger egos than Orson Welles...or Picasso...or Arthur Miller...or Fellini... or ANy important artist you can mention...egolessness may be nice for spiritual guides, but those who accomplish significant things have ALWAYS had the biggest egos imaginable, how else could they overcome the odds against anyone doing anything and getting it seen???? This is so commonly understood that artists are excused all sorts of thiings and behaviour that others would be taken to task for.....Surely you must know this? Read some autobiographies, or bigraphies for that matter. of artists you admire and you won't find a modest or egoless one among them.....
To which I replied:
Thanks for responding, but I still feel like I'm not making myself understood. Maybe I mean something different by the word "ego" than you do. I would argue, for instance, that Fellini most definitely did not have a big ego, in the sense that I'm talking about. And I don't mean a lack of modesty, or of self-importance. I guess I mean a kind of insensitivity to the other - a kind of not-seeing. I think women are generally more egoless than men, in this sense of the term (well, in both senses, but this is the sense I mean).
As for the form thing, and the "language" of cinema thing, there are people who write well (to use an analogy) and people who don't. And those who write well are more attentive to the form and to the history of what they're writing than those who don't. Flaubert comes to mind here as a supreme example, or Joyce. In film, Kubrick, let's say, pays more attention to form than Ron Howard. His films are better. And Tarkovsky pays more attention to the language of cinema (which is to say he thinks about it more deeply) than, say, Richard Donner. And the DVD commentary of "Eating," is, I'm afraid, not as good as it would have been if you had put more thought and attention into it. Which is all I'm talking about - the quantity and the quality of the thought that goes into each artistic decision.
I am interested in spirituality, it's true, and I honestly believe that spirituality is not unrelated to art. I like you Henry, and I would like to be your friend, but you're being a bit condescending here. I feel you're assuming a lack of reflection on my part which is simply not the case. I see things differently than you, which is part of why I'm interested in having a dialogue with you, but you seem utterly uninterested in exploring that difference, which is fine if that's how you feel. I feel this would be a lot simpler if you saw one of my films - it might clarify where I'm coming from - but I don't expect you to have the time or the inclination to watch one. Maybe some day.
In any case, I remain open to further discussion, and to further friendship.
To which he replied:
I AM NOT condescending, i have answered you as best as i can, several times, but if you perceive my answers as condescending because they firmly disagree with you and all your examples,I would suggest - no doubt arrogantly in your opinion - that THAT explains this disagreement about what is or isn't ego... I don't have ANy understanding at all of what you are talking about in all this or about form or Ron Howard or Fellini and I don't think we are going to understand one another and i have no intention of tiptoeing around my answers to you so you won't find me suffused with ego and condescention...
To which I answered:
Thanks for that reply. I appreciate it. I guess my feelings were hurt by what I perceived as the tone of the previous letter, but I'm fine now. And of course, I don't want you to tiptoe around your answers, so please continue to be yourself. But just so you know, it wasn't because your answers disagreed with what I believed that I felt condescended to. That I have no problem with. It was the line in which you encouraged me to read autobiographies or biographies of artists. I felt that implied a perception of me as ignorant about art and the history of art, whereas I have in fact read a lot of autobiographies and biographies of artists. Also, the line "SO silly" felt a bit condescending (this may be an e-mail thing as opposed to a phone thing), but I think I'm getting a better sense of where you're coming from.
In any case, I continue to wish you luck with the new film and all future films, I continue to look forward to crossing paths in the future, and I again thank you for your frank and speedy reply.
To which he replied.
Good...thanks for this response...I'm glad that's settled... i really like your enthusiam and your passion and there is no reason people have to agree on any of these things, just feel passionately about them and about the work, which both of us clearly do.....