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Henry Jaglom
By Ron Steinman
 

This is about the movies that Henry Jaglom makes. Ask him and he will tell you that sometimes when his movies play, he gets calls from theater owners about the number of men who walk out before the film ends. Is this because those men don’t enjoy the film? Is it that they can’t handle the portrayal of women in all their intimate emotions? Probably it is both. And it may have to do with style as much as substance. Henry Jaglom says, “Men have a hard time listening. In my films, you must listen. Men usually deny the internal landscape, preferring to externalize their experience. Women become involved. They explore what they are feeling.”

In Jaglom’s films, women talk to women. Women talk to men, sometimes. Women reveal much of their lives. Perhaps they reveal too much, especially for men who see these films. Men are not usually a part of the story. Other times a man is integral to the story, but as a pawn or a plot device. The action is usually non-action. Action takes place in the same location. Much of the time it is in and around a single place. Little happens outside a neat neighborhood home, the grounds of an estate, perhaps a restaurant, sometimes in a bed, or in a kitchen. Some if not all of his films are the same as documentaries in their look, how he shoots them, and the way people speak. His style is naturalism personified. Jaglom says, “ My films are non-traditional in form and shape. They are emotionally open.” His films are about love, success, failure, work, and how we try to cope with problems that never cease to surface. He puts on film what most other directors are afraid to confront without resorting to blowing up the world or destroying egos with a stupid prank.

Welcome to a Henry Jaglom movie. Be prepared to listen to and watch people, Jaglom’s actors, divulge their innermost thoughts in medium two shots and sometimes in close up. Jaglom does not always compose these thoughts as carefully as in a Chekhov play. The people in a Jaglom film are searching for answers in front of you on screen as they wrestle with themselves and each other for the meaning of their lives, whether it is in their art, the food they eat, the clothing they wear. You realize that Jaglom likes to take us on a soul journey every time he directs a film. His world is very much the real world we inhabit, but he tightens it, narrows its focus so there is little chance of missing the meaning he is conveying. He says he tries to create that reality inside an unreal means — a film. In movies, he continues, he has control over life that one never finds in life itself. The final event for him is real and, when done, he shares that result with his audience. Henry Jaglom writes and directs films like no one else. Anyone watching a Jaglom film must decide for him or herself if what he says reaches and affects them, which it well may, often in surprising ways. In a recent phone interview, I spoke with him about why and how he makes the films he does.

Jaglom says, “There is no such thing as a film being too personal. There is nothing better than the truth on film. Film does not lie. Movies are clearly not real, but film has its own reality.” For him, “filmmaking is about exposing, not extracting.” He says, “I want to capture the reality of the people around me. Women and their lives are not adequately reflected in Hollywood, as they are in a Bergman or Fellini film.”

He insists that it is okay for actors to acknowledge their insecurities on film. Though he has a script and careful plans for his films, he puts his actors into unusual or unexpected situations. “My script really tells the actors who they are and what they are. Then I depart from my script with enthusiasm. My goal is find out what is the stuff of women’s lives, but also all people’s lives. It is a high wire act. I want my characters to break through those conventions where they are not supposed to be or go. I want everyone in my films to take the risk of not telling stories in the conventional sense.” To that end he says he wants his actors to “Use their own language, their own instinct to seek their own interior thoughts. To tap into their own lives. I want them to take a chance to reveal what is inside them and to tell their story spontaneously. Then I fit the final film into what my actors are saying.” For him the key to life and film is that people have to find their own way to tell the truth. He says that he can usually use 20 to 25 percent of what his actors give him, especially when they use parts of themselves to go on the journey where that part takes them.

Henry Jaglom’s latest, “Hollywood Dreams,” starring Tanna Frederick, will have its premier in November at AFI Fest, the American Film Institute’s Annual Film Festival at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood. In Tanna Frederick, Jaglom says people will see an actor who in many ways tells her own story about the business, its pain and difficulties, its failures and successes. She fills in the script “with qualities that are not readily apparent. She doesn’t seem to have boundaries. Acting in this film, and others that are coming up, she is fulfilling a lifetime dream.” For Jaglom tapping into an actors inner thoughts, Tanna’s and others, provides him with he calls,” a gold mine.”

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At NBC News for 35 years, Ron Steinman was bureau chief in Saigon, Hong Kong and London, was a senior producer on Today and wrote and produced for Sunday Today. At ABC News Productions, he produced and wrote documentaries for A&E, TLC, Discovery, Lifetime and the History Channel. He has a Peabody, a National Headliner award, a National Press Club award, a International Documentary Festival Gold Camera Award, two American Women in Radio & Television awards and has been nominated for five Emmy's. He is a partner in Douglas/Steinman Productions, whose latest documentary, "Luboml: My Heart Remembers," aired on PBS' WLIW/21 and the History Channel in Israel, April 29, 2003. He is the author of, "The Soldiers 'Story", "Women in Vietnam," and most recently, "Inside Television's First War: A Saigon  Journal," University of Missouri Press, 2002.

 

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