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What’s Eating Henry Jaglom?

April 24, 2010

Duchovny and Jaglom in New Year's Day

Henry Jaglom, to me, has long been the art-house equiv to watching a Saturday afternoon broadcast of a Tom Berenger film on FX – a sometimes food. Like beer and deep fried desserts, Jaglom – the west coast/British answer to Woody Allen (though I’m curious as to who posed the question, which I’m sure was rhetorical in nature) – makes films low on budget and high on chow chow.

Oh there are lots of euphemisms tossed about in regards to his work: avant guard, thought-provoking, inaccessible, challenging. But that’s just fancy talk for a genre of films I call The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Ordinary People, which includes: Ordinary People, Affliction and In the Bedroom. What’s nice about this genre – and why The Big Chill isn’t considered an example of it – is they don’t try an audience’s patience by seeking to universalize the experiences depicted. I should note all the films mentioned are ones I count as faves. I got no beef with folks depicting their lived experiences. Let me be clear on that point. I do, however, have a major beef with default setting folks seeking to universalize their lived experiences and considering folks “weird” if they haven’t enjoyed Pina Coladas while getting caught in the rain, as it were.

I find the term punishing, like three rounds with Clubber Lang, more applicable as far as describing Jaglom’s films. This has more to do with the low production values than the subjects he chooses to explore. It’s real hard to find emotional truth in the portrayals of upper middle class therapy couch surfing bohemians when shot with grainy film and everyone’s wearing costumes liberated from TJ Maxx’s clearance racks.

H-Jag, the man with the plan.

And I won’t lie, it wasn’t the artiste in me who sought out a Jaglom film; it was the perv in me. I used to have this book, which was essentially the wiki of naked famous people on film. At the time I was hugely into the X-Files and since Red Shoe Diaries provided NO Duchovny ass cam footage, I had to get my fix elsewhere.

New Year’s Day promised FULL FRONTAL DUCHOVNY, which was all I needed to read. I ran so fast to the artsy fartsy video rental place, we’re talking the speed it takes Jaglom to write, direct and distribute one of his films. That’s real fast, y’all.

Anyway, the movie made EXCELLENT on its FULL FRONTAL DUCHOVNY promise, but also turned out to be a fairly wonderful indie film. Oh course there was all manner of chow chow, so you’re not into films, which are ALL exposition and devoid of discernible plots, Jaglom is just not going to work for you on any level. But if you enjoy “sometimes food” then you’ll find real moments of acting craft, writing chops and gifted direction.

The best part of many of his films was the late, great actress Gwen Welles who is featured in the aforementioned New Year’s Day and several other Jaglom films. I remember her in Altman’s Nashville and so it was a real treat to see her talents showcased in Jaglom films.

While I wouldn’t dream of telling folks how to spend their entertainment attention units, I believe one could do worse – like say actually watching that Berenger film I linked – than watching a few Jaglom gems.

Selected Filmography:

  • New Year’s Day
  • Eating (highly recommended)
  • Someone to Love
  • Venice/Venice (my fave of the bunch)
  • Trackers (Has Hopper!)
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