With Candice Bergen, Karen Black, Peter Bogdanovich, Victoria Foyt, Andre Gregory, Dennis Hopper, John Landis, Viveca Lindfors, Andrea Marcovicci, Martha Plimpton, Bob Rafelson, Alan Rudolph, Louis Malle.
Maverick filmmaker Henry Jaglom deserves better than the treatment he gets in the uninspired documentary “Who Is Henry Jaglom?” Focusing for the most part on the last decade of Jaglom’s career, this one-hour film tries hard to be balanced , but it leaves so many important areas unexplored that the director’s admirers and his detractors are likely to be dissatisfied and frustrated by the experience.
The timing for a documentary about Jaglom may be right, despite narrow cinematic vision, as he has managed to survive for a quarter of a century by sheer stamina, willpower, limited talent — and, most important of all, independent means.
The new film begins with radically opposing assessments of Jaglom’s career, ranging from critic Michael Medved, who regards his films as “touching and thought-provoking,” to a magazine editor who perceives him as “the worst filmmaker in America,” a self-promoter whose strategies don’t differ much from those used by Angelyne, an L.A. celeb who rents huge self-promotion billboards on Sunset Boulevard and elsewhere in the city.
A good deal of the material was shot on the set of “Last Summer in the Hamptons,” Jaglom’s latest and arguably best picture. Though Jaglom takes immense pride in being an actor’s director who encourages improvisation and spontaneity, several actresses in this movie, most notably Martha Plimpton, describe him as a rigid, impatient and offensive director. But these comments are contradicted by the film’s stars: Viveca Lindfors, who singles out his generosity and trust; and Andre Gregory, who admires his risk-taking and “going into the unknown.”
Even more surprising is the criticism of Jaglom’s insensitivity and tyrannical manner by women who worked with him, such as Daphna Kastner, who served as assistant director on “Venice/Venice,” and by women who find that his docudramas “Eating” and “Babyfever” pander to women; a female sociologist describes Jaglom as a man who hates women.
Different views also are assigned to Jaglom’s friendship with Orson Welles during the last decade of the latter’s life. Jaglom depicts their relationship as intimate, and director Peter Bogdanovich explains that Welles was intrigued by Jaglom’s experimentation and amused by his “craziness,” but others note that the legendary filmmaker was offended when he found out that Jaglom had been recording their conversations.
Often jumbled and harried, docu meanders from half-serious explorations of Jaglom’s personality to the more trivial aspects of his life, such as his notorious hats. Jaglom’s brother, Michael Emil, describes him as “spoiled and arrogant,” always needing to command and have things “his own way.” Actress Candice Bergen acknowledges Jaglom’s positive influence on her memoirs, “Knock Wood,” and notes, in one of the movie’s few amusing moments, that in the 1970s, he looked like a “Samurai transvestite.” Other women also underline his “feminine, observant nature,” and point out that in his childhood his mom dressed him like a girl.
What’s badly missing is some context, some perspective and a more thorough analysis of how Jaglom has carried auteurism to an absurd length by unabashedly airing his personal laundry in his movies; his desperate need to be liked; and his amazing endurance, despite changes in Hollywood and in the independent scene , in which he was a pioneering member in the early ’70s. Ultimately, docu offers only a partial answer to the question posed in its title.