Blog: What's Mark Borchardt watching?
The Milwaukee filmmaker looks at the life and career of a fellow cinematic maverick
Every now and then, Decider wonders "What's Mark Borchardt watching?" So, we asked the Milwaukee filmmaker and he told us about the 1997 documentary Who Is Henry Jaglom?
Who is Henry Jaglom? It's certainly made known in this fascinating and enlightening 1997 documentary by Henry-Alex Rubin and Jeremy Workman, about a filmmaker who's main objective is to seek the “truth” within us and portray the results in the cinematic realm. He's a self-styled provocateur deeply attuned to human interactions, sensibilities, and experience—a far cry from easy-going, no-soul wishy-washiness. He knows what he wants and acutely pursues what he must have. And he can be psychologically ruthless about getting it, as he explores the extremities of the soul, seeking its far shores hidden by conscious protection. Who Is Henry Jaglom? explores how he gets at these truths.
His films vary from odd abstractions to recreations of his true-life experiences from his personal to professional life. His style is direct cinema but he involves himself with the actors in a highly personal way. He cajoles, confuses, and goads, all to get his talent stirred up to replicate an emotional degree that he believes is true to life. His filmic/personal theory is that in cinematically exploring himself, he can legitimately explore others. By knowing himself, he has the right to know others, no matter how uncomfortably close to the bone he digs to get those results. The apex of this blurring of boundaries between fictionalized narrative and cinema verite is 1985’s Always, where he used his ex-wife to play his wife in a film about his own divorce. One critic dubbed it "the greatest home movie ever made."
Jaglom is an independent filmmaker’s independent filmmaker, possibly even considered underground, since he's not part of the currently hip cinematic currency. He's a one-man show whose grandiosity rivals Orson Welles, but his appearance is more similar to Woody Allen, with his omnipresent, endearingly droopy hat. Many of Jaglom's films seem to be ardently about himself as a director and private person, and the social environments he finds himself operating in. He's like Werner Herzog with a more intimate cinematic scope; he’s not concerned with foreboding jungles, endless rivers, and other exotically splendid cinematic locales; he’s a voyager of the interior soul.
Jaglom had made a dozen films at the time of this documentary, including Someone To Love, Venice/Venice, and Festival In Cannes. It's a miracle that Jaglom can keep putting these pictures together and persevere in the face of his detractors in the realm of mass culture, which denies deep emotional texture and meaningful human interaction in favor of simplistic narratives and dramatically constipated characterizations. "Filmmaking for me is not about imposing, it's about extracting," Jaglom says. At one point in Who Is Henry Jaglom? he’s called an instigator, someone who wants to see conflict and who throws people into situations that can have enlightening as well as adverse results: premeditated provocation for desired effect. He even provoked Welles—after Jaglom convinced the cinematic legend to appear in his first film, 1971's A Safe Place, their friendship was strained when he was caught taping their private lunch conversations.
Some colleagues decry his working methods, but in the first half of Who Is Henry Jaglom? we see little evidence of any such adverse character traits. He appears as a pro-actively impassioned director just doing his job in a highly motivated manner. But the second half of the film takes a decided turn with a montage of abrasive Jaglom confrontations. It's hilarious when Jaglom tells an actress that she can do anything she wants in a scene, and she jumps into a nearby pool, much to his shock and consternation.
The DVD includes an interview with Jaglom devoted exclusively to the making of the documentary, and it is a delicious romp displaying Jaglom's insight and self-indulgence. Smartly, it's left unedited, keeping the impact of its raw essence as a whole, aware of the gold that it is in its complete form. It delightfully begins with Jaglom's rearrangement of chairs, averting what he believes to be a cantankerous camera set-up that the hapless interviewer can only tactfully accommodate. Among many impassioned declarations, Jaglom goes on to explain that mid-stream in his oeuvre, he happens upon the idea of titling his films in ascending alphabetical order. It's an interesting quirk, one of many he seems to be full of. After seeing this you'll want to get a taste of his work to see what it's all about, as Jaglom himself enthusiastically implores that you do.