Train to Zakopané is Right On Track

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Veteran film director Henry Jaglom, a Santa Monica resident for twenty-five years, is one of our city’s most colorful citizens. But he’s also among our most controversial. Frankly, I think Henry likes it that way.

The 1995 documentary, “Who Is Henry Jaglom?” describes Henry, “Hailed by some as a cinematic genius, a feminist voice and a true maverick of American cinema and dismissed by others as a voyeuristic, ego-maniacal fraud.” (Ouch!) One thing’s clear, however, love him or hate him, Henry fascinates many.

Author of six produced plays and a recently completed A Family Memoir and a Brief History of the Jewish People that took fourteen years, Henry’s written and directed twenty-one feature films. His latest, “Train to Zakopané,” a true story of hate and love, premieres tonight night (5/4) at the Laemmle Monica Film Center in Santa Monica. But first, embarrassing at it was, let me share how I first crossed paths with Henry.

In 1990, in addition to writing screenplays, I worked at the Ocean View Tennis courts and became friends with the late and much missed Gwen Welles, an avid tennis player. Henry had finished editing “Eating,” a movie about women suffering from eating disorders in which Gwen starred as she did the year before in “New Year’s Day”. She knew I was a huge fan of Bob Costas’ NBC show “Later” and asked me to videotape it because Henry was going to the lone interview. I was happy to do so; little did I know what would come of it.

The next day, when I gave Gwen the video, she asked what I thought of Henry. “What a colossal narcissist,” I said boldly. “So true,” she echoed enthusiastically and that was the end of it. So I thought.

A month later, Gwen graciously invited me to a screening of “Eating” at the Director’s Guild Theater in Hollywood and I went. The theater was crowded as I waited in line. With a starlet on each arm, Henry seemed to be in charge of admitting guests.

At first, Henry couldn’t find my name on the list and it crossed my mind I’d driven all that way for nothing. Finally, however, Henry looked up with an odd smile. “So,” he said sarcastically, “I’m the ‘most’ narcissistic person you’ve ever seen?”

I gulped. “I don’t recall saying ‘most,’” I said sheepishly, not daring to say the word I had used was “colossal.” Meanwhile, I could feel perspiration forming on my forehead, aware that the starlets seemed to notice. Finally, after exacting a bit of getting even, Henry said, “Enjoy the movie.” Drenched in flop sweat, I thought to myself, “I might if I could take a shower first.” The next day I confronted Gwen, “You told him what I said?” “Well, somebody had to,” she said innocently.

Twenty-five years later I wrote my first column about Henry. But, before it got published, I thought I should warn him I used the “n” word for narcissist in describing him. He emailed back, “Not to worry, Jack. I think being a narcissist is a good thing.” I emailed in return, “Spoken like a true narcissist.”

This brings me to “Train To Zakopané,” which I saw via a private screener. Afterward, I contacted Henry to say, “I have good news and bad news.” (Henry didn’t seem too concerned either way as this is the Daily Press, not the New York Times.) “The good news is, among your twenty-one movies, Henry, Zakopané is by far my favorite. “What’s the bad news?” he inquired. I joked, “I didn’t like the first twenty,” To his credit, he even laughed.

The fact is Jaglom’s films often feature improvisations that Henry believes are often the most “truthful” moments. I’m okay with improv but I go ballistic when I’m aware the actors are fumbling for the right words. So, on this subject, Henry and I have long ago agreed to disagree.

Tightly scripted, Zakopané is the film version of Jaglom’s hit play based on his father’s train trip to Warsaw in 1928. A successful Russian businessman, Seymon meets Katia, a captivating Polish army nurse who is enchanted by him but is fiercely anti-Semitic. In a compelling love story, the couple takes a weekend stopover in the resort town of Zakopané. Though ultimately doomed, compassion and intolerance intersect.

Intriguingly, the film begins with Henry’s interview of his elderly father twenty-eight-years ago about a love that had haunted him for a lifetime. Featuring fine acting from Mike Falkow and Tanna Frederick throughout, the touching ending is perfect and authentic. It’s followed by Jaglom home movies, circa 1940, with Henry as a toddler fascinated by a camera. Seventy-eight years later, clearly, he’s still fascinated.

The Laemmle Monica Film Center is located at 1332 2nd Street. (310) 478 3836. Jack is at facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth, and jackdailypress@aol.com

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