Henry Jaglom’s “Train to Zakopane” is ending its highly acclaimed theatrical run at Edgemar Center for the Arts this Sunday. Like all of Jaglom’s work, it’s inspired by personal experience, in this case, his father’s.
Usually it is Jaglom himself and the women in his life whose experiences inform his work. In a written interview he told me, “My main concern in life is the lives of women and giving them the opportunity to reveal aspects of those lives on film.”
Tanna Frederick, Jaglom’s wife and frequent leading lady in his films, has been garnering rave reviews, not just for this production, but for the long-extended run of the classic American play, “The Rainmaker,” which was also staged at Edgemar.
He’s been known to marry his leading ladies, with two prior marriages to actresses who starred in his films. But about Frederick he says, “We have been together 14 years. For me, Tanna is the most perfect actress I have worked with as her range goes from the extreme of comedy to the extreme of drama, often in a lighting flash.”
Jaglom is responsible for my shunning of big commercial movies in favor of small, intriguing independent films. As a sophomore at UCLA in 1971, I was in a women’s writing class and we went to see his film, “A Safe Place” starring Tuesday Weld, Jack Nicholson and the one and only, Orson Welles.
In fact, he told me that this film was the start of his longstanding relationship with Welles. “I directed him in my first film [‘A Safe Place’], he directed me in his last film, ‘The Other Side of the Wind,’ and I directed him in his final acting role in ‘Someone to Love.'”
Jaglom’s film “Someone to Love” was memorably filmed at the late, lamented Mayfair Theatre in Santa Monica, and took the form of a pseudo documentary, in which a theater about to be replaced by a shopping mall becomes the setting for a story about a filmmaker who invites his friends and others to answer questions about their love lives. It was released after Welles died. The Mayfair as we knew it died along with him.
Jaglom and Welles were, in Jaglom’s words, “more like girlfriends than anything else in that we opened ourselves emotionally to each other in ways more than most men do. Everyone should read ‘My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles,’ edited by Peter Biskind and published by Metropolitan Books. As of today it has been published in eight languages and is quite the hit in France and Italy.”
There are those who love him and those who hate him but Jaglom has never needed the affirmation of others. In response to the bipolar critiques leveled at him, Jaglom says, “Yes I am an egomaniacal fraud and I am a cinematic genius. Take your pick.”
It’s often said that Jaglom’s films are improvisational, and he is renowned for shooting a great deal of footage, which he works over in the editing room. But, he says, “My style is not improvisational, it is entirely scripted, contrary to the opinion of some. What I do is encourage the actors to go beyond the script and continue the actor’s character and behavior to enhance the story. Then, in the editing room, I take about a year to take the best of these elements, scripted and unscripted, together. And I would say the resulting films are two-third scripted and one-third improvised. This is nothing new from the beginning of cinema. Chaplin and many others worked the same way.”
Movies have been Jaglom’s main focus, but in fact, “A Safe Place” started life onstage. “I had written it as a play at the Actor’s Studio in the 1960’s in New York. Karen Black starred in it with me in the Jack Nicholson role and we did it in two sections: Act 1 for Lee Strasberg for the Acting Unit and Act II for Harold Klurman for the Writing/Directing unit.
“It was a big success there but I moved to California to go under contract to Columbia Pictures as an actor. I guest starred in ‘Gidget’ and ‘The Flying Nun’ for them but then realized what I wanted to do was get back to writing and directing.
“After successfully editing ‘Easy Rider,’ Columbia gave me the chance to make a film of my own. I took the play ‘A Safe Place’ that I had done at the Actor’s Studio and filmed it with Jack Nicholson playing my part and Tuesday Weld playing Karen Black’s part. Philip Proctor was the only actor who starred in both the play and the movie.” (Philip Proctor may best be known for his work with the comedy troupe, Firesign Theatre.)
Will Jaglom’s playwriting continue alongside his film work? He replies, “I have written several plays before ‘Train to Zakopan.’ Each one of them has been turned into a film, most recently ‘Just 45 Minutes from Broadway.’ I certainly am expecting to make the film “Train to Zakopan next.”
Henry Jaglom’s upcoming film is a family affair. “This fall, I am releasing another film that I have just completed called ‘Ovation!’ It is a backstage comedy/drama with a terrific cast headed up by Tanna Frederick, James Denton and many others, including two very special performances by my son, Simon Orson Jaglom, and my daughter, Sabrina.”
“Train to Zakopan” closes on Sunday; for more information visit http://www.edgemarcenter.org or call (310) 392-7327.
Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various publications.