July 15, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Henry Jaglom’s Red-Letter Tuesday

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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Photo: Amazon

On Tuesday, July 16, Henry Jaglom’s eighteenth movie, “45 Minutes From Broadway,” debuts on DVD from Breaking Glass Pictures—while his very first book, My Lunches With Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, simultaneously hits the bookshelves through Metropolitan Books.

Each is a cause for celebration.

Last October, his distribution company Rainbow Releasing opened his latest tender and knowing romantic comedy “45 Minutes From Broadway” on a small scattering of screens. Santa Fe, sad to say, was not one of them, despite an earnest effort shared by Rainbow and our own CCA Cinematheque to find a berth for the movie. The calendar simply did not allow.

Luckily, I’ve been privileged to see not only a rough cut but also the polished final version, which amusingly chronicles the intrafamily dynamics of quirky theater people who don’t stop acting even at home. Jaglom makes that point using a quite innovative trope, a prologue that fully duplicates the story’s theatrical origin as a work for the live stage. For about 20 minutes it resembles a photographed play, like Chekhov in the Catskills. Then, as the real meat is about to be served, Jaglom pulls one of the coolest cinematic tricks I’ve ever seen, closing a red proscenium curtain over the thoroughly artificial presentation, and re-opening it on a full-fledged movie.

The authoritative actor Michael Emil is the perfectly cast patriarch, heading a gathering of his clan in a rural upstate New York retreat. There, daughter Julie Davis is to meet her beau Judd Nelson, but when he does drive in, he suddenly develops eyes for her redheaded sister Tanna Frederick (playing the enchantingly monikered “Pandora Isaacs”).

Frederick, whose fourth Jaglom starring role this is (with a fifth currently in post-production and a sixth in pre-), is a physically vivacious, emotionally courageous actress who puts it all out there right in front of you, and oddly invitingly so. Her striking screen presence is somehow reminiscent of young Katharine Hepburn, stoic yet vulnerable.

(Interestingly, the Iowa-born Frederick is under exclusive contract to Jaglom. He lends her out to other filmmakers just as someone like David O. Selznick would have done with Jennifer Jones. It’s a classic form of Hollywood representation unseen in decades, perhaps generations.)

I liked this movie a lot. I always like Henry’s movies. He is a humanist who understands the human comedy. Sometimes he amazes me.

Just like Orson Welles. Each is a master of prestidigitation.

The two met over 40 years ago when neophyte film director Jaglom cast Welles as—what else?—a magician in “A Safe Place” (1972). The image of the avuncular Welles pulling a rainbow out of a box is the logo for Rainbow Releasing. Welles also appeared in Jaglom’s “Someone to Love” (1987)…which turned out to be the legend’s final screen appearance.

Offscreen, the two often met for lunch in Welles’ later years, a regular event in which Jaglom unobtrusively, and religiously, tape-recorded his mentor’s every riposte. The book My Lunches With Orson is a distillation of their many conversations. These privately told stories cover the full breadth of Wellesiana, discussing the world leaders he’d met, the studio heads he held beneath contempt, and the many, many women he’d known over lo, these many years. The names dropped and the secrets betrayed are fabulous, sometimes literally, as Welles was never one to let the truth get in the way of a good story. But factual or not, the tales he tells are at the very least revealing, ramping up to the surprising, the scandalous, and the downright jaw-dropping.

While these meals were definitely rated [R] for language and subject matter, their shared speech also reveals deep mutual affection. They adored each other, and adored being adored by each other. Really, all you need to know about their relationship is that Henry named his son Simon Orson Jaglom…and that Simon was christened for Henry’s father. 

For years, Henry thought his tapes were lost, until they happened to turn up in a garage--of course--dusty but intact. The noted film historian/critic/magazine editor Peter Biskind shaped the tapes into their present form, and additionally provides an insightful introduction into this three-way collaboration.

My Lunches With Orson is a treasure of a book, not only for Friends Of Orson, but also film buffs everywhere, and, moreover, for anyone interested in human nature—particularly, if that human is a self-invented celebrity. Clearly, it draws its title and mise en scene from Louis Malle’s film “My Dinner With Andre” (1981), which is just two hours of people talking. But what talk they talk! The same is true of the Jaglom book. While informal and friendly, the kind of book you can open anywhere and get a laugh or a shock, I believe that in years to come it will be regarded academically as a reference book on a par with François Truffaut’s invaluable retrospective, Hitchcock by Truffaut (1967, revised 1985). The two books should sit next to each other on the shelf. They are equal achievements.

As of July 16, “45 Minutes from Broadway” is on DVD for $19.99 at both Amazon and Critics’ Choice. Video Library will have rental copies. It’s not yet out on Blu-ray.

Happily, the hardcover of My Lunches With Orson is available locally at both Collected Works and Garcia Street Books.  

Much more on Henry Jaglom is at www.rainbowfilms.com. He also has a vibrant presence on Facebook.

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