Method in the Madness:
Three by Henry Jaglom
English-born and Los Angeles-established independent filmmaker Henry Jaglom is one of the most misunderstood filmmakers of his generation, having begun as an actor under Lee Strasburg, cutting his teeth as an editor on Easy Rider, and performing in films by Dennis Hopper and Orson Welles. Welles appears in two films by Jaglom, Someone to Love and Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?, and Hopper in Tracks. Jaglom was nothing if not a maverick, at once the perennial outsider and a permanent fixture on the New Hollywood social circuit of the 1970s, and the three films presented here capture the director’s strongest qualities and influences.
For his 1976 film Tracks—a jaggedly paranoid and formally fractured tale of PTSD set almost entirely on a train in the early aftermath of America’s withdrawal from Vietnam—Jaglom shot on real Amtrak lines without a permit, resulting in his cast and crew’s regular ejection. Starring an electric Dennis Hopper, this forgotten gem blurs the lines between fantasy and reality, tracing the festering shame towards the U.S. invasion, before moral and historical narratives were rewritten through the litany of Vietnam movies that would follow.
Exemplifying Jaglom’s skill as a director of philosophical comedies, Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? follows Zee, a paranoid New Yorker, who walks around Manhattan streets talking to herself after her husband has left her. A great New York movie that finds small roles for Jaglom pals Larry David and Orson Welles, this is a brittle and loquacious romcom of midlife neurosis with a stellar lead turn from Karen Black.
A metatextual marvel starring Jaglom himself as a filmmaker attempting to shoot a movie without a script, Someone to Love features various guests at a Valentine’s Day party—including Monte Hellman, Sally Kellerman, and Oja Kodar—who are interviewed for their thoughts on life and love. However, this extraordinary film is perhaps most notable for giving Orson Welles his final screen appearance. Unguarded as he pontificates on art and the human condition, Welles is in vivacious form, munificent with what Jaglom described as his “wonderful, all-embracing laugh,” as Jaglom endows the great man with the final word he would ever utter on screen. Fittingly, it was “Cut.”