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LAist Interview: Henry Jaglom & Cindy Kleine

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Jessie Kahnweiler: Hi Henry, thanks so much for speaking with me today. How are you? (robotic voice saying, "call recording on")

Henry Jaglom: Wait, wait a moment, I think someone is trying to say something.

JK: Yes, that's just the audio recording beginning. Is that okay?

HJ: Of course.

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(Interviewer begins to praise subjects new play, 45 Minutes from Broadway, to which subject praises interviewers review of the play = this verbal love fest continues for a few moments, while interviewer pinches skin through mumu to establish that this moment is happening in reality)

JK: My first "Oh my g-d, how did this movie get inside my head and steal my thoughts!" moment occurred as I was watching your masterpiece, "Eating". I could not believe that a man, of all people, had made that movie.

HJ: Thank you, I always loved that compliment.

JK: The film is just soooo relatable.

HJ: I have never met one woman who does not have some sort of issue with food. I was very happy with the response we got from that film. Even today, they are using it in therapist groups etc. It seems to have really hit a nerve, in the best possible way. I had some very brave actresses. I went into production with a narrative story but all the personal interviews was all them opening up and sharing personal experience.

JK: Yes, but their ability to feel so comfortable was a result of you creating a safe and positive atmosphere on set. That is your gift as a director, to set that tone.

HJ: No, that's less about being a director and more about being my mother's son. Growing up, being around shopping, eating, and talking and eventually realizing my interests lied far more in the feelings and emotional aspects of womanhood rather than the external masculine world of sports, money, and I don't know...mechanics and fighting never really interested me. I've always felt closer to women. I've always just been one of the girls.

JK: What are some of your earliest memories of being creative?

HJ: Like I said, being raised by women in the early 50's, I was privy to these big conversations where they were talking about their hopes, dreams, and feelings all intense and emotional but also with a sense of humor. For every tear there was a laugh. It was so clear to me that this was the side of the fence I belonged on. When I went on my first date in college, she turned to me in the middle of the movie and said "This is so weird, I feel like I'm going out with a boy and a girl at the same time" So when I realized I was going to be able to make movies, it was natural that my films would focus on women's issues. Especially when I realized that the Hollywood system is basically big boy babies making films for other big boy babies. Women are the largely missing factor in all these movies, real women I should say. So I was determined to makes films that focus on all the aspects of women's lives that I'd been observing and when I was lucky enough, participate in.

JK: What do you think that you add as a man by making these very female-centric films? How does you POV add to the experience?

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HJ: I would say I add a bit of jealousy; their sensitivity, their openness, their warmth. Wow, I don't really know what that adds. I do not consider myself a man making a woman's film. It just makes me happy to center on these topics, to surround myself with these issues that I've been toying with since my childhood.

JK: Although your films cover many different topics, they're similar in their documentary-esqe type style; the lighting, acting, camera work, it all just flows so naturally. How much do you plan for the naturalness your films evoke?

HJ: That comes from my work at the Actor's Studio and my understanding of improvisation. And the fact that if you're open to women, they will tell you stuff. I think men create these invisible barriers, based on their own fears and they create these rules stating what we can and can't talk about. Women, well with women there are generally alot less boundaries! When I was working with Vanessa Red--

(Henry interrupts himself as he spots a cop when he's cruising around Beverly Hills. Nervous he's gonna get caught gabbing on the phone, I encourage him to put the phone on his lap and scream into the receiver at me. He obeys.)

JK: In each of your projects you wear so many hats; writer, director, producer, actor--

HJ: And perhaps the most important hat is that of the editor. My films are really made in the editing room because these women give me such material. It's how I choose to put it all together is really where my films come alive. Casting as well.

JK: Do you feel like you have to put on different hats like "Now I'm the editor, now I'm the actor, etc."

HJ: I own one hat.

JK: Let's talk about "Phyllis and Harold" the heart wrenching documentary about the emotional roller coaster of a longtime couple. Your production company, Rainbow Films, is distributing the film. How and why did you get involved with this project?

HJ: I'm always looking for projects that wouldn't normally distributed to the mainstream public, especially films about women. The Filmmaker, Cindy Klein, is an old family friend. She sent me the film, and I offered to distribute it. It really is a gem of a film, a slice of life so real, it shakes you to the core. It's the ultimate tragedy of non-communication and the unfortunate truth about what a lot of marriages used to be about. This film represents what I love about this medium: it takes the personal and makes it universal.

JK: When you're creating your work, which often makes the personal universal, do you have a boundary between your life and your material?

HJ: No, no line at all. In fact, I have often been accused of being an emotional exhibitionist. After I made VENICE/ VENICE they attacked me for being a narcissistic for simply making a film about the emotions and thoughts of what I and friends of mine were feeling at the time. I think that there's good narcissism and bad narcassim. If it's the kind of narcissism that includes other people, that connects them, then it's healthy. I can't imagine anything more rich, complicating and exciting than a person examining their own life.

JK: If there was a trailer made of your life, what song would serve as the score?

HJ: Definitely "La Mer" by Charles Trenet. My mom used to play this song before her and my father would go out on the town. She was born in Germany and this song made her think of her childhood. This song makes me think of my childhood. You know this song "La Mer"?

JK: Hmmm, kind of but I think I may need you to refresh my memory...

And with that the subject begins to serenade me through his homemade speaker phone, cops hot on his tail (at least the way I imagined it). I can feel myself begin to tear up but, like most women, the tear is chased with a laugh.

_______

I didn't have time to transcribe my interview with the director of Phyllis and Harold, Cindy Kleine, but I hope you'll take a few minutes and listen to my interview with her in the player below.

Phyllis & Harold opens today at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills and Laemmle’s Fallbrook 7 in West Hills

45 Minutes from Broadway is currently playing at the Edgemar Center for the Arts

Article by Jessie Kahnweiler