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‘Henry Jaglom?’ Looks at Filmmaker’s Life

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With their punchy, volatile “Who Is Henry Jaglom?,” documentarians H. Alex Rubin and Jeremy Workman have come up with an answer worthy of one of America’s most idiosyncratic and important independent filmmakers.

They whip up lots of debate over Jaglom’s talent or lack of same that’s fun but is not to be taken seriously. That’s because Jaglom, a filmmaker for 25 years, has been around long enough that his work is beginning to stand the test of time.

That’s not to say Jaglom isn’t an acquired taste, for as filmmaker Ross McElwee so precisely observes, Jaglom explores that “gray area between fiction and documentary.” (His late friend, director Louis Malle, once said, “He improvises a lot, but, excuse me, it shows.”)

This means that in his constant search for spontaneity and truth, Jaglom by necessity is a risk-taker. Jaglom, in common with all other filmmakers, does not hit a home run every time at bat, but there is no Jaglom film that doesn’t have its moments. Among his best films are “Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?,” “Always,” “New Year’s Day,” “Someone to Love,” “Eating” and especially his latest, “Last Summer at the Hamptons,” which revealed a new formality and maturity.

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Jaglom is a gregarious, highly verbal man with a genuine concern for others. You have the feeling that he’d like to film every moment of his life, so intense is his need to express himself--perhaps even validate his life--with a camera. He believes that “there’s no such thing as too personal. . . . There’s nothing better than truth on film,” yet at the same time, his work does reveal a sense of taste and discretion.

Rubin and Workman rightly focus on Jaglom’s friendship with his mentor, Orson Welles, but they don’t pin down that the great lesson Jaglom learned from Welles is the importance of maintaining independence. The filmmakers also don’t explore the connection between that independence and the fact that Jaglom comes from a wealthy family.

On the whole, however, they’ve done a terrific job of capturing Jaglom and his bustling world, and in doing so they call attention to a filmmaker of unique accomplishments.

* “Who Is Henry Jaglom?” airs on “P.O.V.” at 10 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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