A Letter from filmmaker, Henry Jaglom

Henry Jaglom and Paul Newman — source: Henry Jaglom

If you read my interview with the legendary indie filmmaker, Henry Jaglom, then you’ll remember we became friends, quarantine e-pals, and exchanged many, many, many emails back and forth in 2020 during the lock down.

Here it is for a refresher:

The letter below was not addressed to me but Henry sent it to me to read and it struck something in me about the romance of filmmaking and the concept of changing with the times.

I thought fellow film lovers and curious minds would enjoy reading it so I asked Henry if I could post it. So, with his blessing, here’s a glimpse into what filmmaking once felt like for this filmmaker and how the evolution of technology, as glorious as it can be, can leave some longing for the more tactile experience of yesteryear.

Dear old friend — -

I very much like your brother, very clear and helpful and nice —
And obviously excellently on his game…this New game that technology has brought us to —

The possibilities are clearly great, I am trying to integrate that into my stubborn old head as best I can. I am really trying to integrate it ALL into my still-1940’s type movie-brain… I’m such a creature of habit, you know, I have been AT IT a certain way FOR SO LONG NOW, 45 years, that I must admit that it takes my head a while to shake all the old stuff loose and fully open up my mind to the new — —
Especially when it comes to technology replacing real life…

But I am much more than willing, excited actually, at the possibility of finding an economically reasonable way -
allowed by all the truly amazing new technology you two showed us —
to bring
Train To Zakopane to the screen — -

screenshot from Entertainment Voice

I know Orson would tell me not to hesitate and to play catch-up, He would insist, in fact, that was his way…
It was he who forced me to edit my first movie,
A Safe Place, on a Kem flatbed machine with the three screens and two sound plates — which seemed more than enough for all my purposes — but was so far advanced over the hand-and-foot run Moviolas then still in use in 1971 when I started that no one knew what that flatbed was about and all of Hollywood was still pedaling away in their editing rooms with their editors operating their everlasting Movieolas…and, of course, like me today, resisting change….

source: wikipedia

And there was, you may be surprised to know, considerable resistance when I insisted on a Kem (as per Orson)
to cut my first movie, resistance from all the executives in the Columbia executive Dining Room (the Studio that had produced it and at which I was now beginning to cut it) with them sort of looking at me as something of a freak in my Israeli/Australian Army hat and British Policewoman’s great RainCape…
I wouldn’t have gotten that Kem if my producer hadn’t been the son (and then the brother) of the head of the Studio.
And when I had to fire my coked-out editor and took over the whole thing all by myself, despite union rules that a director could not touch his editing apparatus (only Union Editors were allowed to do that, they told me), my movie-making life really began.

Henry at his editing machine. Source: Henry Jaglom

So please understand, 45 years later, I happily did 16 or 17 movies that way, like a sculptor, making every cut and splice and tape myself, for some 35 happy years.

And tho I’ve worked the last 3 films on computers, I now need (someone) to make all the cuts and do all the actual editing —
Without (someone) there I can’t really work, I can just look at it back and forth and make notes, and sigh frustratingly at being unable to get my hands on it, frustrated beyond belief by being unable to cut and splice and cut and splice, unable on my own terms and at my own hours to beat the shit out of the thing until it looks like I want it to and the sun is up.

I so completely enjoyed the endlessly tough process, the long nights of working this way until sunrise, that, apparently I have since learned, it even helped cost me my marriage.

Now, not being able to do that by myself anymore, with computers having taken it all over is, for me, endlessly frustrating, and sometimes deeply depressing, even though I very clearly see all the amazing and wonderful advantages of the extraordinary speed and techno-trickery that are now so readily at one’s fingertips, if one knows how to do it.

But, you know, I was used to sitting up all night by myself and really making my movies, I mean Really Making Them,
entirely with my own two hands and on my own weird, frequently all-night schedule —Night after night, when all in the office had gone home, there I was happily carving away until dawn at that great bulk of filmic material with my own two hands in order to — as Orson said I did, quoting an Old Eskimo in a documentary who was asked what he was making as he carved away at a giant Walrus Tusk: Bewildered by the question, the Old Eskimo simply answered :

“I don’t know. I’m trying to find out what is INSIDE of it!“

“THAT’S YOU” Orson told me when he came to my editing room to visit and kibbitz as he watched me pluck pieces of Film and pieces of Track from here and there and stitch them together and run them through the two screens, examining them and juxtaposing them in every possible way,

“That’s YOU, Henry, carving away at all of us, trying to find out what is inside of us all…”

So that was me, that old Eskimo, and that made my filming such an exciting adventure as I was trying, each time, to find my film that was hidden within the walrus tusk.

More Art & Stories from Annie

Former Dating Game Show Host. Current Author, TV/Film/VO Actor & Artist. Enthusiasm Enthusiast. 🥳 Care to support the arts? https://ko-fi.com/anniewood

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