Thursday, September 25, 2008

Henry Jaglom on "Venice/Venice"


What inspired Venice/Venice?

HENRY JAGLOM: My movies are always in direct relationship to what's going on in my life.

I was invited to be, strangely enough, the American representative, with my film New Year's Day, by the film festival in Venice. It was the only film from America that was in the official competition.

Certainly from the conventional point of view, my films are not the traditional fare that comes out, and festivals no matter how creative and art-oriented they are, they seem to like to support themselves with big, commercial, mainstream films.

In any case, I was stunned that I was invited to be the American representative. New Year's Day had gotten very good reviews in America and had a nice little run, but there was no reason to expect that anybody would take it on that kind of a level. But the Europeans really liked it, and they invited it to the festival with all the hoopla that goes along with being an official invitee, representing of all things the United States.

I'm such a counter-cultural figure here, I thought it would be a really interesting opportunity to make a film about a counter-cultural figure like myself, someone who's far from the mainstream, being invited to represent his country at this oldest and most prestigious of film festivals.

So I did, but I made one condition for my doing it. I figured it was highly unlikely that I would ever be invited again, knowing the films I was intending to make, so I thought, why not take advantage of this and shoot a film -- since I'm very interested in the position of the off-center artist in society -- why not make a film about this unconventional filmmaker who finds that he's invited to be the official representative of the United States, and what will happen to him?

So I made the condition of accepting their nice honor that I would do on the condition that anyone who interviewed me I could interview them at the same time. I would have a crew with me. The Festival people were all too happy to do it, they thought it was fascinating. And so that's how I did.

I brought no crew from America. My cinematographer, who's Israeli, I brought from Israel. He put together a five or six-person crew of Italians in Venice. I had three actors come: My star, Nelly Alard, who came from France, my friend Suzanne Bertish, who came from London, and against my wishes and without my economic support, Daphna Kastner, an actress who I'd used in Eating, who I told, "I'm sorry, I can't afford to bring anyone over for this, it's all going to be shot there," so she got on a plane and came by herself anyway. So I cast her as my assistant that I could annoy and drive crazy.

And that was it. David Duchovny was there, because David was in New Year's Day. So I said to David, "Okay, I want you play a little part in this as well," and he said, "Sure."

I decided I would make it up as I went along, based upon what was happening to me, because that would give a sense of what happens to somebody who comes to the film festival.

Then I thought that the second half will take in California. I structured that half, to reflect my feelings about Venice, America, Venice, Italy, movies, real life and all of that. And that's the part where I did the interviews in my office, and for that part I wrote a much more structured script and brought several of the characters into it who had been in the European half. And then switched it around, turned it around, so that what happened in Venice, Italy was really the movie they shot. We end on the editing machine in my office, editing the Italy part of the movie.

At what point did you decide to make that switch and put what is essentially the second half -- the scenes in Italy that we later discover are actually the movie he's making -- when did you decide to put that sequence first?

HENRY JAGLOM: As I was doing this, I realized that one of my main themes here was the affect of movies on our sense of reality and on our romantic dreams and that this whole movie was kind of a romantic dream. I'm meeting this extraordinary creature, this journalist who falls in love with me and who I fail to attract because I'm being such an asshole and she's expecting the person I am in the movies and all of that. So I thought, that really sounds like a movie.

I didn't think about it while I was shooting the movie in Italy, I just shot it the way I would have shot it anyway. I shot it for its own reality. But when I came back I realized that the Italy segment should be the film that I'm making.

That film does reflect more profoundly, for me, my sense of what my life is like. It really captures in some way, deeply for me, my own interior sense of life. So that's why I'm very attached to it.

You made good use of Nelly's background in physics, particularly when she compares moviemaking and movie watching to the principals that Heisenberg developed.

HENRY JAGLOM: I always do this with my actors -- if they have a particularly interesting bio, I ask "Let's talk about something." So I said to her, "Listen, the most important scene in this movie is going to be a scene -- and you're not going to know when it's going to take place -- but it's going to be a scene where I'm pointing out that this feels like a movie I'm making."

I said, "What I would like to do then is for you to bring in Heisenberg and the cat in the box business, because it becomes this whole metaphor for films and how we see them and seeing them affects our perception of reality and all of that." She said, "Great."

To me it's just a question of finding out what the actor's equipment is, what special aspects they might have handy, that further help explicate a point in the thematic intention. That's why we used the Heisenberg Principal, it worked very nicely.

I love the scene where you're commenting on how noisy the awning above you is, and how it would be tough to shoot a movie in that spot.

HENRY JAGLOM: Well, that's because I was shooting a movie and the goddamned awning was clicking, so the only way to deal with that is to comment on it.

What advice would you give to a filmmaker who wanted to make a movie like yours?

HENRY JAGLOM: It's really simple: Don't do my kind of movie, do your kind of movie. Figure out what your kind of movie is, not my kind of movie. That would be my advice.

And once you've figured out what your kind of movie is, don't let anybody tell you that anything about it is wrong. Don't let anybody diminish your enthusiasm or excitement about it. And insist that you know what you're doing, even if you don't know what you're doing, because you will find out what you're doing as you go along.


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