Talk is cheap — otherwise Henry Jaglom couldn’t afford to make movies. In the last 20 years, this little-known wonder has written, directed, and occasionally starred in eight low-budget films that feature characters chattering endlessly about their deepest, darkest subtexts. Frustrating and amusing, ridiculous and challenging, Jaglom’s movies are cheaper but more emotionally ambitious than nearly anything that comes out of the major studios. That alone makes them worth seeing, and one of home video’s advantages is that something this oddball can be seen outside the urban art houses. They’re also very funny, however, and that only enhances their appeal.
Jaglom films are about the ugly, messy, and comical depths to which people go in order to rationalize their fears. Jaglom takes it for granted that modern man has surrounded himself with B.S. What he’s interested in is separating the B.S. that keeps us sane from the B.S. that keeps us from connecting.
So in 1983’s Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? emotional Manhattan neurotic Karen Black and fussy Manhattan neurotic Michael Emil romance each other the only way they know how: by displaying their anxious quirks the way peacocks display their tail-feathers. The obsessions range from the mild (addiction to old movies) to the extreme (full-blown paranoia), and the comedy lies in the way these two fool themselves without fooling each other for a second. The pleasure lies in watching them coax each other toward normality.
Unfortunately, Jaglom likes to flaunt his uncommercial style like a badge of integrity, as if hand-held camera work somehow made his tales more important. That’s true of Cherry Pie and especially of Tracks.
Still, it’s because he makes an art form out of self-conscious yammering that this director divides audiences so sharply: Depending on your point of view, Jaglom’s either one of the best-kept secrets in independent filmmaking or a pox upon it, a lucid, funny ironist or a self-indulgent whiner. He’s all of those, of course. That’s what makes his movies interesting. B-