Judge P.S. Colbert just gave Henry Jaglom a good review. Is any place safe for him now?
Our review of New Year's Day, published May 21st, 2007, is also available.
"The films…they're like cinematic essays; they're speculations, sometimes philosophical, on various subjects. They're not really made for the mass audience."—Peter Bogdanovich
"Like Woody Allen, he stars in his own movies, like Cassavetes, he uses his own friends…and like Orson Welles, some consider him a genius."—From the documentary Who Is Henry Jaglom?
Facts of the Case
Henry Jaglom Collection, Vol. 2: Three Comedies contains…
Sitting Ducks, the actor-writer-director's most deliberately commercial effort, is a combination caper and road film, about a pair of hapless schmucks (played by Michael Emil and Zack Norman) who contrive to rip off the mob and escape with their loot to retire in Costa Rica. Along the way, they pick up a pair of hapless women (played by Patrice Townsend and Irene Forrest), and complications ensue.
Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? looks in on Zee (Karen Black, Trilogy Of Terror), a woman recently abandoned by her husband, who's in a precarious mental state as a result. While attempting to order food at a sidewalk cafe, she breaks down, attracting the sympathies of Eli (Michael Emil), sitting at the next table. An extremely irregular romance develops.
New Year's Day Resolving to leave the pain of his recent divorce behind, Los Angeles based writer Drew (Henry Jaglom) arrives in New York City on the morning of New Year's Day, thoroughly exhausted, and looking forward to settling into his new apartment for a long winter's nap. Unfortunately, the three young women who shared the previous lease haven't yet vacated the premises. As the day progresses, the doorbell rings continually, and a parade of visitors commences.
Film festival audiences and critics have been arguing about the merit (or lack thereof) of Henry Jaglom's films since the first screening of his directorial debut, A Safe Place, in 1971. And chances are good that unless you're a habitué of Cannes, Venice, or the myriad of film festivals large and small, you've probably never even heard of the independent filmmaker until now.
To hear people talk, you might think Jaglom's films were devised on another planet, but they're often a great deal earthier than most standard multiplex fare. What you need to know going in is that the "plot structures" of these three films are but skeletal frames surrounding a series of scenes where dialogue is almost completely improvised by the participants therein.
Rather than burden his actors with lines to memorize, Jaglom prefers to set up situations and propose character interactions with certain guidelines (some rigid, some extremely loose) and let his camera catch "the truth" that emerges between him yelling "action" and "cut!"
The results are predictably hit and miss, occasionally provoking head-scratching and yawns among audience members. But for good fortune, there also went the likes of Alan Rudolph, Bob Rafelson, and Robert Altman, to name a few.
And while I'm no expert on Jaglom's screen gems (admittedly, I've started watching many more than I've finished), I can't imagine an easier film of his to enjoy than Sitting Ducks, greatly benefited by the expertly comic push-and-pull of leads Zack Norman and Michael Emil—actually Jaglom's older brother, and not a professional actor, but as unique and engaging a character as you're likely to find in American cinema.
Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? is a great deal odder, and artier—sometimes, almost obnoxiously so—but it's also the set's true masterpiece. The title comes from a line in that contagious campfire standard, "Billy Boy," which plays throughout the film (guaranteed to continue in your head for days afterward), and Karen Black (whose performance is a perfectly-tuned primal scream) has never been better. Nearly as good is Michael Margotta (Drive, He Said), in one of the screen's most unusual roles: that of a tiny, cigar-chomping, Fedora-topped charmer of pigeons. Additionally, the film boasts feature debuts from Frances Fisher (Unforgiven) and Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm).
All three films are presented in standard definition 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, given a sweet remastering that almost completely wipes away the years since their original release. Likewise, their Dolby 2.0 Mono audio trakcs make things perfectly clear; a good thing, since no subtitles are available.
Can She Bake A Cherry Pie? features one extra: a "never before seen theatrical trailer" (?), but Sitting Ducks features a treasure trove of bonus features, including a TV interview with Jaglom and Townsend (then married) from 1980, a short film called "My Brother's Sex Life" from 1973, and a Q & A with Norman, Emil and Jaglom at the American Cinematheque to commemorate the feature's thirtieth anniversary. If you find that you still need more of these three, there's also an audio commentary option—whew!
Disclaimer: New Year's Day includes the new addition of its theatrical trailer, but otherwise appears to be an exact duplicate of the version released by Paramount in 2006. That version was reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley. Though I apparently found the film a bit more enjoyable than he did, I cannot quibble with, nor can I possibly improve on Mr. Bromley's critical analysis of it, which I urge you to read for yourself.
The phrase "not for everyone" reasonably applies to just about every film reviewed, but given the notoriously polarizing effect Jaglom's work has on audiences, I'd advise more casual and mainstream viewers to try before they buy. On the other hand, given the reasonable pricing and expert packaging of this collection from Breaking Glass, I'd recommend that any serious film students should jump on this deal before it gets away.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice, Sitting Ducks
Perp Profile, Sitting Ducks
Studio: Breaking Glass
Distinguishing Marks, Sitting Ducks
Scales of Justice, Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?
Perp Profile, Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?
Studio: Breaking Glass
Distinguishing Marks, Can She Bake A Cherry Pie?
Scales of Justice, New Year's Day
Perp Profile, New Year's Day
Studio: Breaking Glass
Distinguishing Marks, New Year's Day
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