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Henry Jaglom & Victoria Foyt—Going Shopping, A Safe Place—11/22/05

Writer-director Henry Jaglom and writer-actor Victoria Foyt collaborated on Babyfever, Last Summer in the Hamptons, Déjà Vu, Festival in Cannes (in which Foyt did not appear), and the new film Going Shopping. An informal follow-up to Jaglom's two films about female compulsion—Babyfever and EatingGoing Shopping is a prismatic look at consumption as catharsis. Jaglom is also known for his long and varied career, beginning as an actor (gigging on sitcoms like The Flying Nun and Gidget), then proceeding to the sensation of 1971's A Safe Place and a storied career as a director. Among his many films, Jaglom also directed his friend Orson Welles twice (in A Safe Place and Someone to Love) and appeared in Welles' never-released The Other Side of the Wind. Jaglom and Foyt—real-life marrieds—submitted to my questions about Going Shopping, the filmmaking process, and Orson Welles during their press tour at San Francisco's Prescott Hotel.

Groucho: First of all, how long has Going Shopping been gestating?

Henry Jaglom: Gestating? All my life, certainly. How about you, Victoria?

Victoria Foyt: I guess, well, about four or five years, because it took Henry several years to actually cut the movie. So awhile.

HJ: But gestating in terms of my desiring to create the movie is from my earliest childhood observing my mother and all her women friends, and then as I grew up in my various relationships, watching the women that I knew in this world all obsess in one way or another about the extraordinary thing of shopping and what it meant to them.

VF: From that point of view, I guess from the first trip—my mother took me to Saks in Bell Harbor—where I lived in Coral Gables, in Bell Harbor in Miami Beach. We never went to Miami Beach—it was a very rare special occasion. But my aunt was in town when we went there, and I remember seeing an art-deco beaded dress and thinking, "Oh my God. There's another world outside of here that exists that I know nothing of."

G: How did your perception of the subject shift over the time you were working on the project?

HJ: Well, for me it was just extraordinary to discover how many dark aspects there were to it. I always thought of shopping as just a joyous, fun thing and that women were very lucky in the way they used the shopping to adorn themselves, to enjoy their company of each other, to plunge into this wonderful, delightful world, it seemed to me. The great discovery for me was the darkness—was the sadness that's behind some of it for some women—how it's used therapeutically in terms of dealing with certain kinds of pain in life and some of the aspects of that deprivation and so on and how complicated the subject is. That's what I had not understood.

VF: Yeah, I think the same for me. I was initially not—a little bit reticent to do a film about shopping. I thought, well, it must be superficial and all that—

HJ: I don't know why you keep feeling the need to say that. I'm always a little concerned that you're saying that.

VF: Why are you concerned?

HJ: Well, because—okay, never mind.

VF: No, why are you concerned?

HJ: Well, because, you know you always seem to want to emphasize the fact that you were reticent at the beginning of making the film—

VF: Well, I only say it to emphasize how, in exactly the same way, I became extremely fascinated because his question, in fact, was what was our sense of discovery in it, so I'm starting from my initial point of reticence. It seems a very logical place—

HJ: I withdraw my objection.

VF: In relation to his question, which prompted me to say it in the first place—and I became very fascinated because even the fear of superficiality is something in it. And, you know, it's not a documentary at all. There is a very strong narrative to it, but the talking heads and my own work in preparing the character and writing the script with Henry made me think a lot about an issue that you take for granted, and underneath it there's this huge web of emotion.

G: Speaking of that kind of darker side to the film, the store Holly G is festooned with these fashion ads and movie posters and—

HJ: No fashion ads—mostly magazine covers and movie posters.

G: I took that as a kind of comment on the way we're being sold attractive fantasies through the media. And that feeds into this idea of what the store is selling to the women that makes them feel good. So there's two sides to that—that the women feel euphoric while shopping, but also that maybe they're being had in some way by this process.

VF: Because they can't live up to it, right?

G: Yeah.

VF: Yeah, and that little girl—that heartbreaking interview, when she says, what, I think she's fourteen, fifteen—when she says, "Well, I like to go shopping, and I like to be in fashion so people will like me." And it starts very young in our culture—to put that emphasis on the external. And I think that's a big arc of the movie...

HJ: Yes...the journey is very important. And the way that society uses—innoculates people in using shopping. It's a very big part of it.

G: There's also the question of materialism. I noted that when Holly and Adam are breaking up, part of their argument is over who's going to take the property. And it also led me to ask, at the end of the film, without--I'll warn the readers—but I had to ask myself, is it a happy ending?

VF: Well, I think that's a good thing that you don't know. Right? Because it's an issue. And it's a complex issue. I think that with the main characters, you can kind of project how the story might unfold in their lives if they're weren't fictional—

HJ: And be happy.

VF: But I think that you wouldn't expect, having come out of the story, that everything is going to be perfect. So it's not a traditional happy ending where everything is neatly sewed up and tied up, but if you were to project an ending that continued in a reasonably happy way, you would still see that, okay, this is life, this is real.

G: Yeah.

VF: (aside to Henry) That was a good answer.

G: For those talking-head, or "Shopping Head" confessionals, are the women speaking for themselves?

HJ: Yes, completely. I mean, what we did was interview a lot of women and then try to string their interviews, which were entirely their own—because I did not want to predetermine what the film would be concluding about the issue of shopping. I thought it was important to try to create a large tapestry in which you get a lot of representational views of what it is for different individuals, and then find a way of threading that into our very narrative, dramatic story, if you will. So those women were not in any way encouraged to go one way or the other. It was entirely from their own lives, their own experiences that they spoke—and then, of course, in the editing room, I get the selective choice to try to do what I feel is a representative sampling, if you will, both from terms of being entertaining, but also in terms of really hitting the major issues. So some of those women are very sad, and some of them are very joyous—as, in fact, some women are very joyous about shopping and life, and some find it very troubling.

G: Yeah. I think you very much get the breadth from those.

HJ: Oh, good.

G: People are fascinated by your counter-cultural devotion to women's issues. Do you feel you have a lot of personal insight, or is it more of a matter of facilitating your actors—

HJ: No, no. I hope it's personal, but I don't know that you'd call it insight. It's personal identification, I think. I have been very close to women all my life, and all my closest friends are women. And I was close with my mother as a child. And I was given a unique kind of access for a male, I think. My mother never said, "You can't participate in this because you're a boy." So I was allowed to cross a lot of lines. And that gave me permission to really be close to women and listen to them and pay attention and hear what they were talking about. And what they were talking about was this range of very personal expression, whether it was about eating or about shopping or about babies or about their hearts and their needs and their dreams. It reflected a kind of personal, intimate view of life which my male friends didn't talk about. And the men I knew in life, as I grew up, I realized, kept that to themselves, or didn't even experience that to a large extent, and they talked about external things, removed from their own feelings, removed from their own emotions. And it seemed to me that the life of women was an enormously profoundly, emotionally available one in a way that the lives of men frequently weren't. And therefore, as I became a filmmaker, I wanted to try to dig into that and sort of expose that—share that—in a way that I feel that Hollywood movies just doesn't represent—which is, to show, really, the lives of women, so that women going to the theatre and the men who care about women who go to the theatre will see some truth about the lives of women. And that's what the goal is.

G: I read Anaïs Nin's essay on A Safe Place. I gather she played a big role in the development of your following.

HJ: It's because of Anaïs that I have a following. My first movie, A Safe Place, opened to disastrous reviews. All the critics, who were all men then, tore into it. It was a movie about a young woman's fantasies and dreams, and it was really attacked. The form was—now you see it all the time on MTV—but at that time, it was unheard of to jump around in time and space and so on, the way I did. And a year after it opened in New York and disastrously bombed, when it finally opened in L.A., she came and saw it and wrote this extraordinary piece that she put into all the counter-culture magazines. And that gave me my first—she took the film under her arm—a 16mm print—and started going to college campuses and talking to women's groups and gave me my first audience, which was, in fact, the conscious women who were investigating women's subjects at that time, and who were really looking for a few films that might reflect some truth about women's lives. And that has always been the core audience, even though the audience happily has expanded beyond that. I'm always very aware of making some films which, hopefully, will truthfully target that audience.

G: I'd like for you both to talk me through the process of making one of these films. You work from an outline, right? A series of scenarios?

VF: Not really, actually. It's much more than an outline. On Going Shopping, we had a full script. And it starts differently each time. Shopping was Henry's idea. And then I wrote the first draft of a full three-act script. And then we passed that back and forth, and it fleshed out, each time, more and more. Then by the time we got to the set, I've got to sort of divorce myself from being the writer and put on my acting hat, and the director morphs into a whole other stage. In the acting, a lot of times I know that there are certain points—especially since I'm the main character in this movie—I'm really aware of the thread all through it. So I know what certain points have to be hit—what certain notes have to be hit, if you will, in each scene. At the same time, and since the other actor may not be aware of that, or is concentrated on it, I have to really let go of that. So it's a kind of schizophrenic process, for me, to let go of that and really just be present and respond and work with that actor. But I always have the safety net of knowing that, unlike other writers, who rewrite and rewrite before they get to the set, that our rewriting happens, then, when Henry goes in the editing room and takes those pieces of film and really massages them and works them and rearranges, sometimes, in unexpected ways within the scene and sometimes within the whole arc of the story, in such a way that there can be no wrong. And so it gives you great freedom. But it's a very, very unique process. And it's very liberating. And I think it's—I don't think anyone actually works this way.

G: What do you do when you find an actor is not responsive to that way of working?

HJ: That's a great question. I mean, that's really a good question which nobody has asked me. It happens quite frequently. Sometimes the best actors, who are used to a traditional way of working—when I say to them, "Well, that was good. I like that scene. Now continue the scene." And they say, "But there's nothing else written." And I say, "Yeah. Just continue the scene, and I'll tell you when to stop." Some very fine actors get very uncomfortable with that. If I can create the atmosphere which can allow them to use parts of themselves, magic happens, because they then can tap into parts of themselves. And sometimes, in the editing room, what they've given me themselves, is so much more exciting. How I came to this whole process is I wrote a complete script for my first movie, A Safe Place—a very detailed script which you needed to do to get the money to make the film, you know. Columbia Pictures produced it, and I gave them a script. And on the first day of shooting, I had Tuesday Weld and Jack Nicholson, both of whom are very close friends of mine, and I had them in a scene that I thought was very well-written—because I'd written it myself and I like myself as a writer—and I gave them the scene, and they're great actors. Then they did the scene and it was good, but it wasn't as exciting as either one of them is in life. And I knew that something was wrong. And I said three times, "Let's do it again, let's do it again." And then finally I said, "Look, just throw away what I wrote. You know what has to happen in this scene." And they flew. And I realized—I didn't look at that script again for the rest of the shoot, which is part of the reason that the audience has had such a hard time with it. But I think that was extremely liberating for me and very freeing because I realized that actors bring their own language, their own memories, their own ideas, their own feelings, and if you can let them tap into those, and have that support your story with color and emotions and feelings that you might not ever think of, it just adds a tremendous dimension to the work.

G: And it really forces actors to put their mouth where the money is in terms of the sense of play.

VF: Yeah, as an actor, I think working this way, more than anything, besides having—well, for me—because I've worked in several films with Henry now—it's like I really have to know who my character is, through and through and through, so that I can be that character in any situation. And it's a living process of acting—really carrying it forward to a make-believe situation that you might not as much as if you had just this script to rely on--because you don't know how the character might react, but if you're living that character and being that character and also bringing yourself to the character, you get surprised.

HJ: Right. And if you're surprised, then the audience is surprised. And for me, that's the most exciting aspect of filmmaking.

G: I was just going to say, it brought to mind a scene in the film that did surprise me—where Holly is selling to the daughter and her mother. And I think that my initial perception was "Well, she doesn't put any of the prices on there so she can kind of screw them out of the most money--"

HJ: Oh, just the opposite.

G: And it turns out to be very much the opposite—and that she takes a joy in selling, not for the economic gain, but from bringing joy to the customers in her store. So that really kept me on my toes and I think that speaks to that freedom of working.

HJ: Well, also the Lee Grant character—if you think about what Lee Grant as Holly's mother does in this film—she brought a sense of her own mother into this character. And that freed her to create things and have spontaneous response like that whole story—"Go to the right breast, go to the left breast"—that neither of us never would have written, because that was something that was specific and peculiar to her own experience and memory. And she came up with constant, wonderful color and depth once she got the character—that she knew what the character was—she was free to attach to it whatever of her own—and, in this case, her mother—that she used for the character. And I just find that it's a very, very rich device that gives you the opportunity to deepen your story a great deal.

G: We were speaking earlier of editing. Were there any scenes on this film that were very difficult to let go of, but for the sake of the rhythm of the film had to go by the wayside?

HJ: That's a great question, too.

VF: Well, we had one scene where my character gets caught with a sensor on her skirt and—which, I don't want to reveal why, because that gives other details of the story—and I really wanted it in. And we didn't use it—I don't know why.

HJ: Well, one of the reasons we didn't use it was usually the reason I don't use something. And that has to do with the fact that something was off in the acting. Not your acting in this case, but the guy who played the guard a little bit. Or something was off in the cinematography, or it just doesn't look right, doesn't feel right. So I have to find a way of accomplishing the story point without the actual—

VF: I think to answer your question, more in this film, things were eliminated—what Clint Eastwood once told Henry—"the cruel cut"—wasn't necessarily narrative, but the interviews. We could have made three movies of interviews. There was so much great stuff. But you had to find the balance.

HJ: Yeah, I think you should know what that "cruel cuts" comment is all about. I was cutting Last Summer in the Hamptons, and I was having a particular problem, and I was on the phone with Clint Eastwood about something else, and I was telling him this problem that I had, and he said: "You really love this scene?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "Is it really good?" I said, "Yeah, it's terrific." And he said, "Try the movie without it." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "If you really love a scene—if you really think it's a great scene—take it out of the movie and run the movie without it. And if it works without it, that's the 'cruel cut'—that's what you have to do." I said, "Well, for your movies, maybe, because you're really involved in narrative—dynamic narrative. But for me, it's more color. I don't want to totally—" But it forced me to re-look at things and try to be tougher on myself about "Okay, I like this, but does this really serve me?" Which is what I think his point was.

G: Right. And writers call that "killing your babies."

VF: Right. Killing your babies, yeah.

HJ: Oooooohh. Victoria has a novel coming out, so she's—

VF: I had to kill some babies in my book. I understand that.

G: I read just the briefest outline of your novel—

VF: Oh!

G: Is that something that—since you've also directed an acclaimed short film, have you given a thought to perhaps directing a feature of that novel?

VF: I won't say no. I won't say never. But I'm really happiest writing fiction, and that's what I've been doing consistently, full-time now the past few years. And since this book sold—thank you, God!—and I've got my foot in that world, I'm pursuing that. Directing is such a demand on your entire psyche—body and soul—and I find it extremely demanding. I loved it when I did it, and it was also a liberation for me because, having worked with Henry for twelve years up to that point, I was able to do everything my way, completely one-hundred percent, writing and directing and producing—and it was a liberating exercise, so I loved it. But I don't underestimate what it requires.

G: With Hollywood Dreams, will that film address the disparity between men's and women's voices in film?

HJ: My next movie, Hollywood Dreams?

G: Mm-hm.

HJ: Will it address the disparity between men and women in film? That film doesn't have much to do with men and women. It has to do with ambition and the drive for fame that obsesses so many people who, from various homes around the country and around the world, come to Hollywood with one dream in mind —and that is to be on the cover of some magazine and to be featured in Access Hollywood or whatever—not even about the art, not about the creative process, but, somehow "Look at me. Look at me. I'm famous. I've become famous!" So that's what that film's about. And that, I think, is an equal opportunity discriminator or lack of discrimination. I don't think there's any distinction between men and women in that.

G: Sounds like the lottery.

HJ: Yeah. And it's such an absurd statistic. I mean, you are so going against all odds that you have to be so driven emotionally by some childhood angst and pain—and I identify very much with that from my own history—that you want—that you need to have this sort of attention of the world on you, no matter for what exactly, that I just think it's a fascinating subject.

G: Your films are sort of a photo album of your mind over the years, I think. Have you ever been tempted or attracted to doing a project that you didn't initiate at all—an adaptation of something that was close to you?

HJ: Never. Early in my career, The Bell Jar was discussed, and that one excited me, of course, for obvious reasons. So much that I had a script written and—

VF: National Lampoon.

HJ: No, I did that because Orson Welles said to me once, "Look, you have to learn, once and for all, if you can work within their system," he said to me. "They're offering you to do this after Sitting Ducks," which was, in commercial terms, a successful comedy I made. They had just made Animal House and offered me half a movie, the other half to be directed by another director, called National Lampoon Goes to the Movies, I think was the original title. And it was a stupid script that was full of terrible, tasteless jokes and stuff, and Orson said, "Take it. It will only take so-and-so much time out of your life. You'll find out whether you can work with a crew of a hundred people and with a producer and a studio system that doesn't allow you to edit your own film"—you know, "you'll find out." I found out what I needed. They re-cut and made a horror—I don't think the thing was ever released theatrically, thank God, though unfortunately it floats around somewhere on tapes. And I learned what I needed to learn, which was that I could never work within their system, and never have again.

G: Is it accurate to say that you've been away from the theatre pretty much in between A Safe Place the first time, and A Safe Place, the revival?

HJ: Yeah. Good for you to know about the revival.

G: I'm curious if you think you may go back to the theatre?

HJ: Well, I just recently had a bad experience. I tried to produce a play that I thought was very—by the man—by N. Richard Nash, who wrote The Rainmaker—a play called Echoes, and nobody came. I couldn't get an audience to come. And in Los Angeles, theatre is a very difficult thing. I was trying to create an offshoot of my Rainbow Film company, call it the Rainbow Theatre company. It exists as a vehicle, and I'm not saying no to that, and I hope maybe to do more, but I keep feeling there's some need for a certain kind of theatre similar to the kind of films, in the sense that we make—but it's a very, very difficult thing. "I don't know" is the true answer to that. If something comes along that excites me, I mean, maybe I will do that again.

G: It's a noble goal, but a tough row to hoe.

HJ: It's just really tough to spend months and months of your life on something and then you've got more people on stage than you do in the audience, so it's very hard. A film, at least, exists, so you know it's there. If people don't go today, they may go tomorrow. And that it will be on DVDs.

G: Henry, your body of work as an artist is clearly significant. But I also have to say that I think you're a hero of American cinema for standing by Orson Welles in the '80s.

HJ: Well, thank you. I unfortunately failed, so I don't consider myself a hero. Because I tried to get financing for Orson in the last ten years of his life. I did everything I could and it was unsuccessful. I couldn't do it, anymore than Orson was able to do it in the ten prior years. So I feel terrible about that, in fact, because they wouldn't let him make his movies. I gave him hopefulness—that I feel good about. He would come—he would call me in the middle of the night and say, "Hey, listen to this." And he would read me four pages that he wrote. And they were great. And then I'd encourage him and he'd write a whole script. And then I couldn't get it done anywhere. So it was frustrating, but it was so exciting to see him hopeful again and creative again. And he was always like a kid who was willing to jump back in the pool, you know? I feel good about the time I spent trying to get those projects going, and I feel great about—just the company of this wonderful friend of mine. But I feel sad that I was never able to get him the work.

G: Although I think it is a victory that The Big Brass Ring came out of your talks.

HJ: Yeah. Thank you. A friend of mine, F.X. Feeney, ended up writing the screenplay and doing quite a good job on it, I think—trying to make it work. But it still wasn't Orson's movie—I mean, the original screenplay came out of my pressure on Orson, and I'm very happy—but I couldn't get him the money to do it, you know?

G: Though it's published now. People can read it.

HJ: Thank you. That's good.

G: I certainly enjoyed getting the opportunity to read that.

HJ: Good. That makes me feel—but just imagine what kind of film that would have made! It would have been a bookend to Citizen Kane. But about America at the end of the century the way Citizen Kane was about America at the beginning of the century.

G: I think the film that was made was a disappointment.

HJ: It's not what Orson would have made at all, so it was not related to that.

G: I also wanted to ask you about King Lear. I've read a lot about The Dreamers and The Big Brass Ring and why those didn't come together. What was the real sticking point for King Lear, do you think?

HJ: Just couldn't get the money. It was very simple. He wrote this brilliant concept of Lear. It was going to be a black-and-white film, very much in close-up, about how men are made insane by the absence of women in their lives. And by how that creates a certain kind of male insanity. And it was five million dollars that we were unable to raise. We kept having people tell us yes and then it turned out to be no. Orson had this—he was too much of an artist to be in a so-called industry that did not value art, but values people who are successful in commercial terms only.

G: You've said that you would never resort to financing your own films. Do you think the people who do—who are in a position to finance films—are they a little crazy to be doing that?

HJ: No. Everybody does it their own way. Orson spent his life putting together—making commercials in Japan and wherever he could—and getting $25,000 here and $50,000 there—and then putting it together for financing his thing. I think whatever way you can get a film made—you should get a film made. That's all. I just think if you can possibly, you know, get foreign support, it's the best way to do it—because then nobody's looking over your shoulder.

G: ...Thank you very much.

HJ: ...Good questions. Thank you.

VF: Thank you.

[For Groucho's review of Going Shopping, click here.]

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