Someone to Love
One of Henry Jaglom’s first jobs behind the camera in the American film industry was as an editorial consultant on Dennis Hopper’s 1969 counter-culture classic Easy Rider (1969). But, in many ways, Jaglom’s career is the antithesis of Hopper’s.
In a real-life rerun of Easy Rider, Hopper, after his initial moment of glory, ‘blew it’ on an artistically ambitious project (The Last Movie, 1971), then plunged into a maelstrom of drink, drugs, and bizarre European co-productions, emerging sixteen years later with Blue Velvet and Colors.
Jaglom took another, quieter path after Easy Rider. He created for himself a ‘safe place’ (the title of his first film as director) within the cut-throat American industry, making small, low-budget, personal films. His output has been steady and unspectacular, and over the years he has gathered a faithful audience for films such as Can She Bake a Cherry Pie? (1983) and Always (1985).
His films have an unabashed family feeling, filmed spontaneously at home with friends and lovers, and several of them refer directly and unabashedly to Jaglom’s troubled personal life.
For the most part, Jaglom’s Someone To Love is not so much a story as the documentation of a happening. On Valentine’s Day, Jaglom (fictionalised as a filmmaker named Danny), invites all his single friends to an abandoned theatre to discuss why they have ended up alone in life, without a traditional, lasting marital partner. In little vignettes that are probably half-scripted and half ad libbed, these show-biz types trade lines, philosophies and propositions. At the back of the theatre, and called on to comment at the end, is a wise old sage – Orson Welles, filmed shortly before his death.
Jaglom’s generation of thirty and forty-somethings bought, in their heady ‘60s youth, the notion that love would always be impermanent, that commitment would always be brief, that independence and personality were the most important things in life. Now, they have either built elaborate justifications around their aloneness, or they pine, like Jaglom, for someone to love.
As befits a comedy of manners, Someone to Love stays very much on the surface of its characters’ dilemmas. The problem of everlasting love is talked inside-out but the more painful issues of sexual compatibility are scarcely mentioned. Similarly, while the topic of today’s war between men and women takes up most of the film, Jaglom seems blissfully unaware of a broader, political perspective on the problem. In its many spot-on behavioural details, it is a film that invites rueful laughter and indulgent recognition, but ultimately offers little.
Except, that is, for the presence of Welles. Jaglom is hardly a match for the old man. Where Jaglom flounders with the often superficial obsessions of his time, Welles takes the long view of society and history. Diagnosing Jaglom’s self-indulgent neurosis as “the dilemma of a deeply sentimental man” – someone who clings to lost ideals and so cannot see the future of the human race – Welles’ final advice to the filmmaker is to simply “put on your apron and shut up!”.
Someone To Love is, along the way, a hit-and-miss film, but in this final scene between Jaglom and Welles, it really becomes something to see.
© Adrian Martin December 1989