MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

Irene in Time: A Father’s Day Gift from Henry Jaglom

Irene in Time, a movie devoid of any positive male role models, is being released Friday, two days ahead of Father’s Day. Naturally, the peculiar timing begged the question, “Who thought this was a good idea?”

“Actually,” replied writer-director Henry Jaglom, “it was my idea. Sometimes, you need a marketing hook to encourage people to see idiosyncratic films.”

Even so, the reporter’s query gave Jaglom pause.  After a moment’s reflection, this most independent of independent filmmakers summoned his assistant, asking her if it might be too much of a stretch to recommend Irene in Time for a Father’s Day outing.  By interview’s end, 90 minutes later, the issue remained unresolved.

Because the initial engagement for Irene in Time is limited to seven southern California venues, Jaglom cultists will ignore the ironic juxtaposition, seeing in it an intellectual prank.  Although he’s not nearly as prolific as, say, Judd Apatow, his fans eagerly anticipate each new arrival.

What might have prompted the filmmaker to consider a Father’s Day launch in the first place remains a valid question, though, as the answer might lie in his own feelings about parenthood. Even though Jaglom’s children with Victoria Foyt, Sabrina and Simon Orson, began appearing in his films when they were knee-high, the care and feeding of teenagers can be, well, “complex.”

Irene in Time specifically explores the relationships between fathers and daughters, and the potential consequences on the grown women’s relationships to the men in their lives.  The film was informed not only by the emotionally charged recollections of the women in the cast, but also by watching 17-year-old daughter Sabrina grow into womanhood.

“All of the women I know have told me that the relationship with their father was very important to them … both positive and negative,” said Jaglom, in a Sunset Strip office suite overflowing with movie posters, photographs, vintage comic books and magazines, record albums and other memorabilia collected over the course of a lifetime. “How many times have you heard a woman say, ‘I married my father’? That’s what Harriet Schock told me when I hired her to do the music for Irene in Time… then, she sat down at the piano in my living room and played a song she had written, ‘Dancing With My Father,’ which Tanna Frederick would sing in the movie with Harriet’s band.

“I have more daily connections now with my parents, both whom have died, than when I was growing up. The song made me realize we’re all still dancing with our parents.”

Frederick, who also starred in Jaglom’s Hollywood Dreams, plays a vivacious woman in her 20s, thrown for a loop by revelations about her musician father and his roguish behavior on the road. Like so many other little girls who grow up with an absentee dad, Irene Jensen inflated her recollections of their good times together, cherishing the little rituals and minute details, while ignoring the pain. For the most part, her mother (Victoria Tennant) allowed Irene to maintain the fantasy.

Sadly, none of the men in Irene’s life measure up to her memories of Daddy. The ones who come closest suffer from a loss of memory when it comes to their marital status. The others are jerks or normal guys put off by her exceedingly outgoing personality.  The well-meaning guys who ran with Irene’s father back in the day – and have comforted her in his absence – describe someone who is equal parts Chet Baker and James Bond.

It isn’t until Irene meets his most longstanding mistress, a cabaret singer played by Andrea Marcovicci, that all of the pieces of the puzzle come together. While they form a much truer portrait of the man, it isn’t nearly as pretty a picture as the one etched in her mind.  Indeed, the warts cause her to doubt all of her childhood memories, including those supplied by her mother.

Meanwhile, Irene also discovers that her best friend’s father (David Proval) is a pill-popping deadbeat. Jaglom doesn’t speculate as to how much the man’s still-abhorrent behavior might have influenced his daughter’s lesbianism, but Cliff Huxtable, he’s not. (Irene’s own brief flirtation with girl-girl action provides one the film’s more light-hearted moments.)

Irene in Time may be the most structurally accessible of 18 Jaglom’s pictures.  Over the last 20 years, he admits, “I’ve become progressively more interested in the narrative form … and less inclined to be experimental.  Maybe that’s because I have kids and kids aren’t elliptical thinkers … they’re into storytelling.”

As in most Jaglom films, however, the centerpiece moment of Irene in Time arrives when the various women in Irene’s life gather for small talk, food and drink around a large table. Typically, the actors were encouraged not only to improvise, but also speak from their hearts on the movie’s core issue. The conversation is so loose and personal, listening to it borders on voyeurism.

“I was extremely close to my mother and she opened up the world of women to me,” recalled the 68-year-old auteur, wearing the droopy hat that’s become his trademark. “Most of the boys I knew growing up spent their time talking about sports, while the girls discussed more emotional subjects.  That was more real to me then, and it still is.

“As a filmmaker, I’ve wanted to put the lives of women on the screen … something Hollywood movies simply don’t do. I get a lot of letters from women who tell me that my movies made them realize they weren’t alone.”

Jaglom also has had a career-long obsession with films in which love conquers time.  Among the films that have influenced him are Portrait of Jennie, A Guy Named Joe, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, Stairway to Heaven and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. His first directorial effort, A Safe Place, starred Tuesday Weld (“one of my muses”) as a flower child who traveled back in time to find comfort and security in a place she once had experienced a magical moment. (Long unavailable on video, it will be included in Sony’s The New Hollywood Box Set, along with Drive, He Said, Five Easy Pieces, The King of Marvin Gardens, Head, Easy Rider and The Last Picture Show.)

At the end of Irene in Time, father and daughter connect with each other over time. Audiences may disagree, but Jaglom considers the moment to be of sufficiently satisfying to leave viewers with “a reason to feel happy.” That, Jaglom suggested, was justification enough for a Father’s Day gift.

– Gary Dretzka
June 19, 2009

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