In the perceptive words of Thom Andersen, “If New York has Woody Allen to live down, [Los Angeles] can’t feel superior: We have Henry Jaglom, who is even balder, even more narcissistic, even more solipsistic.” Few haughty artistes inspire such cool disdain as readily as Jaglom, truly a world-class egoist and one of the most consistently enervating filmmakers working; since the release of his gaudy BBS-branded debut, A Safe Place, in 1971, his name has been synonymous in certain critical circles with faux-art flamboyance and affected, overblown theatricality. That debut still smacks of art-house pretension, its turgid drama and sentimentalism needlessly complicated by an abrasive editing rhythm that would also find its way, unfortunately, into Dennis Hopper’s otherwise masterful Easy Rider, on which Jaglom briefly collaborated. This tendency to disturb the flow of convention for the sake of appearing radical or progressive is indicative of Jaglom’s overall approach to the filmmaking process, and gratuitous complication is characteristic of not only his style, but his general sensibility as both writer and director. His most recent effort, an adaptation of his apparently quite successful play Just 45 Minutes from Broadway, applies what must by now qualify as a tradition of pointless agitation to the disruption of theater. Unsurprisingly, the results are disastrous.
The basic concept here is that, instead of translating a work of theater into something fundamentally cinematic (a fool’s errand he leaves to sell-outs like David Mamet and Yasmina Reza), Jaglom will preserve the integrity of his play by mounting it as an ordinary live performance—replete with cross-section sets built for the stage, acting delivered to the back of the house, and even act-bookending curtains—and simply film it as it unfolds with a multi-camera, studio-sitcom setup. It becomes obvious based on the style of the performances alone that this project wasn’t only conceived for the stage, but was executed there as well; the bombastic speechifying and constant actorly mugging simply don’t fit into a world of two-shots and close-ups. This essentially theatrical arrangement aspires to generate a work of both cinema and theater simultaneously, and consequently 45 Minutes resembles neither: It instead transforms what might have been a competently composed feature-length film into something more like a public-access television special.