Film: Double Bill

Portrait of Jennie Dir. William Dieterle (1948) A Guy Named Joe Dir. Victor Fleming (1943)
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The Independent Culture
Henry Jaglom, Director of `Deja Vu', on his Ideal Cinematic Pairing

I LOVED these films in my childhood: the way they dealt with the question of whether love is the ultimate illusion or the ultimate reality.

Portrait of Jennie is an extraordinary film about two people who fall in love across time and therefore cannot be together. A young, struggling painter who is having an artistic crisis goes to Central Park and meets a young girl with something strange about her.

At the end of their meeting, she asks him to wait for her to grow up. A week later he meets the mysterious girl again, who may or may not be real, but has grown many years older.

In A Guy Named Joe, Irene Dunne is in love with a pilot (who is played by Spencer Tracy) who dies on a mission. However he - or rather his spirit - comes back in the form of a young aviator, to help the woman he has loved to open up her heart once again.

They both share the dream of love overcoming all obstacles, which had enormous power over me when I was in my pre-teens, struggling with the whole concept of love. In Portrait of Jennie the obstacle is time, and in A Guy Named Joe it's death.

They deal with how circumstance gets in the way of love, and celebrate the notion of a pure and predestined love between two people whom neither death, nor time, nor logic can keep apart. It is a very wishful, yearning part of human nature that these films appeal to.

Also, the solution is a supernatural one; it hearkens to this childhood wish, this young yearning for the perfect love that defies everything.

My film is tremendously influenced by them, as it also deals with what you do when you meet the love of your life and there are obstacles. It's a walk on the line between fantasy and reality. But how they make it seem natural, and not corny, is the key.

These films pull at a part of your heart that is so separate from reality that the danger is for them to be totally corny.

The way they succeed is by sweeping me into the dream and sort of making me understand that you can live in the parallel universe; on one hand operating with the reality of rules, time, space and logic; on the other, with an interior life that takes you to places that are strange and illogical.

We all daydream, and we all wish. Love is the ultimate lack of logic.

If you saw these films today you might say: hang on. But these movies work without being naff, by setting a logical groundwork of real life as it is, then showing how the heart operates.

For instance, the reality of people's boyfriends and husbands dying in the Second World War would have been very clear to the audience; or the everyday habits such as going for a walk in the park.

However, they suspend reality in a way that cannot be done today.

We are much more suspicious of anything corny; there cannot be a happy ending in a conventional sense. However, at the same time, I believe that we risk confusing realism with cynicism.

These movies made me very uncynical; by affecting me with this dream they enter a place that has very little to do with conventional ideas, yet they talk to the very realest part of our emotional interior.

These are emblematic, but not films that are about the directors. In old films it was about the emotion of the film; the director supported this by creating a kind of dream space that allowed you to enter and suspend your logic at the theatre door. They let you hang up your critical, logical and cynical mind, and, if you were willing (and most audiences were in those days), to enter the romantic dream.

Interview by Jennifer Rodger