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 Acting ~ Film ~ "Tracks"

TRACKS remembered ... by Cayle Chernin
With GDTR I was present for an experience in Canadian film making which is still regarded as seminal. I was also 'there' in a somewhat less happy way for Henry Jaglom's second film in Los Angeles, TRACKS. I always thought it turned out to be a bit of a mish-mash. Henry hadn't quite perfected his style of film making, but he was vigilant about it. He could "feel" if an actor was being "truthful". At one point he screamed at me onset: "you can't act!" - by then I was so inured to him, I just tried to improvise on. American Director Paul Wiliams, on-set that day on the train, L.A. to San Diego (I think) Daily runs, said I was "a brave actress."

Cayle with director Henry Jaglom
It's not the only time I've had my work called brave, I think it means: "you are so foolish, it almost works."

A lot of the footage that did end up in the movie was shot with these daily trainloads of children of movie Stars, Taryn Power, Topo Swope and many more.

The girls were beautiful and far more deserving of the attentions of Dennis the Menace because they thought he was just an old weird actor and didn't get sucked in the way I did. I felt like I was making movie history, that I was having an amazing opportunity to live life to the fullest, to make the most demands on myself, to soar creatively. I thought Dennis was amazingly dedicated to the work. He harranged me for hours the first night we shot in New York because when I was leading him through the crowd in front of St. Patrick’s cathedral on I think the eve of the Easter Parade he kept walking on my heels. I was "going too slowly," he said, causing him "to walk on my heels." I was leading and I "wasn't doing it right."

Tracks Still  
Hurry Up and Wait ...
Henry said I was absolutely terrible until the one scene that has stayed in the film, and which was the first scene I wrote when Henry asked me to make changes to the script he'd written for and with Bob Rafelson 5 years before for Jack Nicolson to star in.

We always referred to it as "the cottage cheese scene." I frankly think I'm terrible. I can see that I was trying to be Tuesday Weld because these were the responses Henry wanted to draw out of me, or something - I'll never really know what happpened, if he hated me on camera, I think the more he hated me the worse I got ...

Dennis didn't help, he was very hard to work with. A bully - you always have to play on their turf, and they try to trip you up all the time, constant tests to see if you really can hang out with the boys. I was a very willing participant. Henry thought I was way too willing, but he's the one who put me in the same compartment on the train with Dennis when we were shooting around corners and trying stuff and getting caught and almost thrown off the train ... all kinds of excitement and I was lost in the world of Dennis and "making movies." Let me be clear - It's entirely possible that I was hideous on camera. I'm less than lovely in the cottage cheese scene that Henry felt was the only thing usable. As droll and wonderfully aware Randy Spires of Toronto radio station fame once said to me: "You didn't look like a leading lady." I was so out of it, caught up in living out a mad adventure ... Alice had indeed fallen down the rabbit hole and was having too much fun hanging out with some wild people. In other words: I was nuts.

Tracks Still
With Dennis Hopper
I read the original script for TRACKS five years earlier when Eli Rill took me to New York for my first time - he was someone who helped me to a lot of "first times" - those important times when it matters so hard.

Five years later, when Henry decided to make the movie with Dennis, as Jack and Rafelson were on to other things he asked me to do some rewriting on the script, I was to provide scenes between the character Fran (of Zooey fame) and Dennis' character Jack. Henry was creating an on screen family like Saliger had created his short stories family and calling her Fran was a tribute to Salinger.

Just as Tuesday Weld in his first film A SAFE PLACE was his female self, a beautiful, unstable, feeling woman-child, bewitched, bothered and bewildered and beautiful, I was to be Fran, a kind of new woman, not to be too confused with New Age, but a feminist, curly-haired "type."

Henry loved calling people "types" but he did it very charmingly.

We shot scenes in Henry's parents' apartment where Dennis, a soldier home from Vietnam escorting a dead hero's casket, his buddy who he is bringing home to the small New England town that he came from, acosts me in the apartment and has sex with me, after which I'm much friendlier and then he screams at me for not understanding the world he comes from - sheltered as I am in wealth and dumps me.

This is the equivalent scene in the movie where he fucks Taran Power very unromantically in a field, shaming her.

In the final scene we discover that the coffin is full of guns and ammunition as Dennis comes up from the grave armed and dangerous to Mei lei a small New England town.

It was about the soldiers back from Vietnam who weren't heros like in the other great Wars. They were schmucks - trained killers in a bad war.

Tracks Still
With Dennis Hopper
TRACKS was very important in my development as an actor and a person. It sent me screaming home from Hollywood, unfortunately a bit late rather than sooner. It was a trial by fire working with Henry, Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell on a train that for me derailed when we pulled into L.A. and Henry started really shooting the movie. I was part of the warm-up and the boys had a lot of fun with me and vice versa. Dean actually came onboard in L.A. and we were the Three Muskateers, only they did okay and I got left on the cutting room floor.

I subsequently landed in New Mexico as Dennis' guest which resulted in me finally devloping a healthy respect for 'something larger than my own feelings' at about 3 a.m. in the middle of a New Mexican road other words I grew spiritually from having been in a dangerous place. I don't recommend this method of spiritual enlightenment, or acting but I like to think, since I did it, it worked for me. I'm pretty sure I learned something. I'd already been in GOING DOWN THE ROAD, LOVE IN A FOUR LETTER WORLD and thought I was ready to make my Hollywood debut and I wanted to do in in Tracks.

Tracks Still  
Continuity Still: with Dennis Hopper
I had seen A SAFE PLACE - Tuesday Weld, Orson Wells, Jack Nicolson -- in New York at a screening when Eli Rill and I stayed with Henry and his then girl-friend the extraordinary Barbara Flood. Eli brought me to a New York I had only dreamed of, but unfortunately Henry saw the chink in my sophisticated manner, he saw the little girl in love with her teacher, a Daddy's little girl. He had my number and he swept me away from Eli and towards him and California.

Henry's way of assembling the components, working off cards and creating scenes with actors through various directorial techniques including some he picked up from Machiavelli, still had some wrinkles. In my case I was the scapegoat in the trio of me and Dennis and Dean. Henry threw us together, he knew they were both crazy, so I was the only one he could control, and through me he would control them, which of course is a laugh in itself ... I was way out of my league.

Let's put it this way:

It was the best and the worst of times ... these guys played hardball, "ya wanna hang around with us, we'll supply the rope…and yes we will kick ya while you're down, what better time to kick ya!"

Tracks Still  
Continuity Stills: with Dennis Hopper
New York, the first day of shooting, Henry and his crew were way up in his parent's Central Park Apartment shooting down at me and Dennis in the park ... Over the walkie we hear: "ACTION" and Dennis jumps up on the park bench and I am totally frozen, my knees locked. I can hear Henry screaming, "Tell her to do something ... natural!" I couldn't move. Dennis said, "Come up on the bench with me." I couldn't move ... Henry's disappointment was visceral, I could feel it in the dead air coming from the walkie.

Then Dennis said, "Let's run into these pigeons" ... which I couldn't do, any more than I could go out on the cliff in GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD in the scene at Scarborough Bluffs. Running into a sea of pigeons seemed insane to me, so I held back as Dennis dragged me into their midst scattering them. I was hardly Henry's Audrey Hepburn, more Ethel Mertz.
Tracks Still   I came to think of my ignominious Hollywood movie experience, as "survive and stay alive in '75," advice from Nick Ray, the director of "Rebel Without A Cause." Ray told this to me and Rosie Shuster when we took him out to dinner at Imperial Gardens to pick his brain because Rosie was about to direct me and Michael Margotta in her first short film: PAPER LIFE.

I returned from four years in Hollywood in 1976, post TRACKS, Henry Jaglom and Dennis Hopper notwithstanding, I did survive. In a lot of ways this really was my naive "season in hell" aka my early twenties, from which I eventually managed to drag myself back to Toronto, a sadder but wiser girl - well there was still some distance to go to get to wiser but I had logged all the experience I needed to be able to get there.

- 30 -

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