The counterculture-savvy production company BBS made several great films in its short lifespan, including Five Easy Pieces (1970) and The Last Picture Show (1971). However the company also made A Safe Place, the debut feature of iconoclastic writer-director Henry Jaglom. Simultaneously impenetrable and interminable, A Safe Place feels like a bad film-school experiment expanded to feature length, because it seems as if Jaglom shot a handful of heavily improvised (but altogether uninteresting) scenes, then tried to cut them together in a manner that imposed a pseudo-structure without draining the individual pieces of their spontaneous “life.” In other words, the picture is 90 excruciating minutes of actors spewing whatever inconsequential nonsense comes to mind while Jaglom photographs them from pretentious angles, often with weird objects placed in the foreground to provide out-of-focus texture.
The leading player in the picture is the potent Tuesday Weld, who tended to flower in well-scripted material but flounder when cast adrift; she’s so “real,” in the self-important Method sense of the word, that we end up watching her wander through her conception of an ordinary day in the life of her vaguely conceived character, which is as tiring to watch as it is to describe. Weld spews hippy-dippy nonsense, drifts in and out of pointless dialects, and, of course, goes on unmotivated crying gags.
Jack Nicholson and Orson Welles, apparently friends of Jaglom’s, appear in stupid running cameos. Nicholson mostly makes out with Weld in a series of quick vignettes, and considering the fact that he probably worked on the picture for all of an afternoon, rolling around with his beautiful costar must have been a pleasant way to kill time. Welles appears in silly bits as a magician performing simplistic tricks in Central Park, and it’s sad to see him looking so bloated and bored. As for this snoozefest’s helmer, Jaglom returned to filmmaking a few years later with 1977’s Tracks, and he’s been quite prolific ever since, making scads of pictures in the same loose, improvisational vein.
A Safe Place: SQUARE