Jan Harlan acted as a researcher and producer for director Stanley Kubrick for over thirty years, contributing to such iconic films as "A Clockwork Orange," "Barry Lyndon," "The Shining," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Eyes Wide Shut." Harlan is one of three jury members on the docket of this year's Bermuda International Film Festival, which began on March 21. Last week, BIFF hosted a panel discussion featuring Harlan as the main subject where he discussed the art of filmmaking for festival attendees, filmmakers and students.
Before the panel, Harlan sat
down with Indiewire to discuss his work with Kubrick, including the in-depth
exhibit that he's helped put together, and to offer some advice to young
filmmakers. Check out the accompanying video of the panel after the text
Q&A for more insights from Harlan.
Tell me about how you first started working with Stanley Kubrick.
I have known Kubrick since I was at school. He was married to my sister when I was very young. So I came to know him very well. It was after "Dr. Strangelove" that he came back from England to New York. It was much later in '69 when he invited me to join him to go to Romania on "Napoleon," that was his big project and his great project. So my wife and I and our baby we came to England, and thought OK we'll stay there for 6 months and then go to Romania. But then MGM pulled out of the project. But we got along very well. I liked him and he liked me and he asked me to stay.
One of the first things we did together was get the rights to "Eyes Wide Shut." It's called "Traumnovelle" and he was very much in love with that story, but it proved to be just too difficult, so he dropped it. He had already a contract with Warner Brothers ready to go and he pulled out. He chewed over it for thirty years. When he finally made it he really considered it his greatest contribution to the art of filmmaking. Many people wouldn't agree with him but that doesn't really matter. Then came "A Clockwork Orange." That was my first job as an assistant. I learned the basics of the business, but my responsibility was never what you see on the screen.
So were you a film fan before you started working with him?
Always. I was absolutely. I knew many, many movies. Anyway from "Barry Lyndon" onward I did what I always do, negotiating and trying to get things. But since every film is different it's a very exciting life. Because you can't compare "Barry Lyndon" with "The Shining" or "Full Metal Jacket" or "Eyes Wide Shut" there all totally different requirements. "Eyes Wide Shut" was a great last experience to work with this man who was so enormously critical of himself. It took forever to do.
I know that he didn't want to be just another "mediocre" filmmaker. He wanted them to last.
He had to be happy with it. Lasting or not lasting was not on his mind. Also will the critics or the audience like it? There's nothing you can do about that. He had to like it. Once he liked it that's all he could do. And you just have to hope that many people go with you and generally speaking enough people did. So his films were a success.
Do you have a particular favorite?
I think it's "Eyes Wide Shut' but I'm not objective because it may very well be because it was the last time I worked with him, it was the last experience that's imprinted on my mind. And we talked also about "Traumnovelle" for over thirty years, you know on and off. There was one point when he though of doing it as a black and white, very cheap art house movie with Woody Allen in the lead. With Woody Allen playing a straight, Jewish, American doctor in New York. What he liked is universal; it's a universal truth about the total destruction of jealousy and sexual fantasy where everybody in the audience is an expert. So it's a tricky one. But anyway he wanted it in New York and he wasn't happy with the script and so he abandoned it and then "The Shining" was a walk in the park in comparison, because it's easy, you can do whatever you like. Nothing has to make sense, it doesn't matter you can do what you like.
Did you see "Room 237"?
Ah, so idiotic. Of course I did. There's nothing to like. It's just dumb. I mean [the filmmaker] obviously waited until Kubrick died. This happened to him in many cases, also this whole story about him doing a fake moon landing. This was only possible after he was dead. People come like worms; they creep out and take advantage of a guy who can't sue from the grave. At any rate, I don't worry about things like that.