Kubrick's Long-Time Confidant, Producer Jan Harlan, Opens Up About the Iconic Director
We can read books, watch their films, and view their biopics, but there’s nothing quite like learning about famed filmmakers from the ones who knew them best. Stanley Kubrick’s right-hand man and brother-in-law, producer Jan Harlan, sat down with the British Film Institute to help compile a dossier of all of Kubrick’s favorite films and viewing habits. Through the interview, though, Harlan reveals much more about Kubrick than a list of Kubrick’s techniques and all-time favorite films. Hit the jump to learn seemingly slight facts about the iconic filmmaker that reveal a great deal about his character as an artist.
I don’t like to go to go to tourist spots if/when I travel. (Yeah, just stay with me.) There’s something about the tourist façade that I just can’t stand — maybe it’s the fact that so many other people have already seen, touched, heard, or experienced what I would have had I visited them. It takes all of the romance away for me.
Bringing that train of thought back around, it explains why I get easily frustrated learning about filmmakers. I read the books, watch the movies, and do my research from the same sources that many others before me have studied. It almost feels as though I’m not learning anything new or exciting. I want the raw material!
I think that’s what is offered in this interview with Jan Harlan — a rare glimpse inside the intimate, personal areas of Kubrick’s life taken by someone who knew him well. He realized and appreciated his talent just like many of Kubrick’s fans:
I wasn’t up to his speed or intellect. The only area where I could be on a level playing field with him was music and table tennis. But I loved my job and working with him. It wasn’t always a walk in the park, but it was most satisfying.
Here are a couple of excerpts that I found particularly interesting:
Kubrick was known for being a perfectionist, the result of which isn’t more sorely felt than when you hear the that original vision of a project was scrapped and reformed. I can’t help but wonder what might’ve been. In terms of Traumnovelle, the 1926 German novella that served as the basis for Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick had very different plans for the film.
Did you know that his first contract with Warner Bros. was for Traumnovelle in 1970? – the film that became Eyes Wide Shut almost 30 years later. He ‘postponed’ it because he wasn’t happy with his script – he was on cloud nine with the idea of doing Traumnovelle as a low-budget arthouse film in black and white with Woody Allen in the lead – filming in London and maybe Dublin to mock New York. It was always New York and present time. Woody Allen, straight, as a Jewish doctor in New York: that was his plan. He abandoned it again because he was not satisfied with his script.
Harlan talks about Kubrick’s viewing habits:
Stanley usually watched films on the weekend and he often invited his family or friends, me and my wife, etc. He saw so many films and was able to borrow prints old and new at weekends from most London distributors – We sometimes had up to seven prints in the projection booth, particularly before a long weekend. There were a lot of films he would give up after ten minutes. Many times he would only see the first reel because if that somehow leaves you totally cold, the risk is too great to go on and waste another hour and a half.
The interviewer mentions that Kubrick “equated greatness in other filmmakers with longevity” and asked if “the fear of mediocrity drove him.”
It would be wrong to say it ‘drove him’. He just felt strongly that enough films are being made, he didn’t want to add to the pile of ‘just okay’ movies. That’s why it took him so very long to decide, to plan and prepare, to film and to edit. Fast he was not – neither was Vermeer – and then there were the films he prepared and abandoned.
The BFI article is full of great information, so definitely give it a read. I walked away feeling as though I learned much more than what the academic standard teaches about Kubrick and his character as a filmmaker. No tourist trap here!
What do you think about the interview with Jan Harlan? What sources have you found that offer great information about filmmakers?
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