The Space: Jan Harlan
Emporium, London Road, Brighton, Thursday, September 11
"It's very easy to make a film, but it's very difficult to make a good film. To make a good film that other people want to see gets really hard, and a great film is almost a miracle.”
When it came to making great films Jan Harlan had an insight into the working methods of one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.
Harlan was employed in business planning in New York when his brother-in-law Stanley Kubrick asked if, with his knowledge of European languages, he would help research a forthcoming film project based on the life of Napoleon.
German-born Harlan moved to Zurich for a year to work on the film which remains one of the great lost movies of all time after location funding was pulled.
The pair had been friends for six years, after Kubrick married Harlan's sister Christiane. They both shared a love of table tennis and music.
“I visited the set of 2001: A Space Odyssey a few times,” says Harlan. “I had no intention of working with him until 1969.”
Harlan was made an assistant on the notorious A Clockwork Orange (pictured left), before becoming executive producer on Kubrick's final run of films Barry Lydon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut.
He also executive produced Steven Spielberg's take on what would have been Kubrick's next project AI Artificial Intelligence.
But the role he played in the soundtrack to 2001 is the event he will always be credited with.
“Music was always something we talked about,” says Harlan. “It was pure fluke I introduced him to Richard Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathrustra which he used for 2001. I knew it and he didn't.
“Kubrick loved detail – I didn't understand why he was so crazy about detail until I saw the film.”
Since Kubrick's sudden death in March 1999, Harlan has been a keen supporter of his brother-in-law's work. He curated a touring international exhibition based around Kubrick's work which is currently in Poland, and hopefully will make it to London soon.
And he made the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures in 2001, which was narrated by Tom Cruise.
“It was therapy after Stanley's death,” says Harlan.
“I'm glad Warner Brothers asked me to do it – they could have asked a standard documentary maker. Everyone I asked to join in agreed – even Jack Nicholson.”
Harlan was also reunited with A Clockwork Orange star Malcolm McDowell to make 2006 biographical documentary O Lucky Malcolm!
“It's easy to make a good documentary – it's very different from a feature,” says Harlan. “You just have to get your material together and have some sense of flow basically.
“I would never touch a feature film – I'm just not good enough.”
Kubrick's own heroes were Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese.
“Scorcese tried to do something new and took risks,” says Harlan. “If he fell flat on his face so what? Allen took Stanley back to his childhood in New York.”
Harlan is still an aficionado and promoter of film, regularly talking to film schools and heading up juries on international film festivals including Bermuda, Kosovo, and Bucharest.
In our conversation he asks about recent movie releases – admitting he is keen to see Boyhood and recommending Polish film Ida as a must-see.
He sees Kubrick's 13 films as belonging in that world of art which gains appreciation as time goes on.
“It's very typical for great artists,” he says.
“When they come out with great ideas they split the audience and critics, because people want to see what they expect and what they are used to. With Kubrick there were always enough people who were able to concentrate and focus on what he tried to disseminate from the screen.”
Although Kubrick's canon includes science-fiction, satire, period drama, literary adaptation, horror, war and even a heist movie with the brilliant The Killing, Harlan believes there is one thing at the centre of each of his films which links most of them together.
“From Paths Of Glory to Eyes Wide Shut Stanley is looking at human failure and human weakness generated by emotion,” says Harlan.
“Napoleon was the perfect example – he was a genius strategist who won 26 battles one after the other, who came from nowhere, a general at the age of 20 who crowned himself emperor of France. He only had himself to blame for his downfall – he didn't recognise his most important task was to make peace with England. His vanity and egocentricity was his stumbling block.
“Kubrick was extremely careful and thorough – he wasn't interested in knocking out a movie.
“So he only made 13 films – Vermeer only did 100 paintings. There are no rules – the only rule is that the work has to remain true.”
*September's edition of arts and entertainment event The Space will also see host Lisa Holloway interview Oscar-nominated screenwriter William Nicholson in a movie special sponsored by Brighton Film School.
Look out for the famous prize raffle with screenings of Gladiator and Pi, a clutch of DVDs, books and tickets to see Michael Palin, Band Of Skulls and The Woman In Black all on offer.
Doors 7.30pm, tickets £10. Visit www.thespaceuk.com