Jan Harlan Interview

Jan Harlan

Jan Harlan


GF. Any advice to new film-makers for our website?

JH. Always do something you love, be in love with your story, your idea, otherwise you have no chance to lift it out of the ordinary. I think this is always the most important element. You have to be driven, you have to be slightly manic.......I’m reasonably insane! (laughter) Really, I confess!

GF. You don’t recommend film-schools?

JH. I don’t put it like that, no. For example, if you’re an editor you need to know the programmes in order to edit.

GF. So, good for the technical side of film-making?

JH. Yes, yes, yes, I wouldn’t say anything as patronising as ‘it’s a waste of time’ but it doesn’t create an artist. You can learn to paint but not how to be a painter!

GF. And producers?

JH. Always the same. You have to have a story you really love and once you have a good script, find a director who also loves it and then you have a chance. Producers are very important but they don’t make the film. They can even be the seed, they maybe the reason why the film is being made, but they are not making it. For example, you will see ‘Written and Directed by Woody Allen’ but without him it wouldn’t happen, he is really also the producer of the film.

GF. He’s amazing, he still puts out a film a year.

JH. Oh he’s amazing, I like all his films but his best films belong to the best films ever made. What an amazing film Annie Hall is!

GF. Yes!

GF. Bringing it back to the present, what do you think of digital-film compared to film-stock?

JH. It’s there, there is no point even worrying about it. In 20 years you won’t have a film-lab in the world. So, forget it! It’s an academic topic! There’s nothing you can do. If you want to become a film-maker, good luck! (laughter) These are just formats and nothing to do with the quality.

Jan Harlan

Jan Harlan at Brighton Moviebar

Jan Harlan

Jan Harlan Eyes Wide Shut

GF. Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese are campaigning to keep the use of film-stock. So I wondered what you thought about it all?

JH. Good luck to them! I mean, Steven Speilberg too, I think it’s because he’s used to it. It’s all down to the story.

GF. What do you think about the state of the British Film Industry at the moment?

JH. There’s been some wonderful films recently. I mean, Mike Leigh is a great film-maker. Did you see his BAFTA speech?

GF. Not yet.

JH. I have it with me, I can show you that tonight if you want. He’s incredible. Do you know his movies?

GF. Most of them, yes.

JH. Have you seen his film with the back-street abortions? Fantastic actress. Or his last film, Mr Turner?

GF. Yes, very good.

JH. Incredible photography, set designs.

GF. Did you see ‘Under The Skin’ yet, Jan? Very good.

JH. Not yet. I will. Have you seen a film called ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’? (laughter)

GF. I don’t want to see it!

JH. I read an incredible review in Switzerland. It said that it was just amazing that somebody managed to make a film of a book and the film is even worse than the book! (laughter) and the book is as bad as you can imagine. The film succeeded in being worse!

GF. Quite an achievement!

JH. That is something isn’t it? I like ‘Boyhood’, a lovely film. I also quite like ‘Birdman’, crazy film! Totally nuts! Wonderful actors, all of the cast. Keaton is fantastic.

GF. I feel bad asking you this, you must get asked all the time, but what is your favourite Kubrick film? Is it ‘Eyes Wide Shut’?

JH. ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ I like very much. I’m not objective, it was the last film we made. I bought the rights in 1970, can you imagine?

GF. For the book?

JH. Yes, it was the most difficult film he made in many ways. But I like Strangelove too, very much, though I had nothing to do with it. Wonderful film, no I think he was a great film-maker. He struggled every time but he was always really passionate.

GF. Eyes Wide Shut, with its look at secret-societies, that all seems to be coming to the foreground now, or coming into public knowledge, that whole world. I read an interview with Kubrick saying it was his most important film.

JH. Yeah, yeah, there are lots of groups of people, where you have unbelievably rich people and they are bored to tears! (laughter) They don’t know what to do! If you have $500,000,000 in the bank, what are you going to do? Get another million? So now you have 501 million! It doesn’t mean anything anymore. If you are so inclined and have no real substance other than the knowledge on how to make money, then the temptation to become a consumer on every level may be very great. I really can’t say, I’m not competent. The thing about Kubrick was he was such a homebody, he had three children and he thought of it (Eyes Wide Shut) as a modern hell. A modern hell (emphasised). It’s a painting of hell. He was thinking very much of the painter, you know the painter, Hieronymus Bosch?


Painting Painting

Paintings by Hieronymus Bosch

GF. Yes, right. Interesting.

JH. Well, that was his vision. It’s all about the voyeurs, it’s not about the girl at all, it’s all about the voyeurs.

GF. How were Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman to work with?

JH. They were lovely, I had no problem at all. When I made my film about Kubrick, I asked Tom to do the narration and he said, ‘Oh sure,’ straight away.

GF. I love that!

JH. Have you seen that film?

GF. Yes. A life in pictures. It’s great.

JH. It was good for me to do. I liked the process of doing it, it was a new experience for me too. I did another film about Malcom McDowell, called Oh Lucky Malcolm.

GF. McDowell always speaks fondly of Kubrick.

JH. Oh yes, he’s a great guy and a friend. I like Malcolm.

GF. An amazing talent. I wanted to quickly ask about Full Metal Jacket aswell......

JH. That was a tough movie. We would come home and the bath would turn black! It was filmed in a gasworks, supposed to be Vietnam! It’s a good film, a very serious film about the brain-washing of young men, that’s really what it is about, not really about Vietnam at all. It has been true for 1000’s of years. The Spartan army 2,000 years ago had 16 year old boys fighting.

GF. Finally, if Stanley were around now do you think that he would have followed many other directors into TV and the big-budget productions currently being made in America?

JH. I think he may now be encouraged by these long series to do a Napoleon. He was always very, very interested in that film. Very much so. The interesting thing about Napoleon is that nothing has changed. A phenomenon, a hugely successful man but he really had nobody else to blame for his downfall and that is what is so interesting. Putin is going that way too! George Bush and Tony Blair too! It’s a problem. If you are so full of yourself, you think your decisions have to be made.

GF. Thankyou for your time Jan.

(c) 2020 Gregory Films/Jan Harlan

Jan Harlan

Jeanette with Jan Harlan