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Kubrick’s right-hand man

This year’s RapidLion Film Festival was a feast for filmmakers, students and general film lovers, but one of the most special opportunities the Festival provided was three masterclasses with film producer Jan Harlan. Creative Feel was fortunate to chat with Harlan, who was incredibly generous with his memories and his time.

Jan Harlan RapidLion International Film Festival
Jan Harlan at RapidLion

German-born Jan Harlan’s transition from working as a business planner to a film producer was at the feet of undoubtedly one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers in cinematic history, Stanley Kubrick. Harlan’s older sister, the German actress, dancer, painter, and singer Christiane Harlan, was married to Kubrick from 1958 until his death in 1999.
     Harlan’s first contribution to a Kubrick film was 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), he says. ‘I visited with him during the making and my only contribution, by coincidence, was music. We talked about that. That was the only area where I was on the same kind of level field with him because he was so far superior intellectually and in knowledge and in every respect. But music was the only area where I was quite well informed. That was one element that brought us together and we got along extremely well.’
     Music is a stand-out feature in Kubrick’s films. He carefully considered every single piece of music he chose, and he would often cut the film to fit the music. Music has long been an important part of Harlan’s life. Both his parents were opera singers and he played the cello – ‘but very badly,’ he says. To hear him talk about music at one of his masterclasses at RapidLion was enthralling and his passion for using music as a filmmaking tool was captivating. It was instantly obvious why Kubrick so respected his music suggestions.
      Harlan joined Kubrick on his next project, A Clockwork Orange (1971), which earned him an assistant to producer credit and cemented their working relationship. Harlan served as executive producer on Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). His role, Harlan says, was to get Kubrick ‘what he needed, at the right price, and at the right time.’
Following Kubrick’s passing, Harlan worked as executive producer on Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) – a project that Kubrick was originally going to direct but felt that Spielberg would do better. Harlan also directed Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001) and documentaries on the Dvořák Cello Concerto and actor Malcolm McDowell. ‘I’m not an artist,’ he says. ‘I made some documentaries, but that’s just being orderly with a subject matter you like.’

To read more about Jan Harlan, purchase the April 2019 issue of Creative Feel or, to continue supporting our role in the South African arts and culture sector, subscribe to our monthly magazine from only R180.00 per year.

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