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· Two things you can learn about Stanley Kubrick by talking to Jan Harlan.

By L.M. Kit Carson.

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TWO THINGS YOU CAN find out from some semi-private time at the Cinema-Jove Film Festival in Valencia, Spain, with Stanley Kubrick’s multi-movie [The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut] final producer Jan Harlan:

1. How totally susceptible Kubrick was to the story-power of music.

A special memory kept by Harlan is seeing Kubrick struggling with how to work his movie-making-evoking of the Mystery of the Universe for 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Jan (a classical musicologist) suggested trying Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra in the X scenes.  As Harlan puts it: “Stanley got truly satisfied that this piece by Strauss was all he needed. To make the question remain…about whether there might be some deliberation effecting us somewhere in the Universe.”

2. The subject of all Kubrick’s movies in many ways was…Kubrick.  All his movie-making choices about why-and-how were mega-personal.

Harlan: “Stanley seized the rights to Peter George’s 1958 tough extreme apocalyptic political novel Red Alert – the nuclear competition between Russia and the United States was a constant Red Alert in Stanley’s mind.  He kept warning his colleagues: ‘Feel like I must make a movie here now – because this world-danger is going to go wrong.’

But he couldn’t find the voice that worked for this story. Then he got into a meeting with screenwriter Terry Southern who almost unexpectedly joked, ‘The only way for you to make a Kubrick movie here now – y’gotta make fun of this nuke nuttiness. We don’t know anything about what’s really going on in the nukes. So Y’gotta heighten the seriousness of your worry by making it into a comedy.’ And Stanley got it – made his own fears into his unique movie – it feels like he’s on the track of an absurd fairy tale.”

For me this insider-double-insight-combo opens up why you can feel Kubrick so strongly in the surprise unforgettable last sequence of Paths of Glory.

Battled-rattled soldiers packed drunken into a bar – banging their beer-mugs onto the tables bullying the bar-owner. He drags out mid-bar a captured young German girl goading her to sing. Hooting soldiers. The frightened girl begins to sing simply with a trembling voice. The crude shouting fades.  She sings more and more near-tears.  Some soldiers begin to hum brokenly along with her – and humanity fills the room – in spite of the war-horror outside.

And genius Kubrick makes you see what he sees – the bar-room transforming.  And say more – as you watch this scene, you truly see-and-feel Stanley Kubrick fall in love with the young actress playing the heart-breaking girl – Christiane Harlan.

Shortly after the movie-shoot, Kubrick married her – for life.  Jan Harlan’s sister.

CINEMA JOVE 2011, the international film festival’s 26th year, honored and celebrated Jan Harlan with the Luna de Valencia award (a stunning crescent-moon-shaped crystal trophy) for his 30-year creative career-work helping making movies with Kubrick.  And for his strong work now curating the archives and exhibitions spreading the brilliant cool of Kubrick in museums and schools world-wide.

At the ceremony, with sincere modesty, Harlan raised the trophy to Kubrick: “Kubrick’s films do remain as a valid marker for future generations to look into our lives in the second half of the 20th century.” Harlan recommends a special multi-part showcase he helped mount: the French Cinematheque’s current Kubrick Retrospective (through July 31st). This savvy website also covers it.


L. M. Kit Carson is a journalist, actor and screenwriter. He starred in David Holzman’s Diary (discussed here in the Fortnightly), and wrote the screenplays for Breathless and Paris, Texas, among other films.


Stanley Kubrick – L’exposition par lacinematheque

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