Saturday, December 15, 2007

Harlan on Kubrick

Jan Harlan






The Stanley Kubrick Collection
(Warner Home Video)

Warner Home Video has released its third boxed set of films by Stanley Kubrick on DVD, and this time, the set is being released in standard DVD format as well as the two high-definition formats, HD-DVD and BluRay.

All of the films have been restored and each title includes retrospective interviews and commentaries (with one exception); the biggest disappointment is that only five titles–2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, Eyes Wide Shut–are included in the set: Lolita and Barry Lyndon (included in the two earlier sets) are MIA, although the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures makes another appearance.

Jan Harlan, brother of Kubrick’s widow Christiane, worked closely with the director on all of his films from A Clockwork Orange in 1971 to Eyes Wide Shut in 1999 as executive producer. He also made Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, which features interviews with many of the director’s friends, collaborators and colleagues, including Malcolm McDowell, Tom Cruise, Sydney Pollack, and Steven Spielberg.

Harlan answered several questions about the new Kubrick DVD set and what may be coming from the Kubrick estate in the future via e-mail.

Kevin Filipski: What happened to the Sydney Pollack commentary that was originally supposed to be included on the Eyes Wide Shut disc?
Jan Harlan: I am glad there is no commentary on Eyes Wide Shut. The film is complex. Stanley Kubrick worked on the script, on and off, for three decades. Explanations are bound to fail. Every viewer will be an expert on sexual fantasy and jealousy and will find his or her individual connection to this complicated film–or not, as the case may be. Let it suffice to say that Stanley Kubrick considered Eyes Wide Shut his greatest contribution to the art of the cinema. Let the audience try to tune in to Kubrick’s frequency–it’s worth the trouble. It may take two or three viewings, though.

KF: Was there any thought to discussing the previously shot scenes with Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason Leigh for Eyes Wide Shut and their subsequent re-shooting with different actors?
JH: I don’t think so. Only Stanley Kubrick would be able to discuss this sensibly and he certainly would not have done so, but I am happy to tell you about the back-ground, since this is fairly straightforward. Stanley Kubrick changed his mind on the two sets that involved the character of Ziegler. Originally he had selected two locations for the bathroom scene and the scene around the pool table with Tom Cruise. But he changed his mind as he didn’t like what he had chosen and this was his prerogative. We had to built sets which took several weeks to finish and I couldn’t make a deal with Harvey Keitel’s agent that we could live with. End of story. Stanley was delighted to get Sydney Pollack at a later date when the sets were built. There was just one scene we had to re-shoot: the reception at the Ziegler’s Christmas party. Jennifer Jason Leigh was replaced since she was not available for a re-shoot when Stanley had changed the scene and wanted to re-shoot it on another set many weeks later.

KF: I saw a new print of Barry Lyndon in New York last spring with Leon Vitali (Kubrick’s assistant) in attendance. Is there any plan to re-release that film on DVD?
JH: I hope so!

KF: What is the reason for the change in how Kubrick’s films are now being presented on DVD compared to previous releases?
JH: When video business was considered a poor cousin of theatrical distribution, Stanley Kubrick wanted the original aspect ratios to be kept if at all possible. Times have changed. In many cases the DVD market is now more important than the theatrical release and the trend goes towards watching films on far superior flat screens with the 16:9 ratio. While Kubrick might have regretted this development, he would also have been delighted about the new technology. Seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on a large high-definition screen is a real treat, particularly when the alternative is not to see it at all. The executives at Warner Bros. agonized over the question of how to present the films in this new technology and to do justice to both the viewers with their new home movie equipment and to the extraordinary films of Stanley Kubrick.

KF: Are there any plans to re-release his four earlier films on DVD (Paths of Glory, The Killing, Killer’s Kiss, Lolita)?
JH: The three early films do not belong to Warner Bros. I would love to see a complete Kubrick DVD collection which also includes Dr. Strangelove and Spartacus. I also hope that Warner Bros. will include Lolita and Barry Lyndon in a future “all-in” DVD collection. But this is a business or possibly a legal question and I am the wrong person to ask.

KF: Will Kubrick’s long-unseen first feature Fear and Desire ever be released on DVD?
JH: I hope not. Stanley didn’t want this film to be seen and that’s that.

Q: Are there any plans for other directors to make Kubrick’s unfinished films like Napoleon or The Aryan Papers, as Steven Spielberg did with A.I.?
JH: There are unfortunately no plans. A few years ago, I sat with Steven Spielberg and Ang Lee around a table and we discussed the Napoleon project, but nothing came of it. The problem is that Stanley’s script doesn’t really reveal his true intentions, which were to show how relevant Napoleon is for us today–the failed genius whose weaknesses are ingrained in human nature. That is exactly why it is so difficult for us to learn from his errors and from history in general. Stanley left us a huge archive and picture library. His research on the topic was much more than ordinary pre-production activity–it was the attempt of a chess player to get into the mind of his opponent. Taschen publications will bring out a comprehensive book about Kubrick’s Napoleon next year. Maybe this will renew interest. Who knows?
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