Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Editing Mailer: A Conversation with Jan Welt and Lana Jokel

Academic journal article The Mailer Review

Editing Mailer: A Conversation with Jan Welt and Lana Jokel

Article excerpt

In September 2008, three of Norman Mailer's films were deposited in the Harvard Film Archive in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For six months, I assisted in the archiving of these films, Mailer's "sixties trilogy," Wild 90 (1967), Beyond the Law (1968) and Maidstone (1968-70). The Norman Mailer Estate and Harvard University together have endeavored to preserve these important films. As I analyzed these cinematic materials, what immediately struck me was how much of a collaborative effort these films had been, evinced by countless notes affixed to film cans, coded in the private language of like-minded artists.

When I spoke to Mailer about his films in 2005, he was quick to dismiss the notion that these films were anything but a collective effort: "My editors Jan Welt and Lana Jokel were vastly more skillful at frame to frame cutting than I could ever be. They were both immensely talented and I turned over entire sequences to them. I built the structure of the films myself, for better or worse, working with them as closely as any Hollywood film director would." In early 2010, Criterion will release these films in a DVD boxed set, digitally restored from source material. In helping Criterion prepare this collection, I had the opportunity to speak at length with Mailer's two main film collaborators, Jan Welt and Lana Jokel. I spoke to Jan Welt by phone on the evening of June 15, 2009 as he is currently living in Anchorage, Alaska. My conversation with Lana Jokel took place in her New York apartment over a period of many months, concluding on July 21, 2009. What follows are our conversations over their recollections of working with Mailer during one of the most productive periods in his career, an experience that led to Jan and Lana emerging as filmmakers in their own right.


Chaiken: Where are you from originally and how did you become interested in film?

Welt: I'm from Albany, New York and became interested in film through my father who was an avid amateur photographer. He was an attorney but photography was his passion so there were always cameras around me growing up. Certainly that had an influence, but my decision to pursue filmmaking as a career came after I had taken a course in cinematography during my senior year at Syracuse University. To get some money together after graduation, I went to work for a year in Albany at Capitol City Broadcasting and from there I enrolled in NYU Graduate School to get my MFA in film.

Chaiken: What were you majoring in at Syracuse?

Welt: Theater.

Chaiken: Were you training to become an actor or were you hoping to write for the stage?

Welt: Both. Although I was primarily interested in cinema, I thought having a solid grounding in writing and acting would be good preparation for my MFA. I've always thought of myself as a utility outfielder. Haig Manoogian, my mentor at NYU, who incidentally was also Martin Scorsese's mentor, held the view that if you want to keep your head above the curbstone in this business, then you better learn how to do everything. Write, produce, direct, shoot, edit. I think he was absolutely right about that.

Chaiken: What year did you enter NYU?

Welt: I graduated from Syracuse in 1964 so I must have been at NYU in late 1965 or early 1966.

Chaiken: Who were you studying under at NYU?

Welt: Haig Manoogian was largely it at that point. Also Calder Willingham, who wrote the screenplay for One Eyed Jacks (1961) and The Graduate (1967). And of course Shirley Clarke, who was my editing instructor. She gave me my first job as assistant editor on a twelve-screen film she was working on called Man in Polar Regions (1967). Graham Ferguson, who went on to invent IMAX, shot most of that film. It screened at the World's Fair in Montreal in 1967.

Chaiken: Working with Shirley Clarke, were the films of the New American Cinema an influence?

Welt: In the mid-sixties, I lived with my wife on St. …

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