Friday, 3 May 2013

"Lolita": from Vladimir Nabokov to Stanley Kubrick

1/ Lolita isn't simply a pretty little girl.
After reportedly 1 year Stanley Kubrick found whom he saw as the perfect Lolita- Sue Lyon.

She, in my opinion, is much cuter and prettier than Dominique Swain in the new version.

Dominique Swain looks more sensual, but then, she's too old for the role of Lolita, and not pretty enough.
One can argue, Humbert Humbert is an unreliable narrator and to say that Nabokov's novel is not really about paedophilia but about nympholepsy is a way of making the matter less serious and more acceptable. I should state right from the beginning that in no way do I sympathise with Humbert Humbert or attempt to justify his wrongdoings, and I condemn as much as anybody does, if not more, his despicable character. Humbert Humbert is not attracted to any pretty little girl, but only a certain group of girls he calls 'nymphets'. When I say Lolita is sexually precocious, when I say at such a young age she looks sensual and is flirtatious, as such girls exist in real life, that doesn't mean I think Lolita or any other such girl deserves to be raped or molested or sexually abused, there's no contradiction there. I therefore think Sue Lyon looks very lovely, but with that angelic face she doesn't look like the Lolita I imagine based on Nabokov's descriptions.
Lolita as I imagine should look like the young Sophie Marceau:

Or the young Brigitte Bardot:

I know they still look older than Lolita, what I refer to is their qualities: a natural combination of sexuality, seductiveness, youthfulness and innocence with some kind of carelessness.

2/ Humbert Humbert's changed. All the important details are omitted: childhood love Annabel, obsession with nymphets, unsuccessful relationships with women his age... The film even presents him as being quite reserved and restrained and the women as being quite aggressive and predatory. Not sure because of Stanley Kubrick or because of the censorship and moral code of the 1960s but everything in the film is greatly toned down, not only the controversial aspects of the "relationship" between Humbert Humbert and Lolita (paedophilia, control, molestation, rape) but also his revolting, odious personality and the devastation he causes her life. Lots of things he does to Charlotte Haze and Lolita and other women don't appear in the film, the monstrosity of his character becomes subdued, in fact, Humbert Humbert becomes much more likeable and sympathetic, while the character described by Nabokov is ruthless, scheming, cruel, selfish, hypocritical, manipulative... 
I think, by pushing things to the extreme, Nabokov shows his moral stance (despite his denial), the film doesn't do so but the sexual relationship is still implied, so it, whether or not deliberately, makes it more acceptable and OK.
Moreover, I don't think James Mason has the right face for this role:

For the time being I can't think of a specific person that looks right for the part, all I can say is, James Mason's miscast.

3/ Clare Quilty should be no more than a shadow.
1st, a film doesn't have to be completely faithful to the book on which it is based, I'm OK with all changes as long as they're better or equally good or, if worse, are necessary for whatever reasons- which means I don't like the changes to Clare Quilty. In the novel, the identity of the mysterious man is only revealed at the end of the film. A mystery. A surprise. And to Humbert Humbert, a shock. This is lost because the film begins with Humbert Humbert entering the house, shouting "Quilty! Quilty!", talking for a while and killing the man, which makes us remember the name and pay attention to the man of the name Quilty, who is also brought to the foreground, being under the sun, instead of in the dark as Nabokov wants.
2nd, another reason, more important, he should be no more than a shadow, is that he's indeed supposed to be a shadow. Clare Quilty is not a person as much as he's an embodiment of the worst characteristics and traits of Humbert Humbert, multiplied. He's the darker, more evil side of Humbert Humbert, more repulsive and capable of things Humbert Humbert can't do. (I never, ever forget that line "He broke my heart. You merely broke my life.")
On the other hand, Clare Quilty in the film is not as repulsive as in the novel, though the production code of the 1960s might have been an important factor.

4/ And some other flaws. The film, whether or not intended, is comical in certain places I find inappropriate. 1 example is the conversation between Humbert Humbert and Clare Quilty in the 1st hotel, where Quilty keeps blah blah blah blah blah blah to put on a character. Also, in my opinion Vivian Darkbloom doesn't always have to be next to him. Her icy-cold, emotionless face ruins a few scenes.  And to me personally, the last conversation between him and Lolita, which I see as the best part of the novel, is also changed, making the story much lighter, shallower.

As a film in itself, "Lolita" is above average. As an adaptation from a novel, it's pretty bad (albeit, as a whole, better than the new version). As a film by Stanley Kubrick, who has often been hailed as 1 of the greatest film directors of all time, acclaimed as a visionary, a master of his craft, a true artist, etc etc, it's a huge disappointment. 
Out of 4 films I've watched by Stanley Kubrick, I love 2- the dreamlike "Eyes wide shut" and the brilliant satire "Dr Strangelove", and dislike 2- "The shining" and "Lolita". "The shining", as written before, has some impressive details and unforgettable scenes (particularly the one with "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy") but has the same drawbacks- miscasting, illogical characterisation and ineffective character development. Are these 2 merely 2 of his weaker films, or is Stanley Kubrick a bit overrated? 

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