Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003241, Tue, 28 Jul 1998 16:15:16 -0700

Re: Lolita film review (fwd)
EDITOR's NOTE. NABOKV-L thanks Marilyn Edelstein for her review of the
Schiff/Lyne LOLITA. In her critique she refers to Thomas Braun's review of
a day or so ago.

Having seen the new Lyne film of LOLITA at its U.S. premiere at the Academy
of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills (which perhaps
Thomas Braun also caught, although he said he'd seen it on July 25), I
thought I'd post a few brief comments on the film here, before its
Showtime cable premiere this Sunday, August 2. (Showtime, which I don't
get, is also showing something called "The Lolita Story.") I gave
a paper at the American Lit. Assoc. annual conference this last May
on the controversy about the film, so was eager to see it ASAP. I'll
just make a few remarks here, partly in response to Braun's recent
posting, which barely mentioned Lolita herself. There was a review
in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education by noted feminist philosopher
Susan Bordo, which I haven't yet read but plan to soon. And I haven't
yet read the NABOKV-L postings of the last week or so on the film.

As I sat in the theatre, I kept saying to myself (and the friend--also
familiar with the novel--I went with) "Lyne has left out this pivotal
part of the novel" or "they've changed this," etc. I thought the
performances were all excellent, particulary Irons' nuanced and subtle
Humbert and Swain's as Lolita. Taking the film as a whole, I felt
that it cast the whole novel as a tragic unrequited love story centering
on Humbert, with occasional shifts in focus and sympathy towards Lolita
as HH's victim. (And I've never totally believed HH's expressions of
regret looking down on the valley and hearing children's voices, in
(and) realizing Lolita's voices should have been among them--in the
novel or in the film.) The almost sepia-toned photography, with a
romantic gauzy quality between viewer and film, and the very tragically
romantic music by Morricone contribute to the cohesively tragic tone
of Lyne's film. Kubrick's version had a much wider range of tone
and more dramatic shifts from pathos to burlesque. In Lyne's, the
Quilty/HH scene is much less burlesque-y (and shorter) than Kubrick's
and provides almost the only comic counterpoint to the generally serious
tone (and VN's novel manages to be both sublime and ridiculous--or sublime and
sublimely ridiculous) in turn.
Braun is right that LOLITA may be an almost impossible novel to film,
esp. since so much of its power and beauty is in the narrative voice.
Lyne uses only a few short bits of voice-over narration, of a few crucial
passages (e.g. the one at the end with HH looking down at the town's
children playing from the hill). Lyne was hardly the filmmaker to worry
much about the aesthetic qualities and musicality of the narrative in
the novel.
But most important for me were the changes Lyne and Schiff made in
the relations between HH and Lo, starting with a revisionist view
of HH's relation with Annabel. In the film, Lyne/Schiff never suggest the
depth of the intellectual and spiritual bond between the young HH and
the young Annabel, and it's implied that their love was, indeed, consummated
(fadeout to disrobing young woman). So the incompletion of the act of
love and the intellectual soulmating of the two which are crucial in the
novel can't serve as counterpoint to HH's adulthood "romance" with Lo,
whose only resemblance to Annabel is physical and in terms of age, as
they do in the novel.

More importantly, Lyne/Schiff show in a couple of the more explicit
sex scenes Lolita enjoying the sex with HH--which the novel never suggests.
And she's much more of a tease before their relationship is "consummated"
than she was in the novel. There are a few scenes--particularly an
emotionally violent scene between Lo and HH--that are very powerful
and show the horror of Lolita's situation, with no place in the world
except the subjugated place she occupies in HH's life and obsession.
The film does shift our sympathies occasionally to Lolita, but the
film is much more the record of HH's tragic obsessive love for a teenager
who doesn't love him in return but whom he makes every effort to keep by
his side anyway.
Now I'd like to see a film of LOLITA by a woman filmmaker with a woman
screenwriter; I'd guess it would be dramatically different.

Marilyn Edelstein, Associate Professor of English, Santa Clara University,
Santa Clara California