Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003276, Thu, 6 Aug 1998 14:41:58 -0700

Paul Maurer's condemnation of "Lolita" in L.A. Times (fwd)
From: "Thomas E. Braun" <cawriter@sprynet.com>

The readers of this forum may find the following exchange of interest. The
first part is an article from the Los Angeles Times. The second part is my
reply, which I have sent to the Times for possible publication.
Tom Braun

Monday, August 3, 1998
New "Lolita" Does Terrible Disservice to Nabokov - and to Our Children

[On Aug. 2] Showtime was scheduled to air the television premiere of Adrian
Lyne's "Lolita," a tragic story of pedophilia based on the 1955 novel by
Vladimir Nabokov.
No U.S theatrical distributor had been willing to release the film
nationally since its completion in early 1997. The American entertainment
industry initially called this one right. Why? Because the enduring message
of this film version of "Lolita" is an outrage: that young girls who are
molested are somehow "asking" for it.
Indeed, many joined the movie industry in shunning the message of this
film: Women's groups fight the image of women as willing sexual prey; groups
like the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families seek
to curb material that will be a danger to children and families; literary
purists object to the liberties taken with what is considered one of the
masterpieces of the English language.
Now, Showtime has demonstrated that it is out of step within its own
industry and indifferent to the dangerous misinformation in this distorted
version of "Lolita." And the Samuel Goldwyn Co. has announced its plans for a
national theatrical release later this year.
I saw "Lolita" in Los Angeles during its Academy Award-qualifying theater
run. The film is troubling, not because a director decided to make another
film from Nabokov's dark novel, but because this new version strays from the
book in substantive ways. Nabokov's novel, although not on our family
bookshelf, treated the story of a predatory pedophile with grim reality,
portraying Humbert as a sick monster, preying on the vulnerable 12-year-old
Lolita, who has become his stepdaughter.
But Lyne changes Nabokov's basic story by making Humbert a troubled but
sympathetic figure who unsuccessfully battles forbidden desires, and
ultimately yields to the aggressive advances of Lolita, whom Lyne depicts as
a 14-year-old seductress. This not only strays wildly from the book's
portrayal, but it casts pedophilia and incest in a totally different light:
the child as a willing, even aggressive, participant; the molester as a
passive and sympathetic victim.
The cable network is touting its airing of "Lolita" with the predictable
self-congratulatory paean that "Showtime breaks through again." The magazine
ads tout the praise from various publications, including "Programming moves
don't get any gutsier" and "artistic bravery in the face of ignorance." The
defense of material that offends our commonly held values and standards
always follows these lines: position the offensive material as a stand for
the 1st Amendment and as a triumph of art over small-mindedness.
The film's screenwriter, Stephen Schiff, has said the movie's critics in
America come from a "very jumpy, keep-it-in-the-dark-maybe-it-will-go-away
kind of culture." Lyne says the film won't encourage pedophiles because
Humbert "comes to an awful end" and that "if you make a film about a
murderer, you're not advocating murder" (Parade, July 26, 1998). It is
comments like these that demonstrate the ignorance of "Lolita's" defenders
concerning the horrors of pedophilia and the impact of film on behavior.
The problem with the new "Lolita" is not that it brings pedophilia to
light, but that by changing the title character from a victimized little girl
to a sexually aware and aggressive young woman beyond her years, the predator
becomes a victim and the film provides solace, even inspiration, to those for
whom young girls are objects of sexual desire.
Jeremy Irons, the film's star, told the Boston Globe that the movie is a
victim of "very bad timing," as recent years have seen a growing awareness of
pedophilia. On this, Irons is right. And because we are more aware of its
pervasiveness, we must object to its portrayal as a form of forbidden but
understandable passion.
After spending $58 million to bring the film to the screen, the filmmakers
- and now their distribution partners - are trying very hard to convince us
it's OK.
It's not.
A film about a grown man having sex with his young stepdaughter is
repulsive. By trying to capitalize on a film that will ultimately endanger
our young people, Showtime is not displaying artistic bravery but pure
corporate greed.
It is not too late to stop this regrettable mistake in its tracks:
* Showtime should demonstrate true bravery by canceling its three
scheduled repeat airings. This would be a strong statement on the position of
Showtime, and its parent, Viacom, against pedophilia and child molestation.
* Should Showtime carry on about creative license and air the repeats,
Hollywood should condemn the company for its corporate irresponsibility. We
don't believe the government should be policing film content, but the film
industry can hold itself accountable and affirm that careless portrayals that
put our children in danger are not permissible.
* Finally, we urge the industry to call on Goldwyn to scrap its plans for
national distribution.
Parents should be alarmed by "Lolita." Lyne has irresponsibly portrayed
the pedophile as the passive victim and the child as the aggressor. This
misinformation can give parents a false sense of security, concealing the
fact that pedophiles are predatory, seeking out children to satisfy their
twisted desires. Unfortunately, this version of "Lolita" not only does
disservice to Vladimir Nabokov, but more importantly, to our children. That's
the real tragedy.

Paul Maurer, a Ph.D. Student of Political Philosophy at Claremont Graduate
University, Is Vice President of the National Coalition for the Protection of
Children and Families, a Cincinnati-based Nonprofit Advocacy Group Seeking to
Reduce the Dangers to American Children and Families Created by Illegal

Copyright 1998 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved


Aug. 4
One cannot help reading Paul Maurer's criticism of Adrian Lyne's "Lolita"
without having mixed feelings. Artistically, he is absolutely right - we can
"object to the (film's) liberties taken with what is considered one of the
masterpieces of the English language." As I have noted elsewhere, "Lolita"
may be a novel that cannot be filmed. Beneath the shocking story lies a gold
mine of artistic invention, word play, allusion, and rapturous language that
simply does not hold up well on the screen. Even the tremendous unabridged
audio version, performed on eight cassettes by the indefatigable Jeremy
Irons, lacks some of the printed page's steam. "Lolita" is meant to be read,
just as "Macbeth" is meant to be performed. Each loses something when
approached the other way.
But Mr. Maurer's moral attack on the film is quite another thing. He has
either never read the book, or remembers little of it now. In print, Dolores
Haze is indeed "a victimized little girl." But she is also something more of
"a sexually aware and aggressive young woman" than Mr. Maurer cares to
acknowledge. She is "a sportive lassie," Humbert notes, seducing her
stepfather at the Enchanted Hunters Hotel. Indeed, she has sex with Hum
three times that very morning - likely not by force. And in Part Two, she
learns quite thoroughly how to use sex to get what she wants: money; freedom
to be in Quilty's play; a long car trip to the prearranged place where she
will leave Humbert. The least of Lyne's liberties with Nabokov's work is his
portrayal of Lolita as sexually precocious.
Moreover, sex between adult males and child females is not quite so simple
as "a sick monster preying on [a] vulnerable 12-year-old." Without going
into morbid detail, suffice it to say that I personally know a former
nymphet. This now-adult woman has confided to me more than once about her
wild past, particularly how from the age of 9 on she willingly manipulated
adult men (without resorting to actual intercourse) to get her way. She was
fortunate enough to meet no Humbert or Quilty, and of course now realizes the
dangers. But at the time, she notes, it was a game she was convinced she
could control - and did. The point is that child molestation, like all other
crime, is a terribly complex issue. Would that it were so easy to end child
abuse as to banish "Lolita" and its likes from our midst! But it is not. We
will do little to combat it if we see only the caricatures of sick monsters
and vulnerable kids.
But the real failing of Mr. Maurer is one that critics of "Lolita" have
made for decades. Both film and book make it clear that the story is not an
objective one. Humbert repeatedly addresses the "ladies and gentlemen of the
jury." Thus "Lolita" is little more than Humbert's detailed manuscript of
his planned defense for his upcoming murder trial. So naturally he is going
to paint things his way. Did Lolita come on to him? Of course! Was
Charlotte nothing more than one huge pain in the rear end? Absolutely!
the detestable Quilty deserve to die? No question! Humbert is fighting for
his life - thus he will tell us whatever he thinks we wish to hear: remorse;
his own victimization; the history of his bouts with madness (proving that he
is not evil, but "a troubled but sympathetic figure"). There is little in
"Lolita" that can be trusted as fact. Viewed in this light, we can permit
ourselves to be enraptured by the beauty Humbert expresses on both the page
and on the screen, in the same way that we can be impressed with the
incredible spectacles of Nazi rallies in works such as Leni Riefenstahl's
"Triumph of the Will." To be thus impressed, however, is neither to excuse
nor emulate such actions. Only the sick will do so. And they were doing so,
alas, long before "Lolita" was ever born. They require no film for their
wretched inspirations. Do not shoot the messenger, Mr. Maurer; solve the

Thomas E. Braun