Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0003340, Thu, 27 Aug 1998 12:20:33 -0700

Atavistic deja vu with Stephen Schiff (fwd)
EDITORS NOTE. NABOKV-L thanks Janos Gereben for the item below.

From: Janos_Gereben <janos@netcom.com>

I had this funny feeling interviewing Schiff today
-- on a press tour before the long-delayed release of `Lolita' --
that I am from the Athens Times, in a toga, asking Sophocles:
how could you write about that mother.... Oedipus or that matricidal
Electra?! That's not nice.

I really feel for the guy, one of my favorite journalists,
who switched to script writing, only to have the same question
from `Fresh Air' to every magazine in creation: `Isn't
Lolita just too... *inappropriate* for our time?'

`You and Clinton,' I commiserated, `having to answer
the wrong question, over and over. Thrown to the prurient,
the hypocrite...'

`Oh, you mean, dealing with the Gatekeepers?' he said.

The rest of the exchange is yet come, but I've
got to tell about a supreme example of gentle one-upmanship:
when I told him about enjoying his NYer and Vanity Fair
profiles, especially about my two special heroes,
Sondheim and Stoppard (two great artists without a
discernable profile, all the more to challenge the
profile-writer), he smiled and said: `You know, one
time I was interviewing Sondheim when Stoppard
walked in.' Oh.

I don't think anyone has ever had as explosive a
*start* in screen writing as Schiff. After his first-time
effort on `Lolita' (started and abandoned by both Mamet
and Pinter), Schiff has *three* films about to be released,
and *three* more being written, all for various major
studios, for major directors and actors. And yet, he
spends a great deal of time `pushing' `Lolita' which
is a project he truly believes in and regards in a far
greater context than the `Gatekeeper' resistance:

`Now American culture rules the world. But that
really wasn't true in 1947. In many ways, it was a strangely
primitive place. It's funny and poignant to bring a
European of some culture into that context.

`Lolita represents the kind of mystery that
Americans must have represented to Europe and can never
represent again. But Lolita's peculiar sexual power, her
combination of innocence and eroticism, is an analog
to this particular American power that could be sinister
and innocent and surprising and could draw in someone
of much greater sophistication. Humbert ruins Lolita's
life and Lolita ruins Humbert's.

`Lolita is a dark comedy of frustration and
obsession. Obsession and frustration are something we
all experience on a small scale. And we can recognize
it when we see a character going through it on a
large scale.

`Part of Humbert's tragedy -- and a large part of his
comedy -- is that his enormous intelligence is always defeated
by his obsession. A man with a terrible secret like Humbert
could reasonable feel he could escape into the enormous
wilderness that America in 1947 represented. That's why
in a large part is a road movie.'

About the `scandal' around the film, he only says
that it's `a singular experience to love a character with
a fatal flaw you despise.'

There goes that deja vu again.

Angel: `An angel does not make love. An angel is love.'
The evil empress with designs on the Angel:
`Then you're a dead duck.' -- `Barbarella'
janos@netcom.com (NO attachments)
janos@sprintmail.com (YES)