Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0002339, Tue, 9 Sep 1997 11:11:49 -0700

Re: The New Lolita Film (fwd)
From: joseph brown <joeb@prognet.com>

[On the net, a generally amusing daily web-page called "suck"
(http.//ww.suck.com.--or something like that) today has a
sarcastic little editorial on the new Lolita film, attacking it on
the basis that Lyne isn't much of a director. However, since the
editorialist hasn't seen the film, the credibility is a bit weak.
--Charles Nicol]

The article is not without merit; here is the text:


SUCK: "a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 September 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

In the Lyne of Pale Fire

Hollywood never looks so stupid as when it tries to look smart. In recent
years we've seen Demi adapt Hawthorne, Chris O'Donnellplay Hemingway, and now,
to put the cap squarely on the dunce, Adrian Lyne, director of Indecent Proposal
and Flashdance, has filmed Nabokov's Lolita, the story of Humbert Humbert,
intellectual and pedophile, and his obsession with the book's titular heroine,
the pre-pubescent Lolita.

But Hollywood looking dumb everynow and then isn't news. What's generating
all the hot type is Lyne's inability to find an American distributor for his
film. In the age of the Soccer Mom, Hollywood isn't keen to back movies with
middle-aged men screwing 12-year-olds (especially when they already make so much
money on movies about middle-aged men screwing 19-year-olds).

What Lyne's Lolita boils down to for the press, however, is the classic
battle between Misunderstood Artist and Mencken's "booboisie." From Ulysses to
Serrano's Piss Christ, this has become such a predictable genre of arts
journalism - as rote as any Schwarzenegger film or Mel Gibson buddy movie -
that whenever a work is publicly disputed, journalists simply assume the
position, painting the protesters as ignorant, frightened rabble and the artist
as the long-suffering visionary. Only this time, the unlettered heathens just
may be right.

After all, a proper adaptation of Lolita wouldn't offend anyone. Yes, there
are people so disgusted by the subject that they oppose any treatment of it
whatsoever. Once past that, however, Lolita loses its controversial edge
because Nabokov isn't sympathizing with the perverts, he's disgusted by them. No,
in order to really get people angry over Lolita, you have to miss, either
willfully or through sheer ignorance, the novel's point. And fortunately, with
lazy journalists in love with the effete pose of the misunderstood creator,
we're getting just that sort of knee-jerk reaction right now.

As Lolita is poised for its European debut in both England and France, both
Premiere and The NewYorker ran testaments to Lyne's great battle and the
upcoming controversy. But Hollywood has pre-empted the battle, because no studio
is bothering to release this film. No one has stated exactly why, but Premiere's
Rachel Abramowitz places the problem well within the genre when she writes this
about Hollywood executives: "For some, it represents a clash between their
generally liberal politics and their fear of provoking a conservative backlash."
Sure, liberals love child molesters - it was in Clinton's State of the Union
speech, I remember. Never mind that it's Democrats like Senators Lieberman,
Exon, and Simon who want stricter controlson TV, movies, the Internet, and
Calvin Klein's marketing department. Even Bob Dole drew the line at simply
scolding Hollywood.

But the cliché of intolerant churchgoers - as opposed to liberal feminists
or terrified parents groups, who also hate porn - is important to Premiere's
by-the-numbers approach, complete with scenes of a howling Lyne forced to
cut scenes of Humbert banging Lolita on a Sunday morning while she reads the
funnies. The NewYorker, equally romanced by theimage of The Artist Who Dares,
ran its own wheezy piece by Roger Angell, popping the
provocative-yet-calculated query: "Can we agree at lastthat Vladimir Nabokov's
twisted, ironic shocker is the greatest American love story of them all?" The
question is the Upper West Side equivalent of a desperate talk-radio host
trying to pump up his dead phone lines with topics like "Hitler - Has History
Been Too Hard on Him?"or "Should Americans Eat Dogsfor Dinner?" But in the genre
of Art über alles, these journos forget one thing: The artist can be wrong.

Abramowitz's assumption of political aversion and Angell's "We're all adults
here" pretentiousness overlook an important point - maybe, just maybe, Adrian
Lyne blew it. Maybe his Lolita really does suck. Maybe Adrian Lyne's isn't the
story of an aesthetic martyr, but of a martyr with learning disabilities. Lyne
himself told Abramowitz, "The book is ambivalent about Humbert. There's no
simplistic condemnation."

And there, in the artist's own words, we can now see the lynch mob as the
heroes in this little fable. For Lyne has misunderstood Nabokov from page one.
Ambivalent about pedophilia? The novel is never ambivalent about Humbert.
It's enthusiastic about him, supports him, and cheers his every move - because
it's told in first person, by the molester. Thus, every perversion, every abuse,
every day that Humbert holds Lolita prisoner is seen as Keatsian poetry. Of
course it never condemns Humbert; it champions him. It's what you call irony,
as big as a barn, and Lyne has missed it so completely you wonder if a man
with his eyesight should be allowed to drive. If Lyne has actually made a film
purporting to show both sides ofchild-fucking can you blame the mob?

In the end, there won't be any controversy when Lolita finds its American
distributor. As with Showgirls, Crash, or Spike Lee's last 10 movies, no one
will march down to the theater to throw bricks. The "controversy" will be limited
to local newshounds finding someone, anyone, to go on camera and say
Lolita should be banned. Most likely, a Jim Carrey comedy or The Little Mermaid II
will be released the same weekend, burying Lolita, leaving it remembered only in
the press kits for Lyne's future films, when he'll be written of as "the
controversial director of Lolita."

courtesy of Furious George