Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0001236, Mon, 19 Aug 1996 16:17:27 -0700

The Lyne-Schiff LOLITA (2)
EDITOR'S NOTE. NABOKV-L wishes to thank Mr. Schiff for allowing us to
present his letter to Suellen Stringer-Hye

Suellen Stringer-Hye prefaces Mr. Schiff's message as follows:

After conducting the Zembla interview with Stephen Schiff, the
screenwriter for Adrian Lyne's remake of _Lolita_ , many articles
about the difficulty the film and its makers are having in finding a
US distributor have surfaced. I decided to ask Mr. Schiff to comment
on the veracity of these rumors and this is what he wrote in

I was in Los Angeles last week and I got a chance to look at about an
hour of footage from "Lolita." What I saw was utterly beautiful--tragic,
hilarious, disturbing, touching. I do think Adrian has outdone himself
(and am grateful for the part I have been able to play in that), and from
my admittedly biased perspective, it looks as though this "Lolita" is a
masterpiece in the making. It now seems possible that the cutting and
scoring may be finished in time for a release at year's end, 1996.

Which brings us to the article you passed along--and others like it.
About two months ago, Jeremy Irons apparently made a statement whose
consequences he did not foresee. He told the press, "Until they see it, I
think a lot of studios are going to be nervous of the subject matter."
Which may or may not be true. In any case, his statement, and others like
it, caused a lot of murmuring in the press. I (and probably most of the
other principals involved with the film) started getting phone calls
saying, "We hear you're having trouble getting distribution." My reply,
to them and to the article you sent, remains "How can we be having
trouble getting distribution when we haven't yet shown the film to any

In fact, the game plan for "Lolita" was always to make the film first (it
began as a Carolco project and wound up being financed by the French
company Chargeurs) and then sell it to distribution later. On the basis
of its cast, director, and script alone, it sold to several foreign
territories at Cannes. The American studios, of course, will want to see
more before they commit their vast resources to distributing the film,
and when there is enough to show them, we will show them.

Meanwhile, there will be articles. The one you sent was mostly cribbed
from a piece Benjamin Svetkey wrote in the "Entertainment Weekly" issue
of August 9. It quotes Adrian Lyne out of context in a way that distorts
his remarks somewhat (for instance, he told Svetkey that in adapting a
masterpiece like "Lolita," he was "doomed to fail from the start."
Svetkey's article makes it sound as though he was talking about box
office, when what he was really talking about was the impossibility of
rendering the complexity and perfection of Nabokov's great book into
another medium.) In any case, Svetkey quoted an unnamed "skeptic at a
major studio" (yes, it could have been anyone from a studio head to a
receptionist) as saying, "No one will touch it. It's a politically bad
time for it. Talk about making Hollywood a target for the far right..."
He then goes on to say that "other sources say distribution won't be much
of a problem." I feel safe in saying that when distributors see what I
saw, they will not be thinking very much about whether distributing it is
okay with Bill Bennett. They will be thinking, "This is one of the most
beautiful movies I've ever seen, and wouldn't it be nice if our studio
were the beneficiary of all those Oscar nominations."

Suellen Stringer-Hye
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University