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A riveting transposition from page to screen. The accomplices are two giants in both fields. Nabokov adapts his own infamous novel for the screen and Kubrick, no less, translates it into images in a way that makes it unique, unforgettable and transcendental without ever putting himself in front of the camera. A Kubrick film can't be recognized by its style. Kubrick never made two films alike but there is something that, unquestionable, makes them stand out. In "Lolita"'s case the mere idea of touching the controversial novel with its taboo subject at its very core seem like a provocation from the word go. Pornography for the thinking man in which the only explicit act is the intention written in the character's eyes. Nothing is excessive and nothing is pulled back. James Mason - villain or victim - is monumental, mo-nu-men-tal! The unspeakable truth never leaves his brow. He is the most civilized man trapped in the lowest echelon of his own psyche. So aware, that it is painful to watch. Shelley Winters goes for it, taking her Mrs Hayes for all its worth and dives into the void of a desperate housewife, craving for sex. It is one of the most entertaining, shattering human spectacles, I've ever seen. But unlike Mason, she's not aware of it. There is a horrible innocence attached to her sickness. Peter Sellers's character from hell, the torturer comes in three riveting characterizations and Sue Lyon's temptress, the child, is the devil incarnate in a performance that defies description. None of them were nominated for Oscars and the film was condemned by every moral group in America and beyond. As film experiences go, this is one of the most provocative, enthralling, disgusting, entertaining and satisfying I've ever been through. Yep, I really mean that.
Someone commented that if you want to acquaint yourself with Nabokov's
`Lolita' without actually reading it, the best you can do is to see Adrian
Lyne's version. This is surely true. And, I might add, if you want to
acquaint yourself with Nabokov's `Lolita' without actually reading it - to
hell with you. You don't stand a chance anyway. Humbert's narration cannot
possibly make it to the screen in one piece. Kubrick, at least, made no
attempt. He even invents his own material, which Lyne is afraid or
unwilling to do.
Something about Lyne's authenticity is even shocking. He opens the story in 1947, which is when the story in fact opens - yet everything looks jarringly old-fashioned, whereas Kubrick's indeterminate 1950s setting looks right. The bulk of the story might as well take place in the 1950s as any other time. The crucial point is that the story cannot begin any EARLIER than 1947 - we need a post-war America with motels dotting the landscape. Humbert has little contact with contemporary culture; he only encounters the snippets of music and film that obsess Lolita, and he finds them unendurably vulgar. Kubrick captures this very well. There's this boppy little pop tune we never hear the end of - although most of the time we only hear it subliminally - for the first half of the movie, and it sounds like exactly the kind of tune that drove Humbert up the wall.
Kubrick's cast is a strong one. It's crowned by Peter Sellers as Quilty - and before you complain that we see too much of him, ask yourself what scene featuring Quilty could you possibly want to be removed? Admittedly, since this is 1962, we have a Lolita who is merely sixteen - but maybe this isn't just because it's 1962. After all, the book does two things at once. It makes us understand perfectly why Humbert is attracted to Lolita - we see her through his eyes - while constantly reminding us that Lolita is not someone that we would be attracted to, ourselves. Both are worthy goals, but when it comes time to film the book, the director must make a choice between them. Kubrick picked a genuinely attractive, but still obviously young, Sue Lyon. I can't fault this choice. As for Humbert - well, here Kubrick was actually MORE daring than Lyne was. Humbert Humbert is a sympathetic character who is also calculating, manipulative and - now and then - shockingly brutal. James Mason allows Humbert to be all of these things. This doesn't prevent him from being sympathetic. The story takes care of that.
It comes down to this. What, exactly, does Humbert do that's so wrong? Is it that he has sex with a minor? Considered in itself this is the least of his crimes. What's really wrong is the way he attempts to be Lolita's lover and guardian simultaneously, and, of course, he makes a hash of both jobs. THAT is what's essential to the story of Lolita, and that's what Kubrick transfers to the screen at least as well as Lyne.
Having said that I must add that both versions are very good. They're also different enough to scarcely even be competitors. See them one after the other, if you like.
I have seen both versions of Lolita now. The 1997 version, directed by
Adrian Lyne, certainly has it's merits, and is headed by two very good
leads in Irons and Swain. But it is this, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation,
that I prefer overall. Kubrick said in an interview after the film's
release, "Had I known what I would've had to cut out, I probably
wouldn't of made the film." It's a surprising irony though that what
had to be suppressed or changed from the book works to his advantage.
Like other works under the master's belt, this has some comedy that is
so dark that you almost (or do) feel guilty after laughing. The
innuendo, even decades later, is still as provocative. And when it gets
disturbing, it doesn't go too far over the line. I have not read the
book, but I have heard much about it, what was different, and I think
Kubrick at least is most successful at infusing his trademark touches
to the material.
For starters, there is the acting. Like with for example Full Metal Jacket, the supporting actors somehow outrank the leads. This is not to say that James Mason (Humbert Humbert) and Sue Lyon (Dolores "Lolita" Hayes) are not highly believable in their parts. But in looking at Peter Sellers in his multiple roles via the curious, insanely oddball Quilty, and Shelley Winters as Lolita's mother, they are simply flat-out brilliant (I would choose a better word if I could, believe me). Right from the first scene, which happens to take the last scene of the story in place, Sellers doesn't have me for a second thinking that he isn't perfectly off-the-wall. As was in Dr. Strangelove, his contributions to the project are incalculable. Winters, on the other hand, finds that balance with Mrs. Hayes as a lonely middle-aged woman looking for companionship, though unable to shake her over-protective tendencies.
As for Mason and Lyon, their scenes together are at the least a little overtly melodramatic (which might have been the idea, it may take another few viewings to really grasp the weight of their performances) and at best helps define what the film is about. Mason finds the right notes, if a little anxiously and stuffy at times, in how Humbert is almost like a kid trying to break out of his middle-aged professor image. When he meets Lolita he's awestruck, and falls for her hard, very hard, which sets up what happens to the two of them for the rest of the film. What is even more interesting is how the dynamic is placed with Lolita, who is wiser in ways Humbert is not, and how the sort of idea of mutual youth is tempting, but definitely not everlasting. As the film unfolds it's third act, the film becomes an intense kind of morality tale, where male insecurities are touched upon with Humbert, and even Quilty to a degree. Kubrick, being one of the finest of dramatic character psychologists, hardly skips a beat in making sure not to lose the strange bits (which must be some of the better bits in Nabokov's text) with humor.
Then there is the most rewarding thing of all in a Kubrick film, which is seeing how he photographs the scenes and characters. It holds some of the moves and angles and lighting he's held to for all of his career (some shots show as a precursor to Eyes Wide Shut perhaps), and how the camera stays on the characters in many scenes (actually, almost all the scenes) adds that right tension and space between us and them. If anything else, just watch the film for the sake of watching a film moving and staying put and capturing faces in particular ways. Lolita, in the end, may not be one of my very favorite Kubrick films (though only time and repeat viewings will tell), but it's certainly worth a viewing. Some Kubrick fans may come to this after seeing the essentials like 2001, the Shining, or Clockwork Orange, however it could come as being a favorite in some circles. It certainly is, for my money, as enticing and intriguing a sexual satire I've seen in many a moon.
I think Stanley Kubrick was the only director who had any ideas of how
to tackle a film version of Lolita. I also believe that he was the only
director who could have succeeded, and I believe he did succeed. This
film was everything I could have expected it to be, and maybe even a
Shelley Winters' performance was wonderful! James Mason delivered a strong effort in a very difficult part to play. Peter Sellers was Peter Sellers, four or five times throughout the movie, but that's Peter Sellers, and that's why I am really starting to admire his work. The real surprise performance in this movie, however, came from Sue Lyon in the title role. Her intensity was incredible. She seemed perfectly natural as a teenage girl enjoying the attention of older men, or just men in general. You could really see the wheels turning in her head as she schemed her way from one situation to the other. Some have criticized that her Lolita was "too old" in comparison to the novel's Lolita. One could make that judgment, however, what twelve year old actress would have been able to provide the emotional depth required for the part? Let's face it, in literary adaptations, some license must be allowed. All in all, I thought it was a very good movie, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the work of Stanley Kubrick and/or Peter Sellers.
A significant part of Stanley Kubrick's genius was his ability to translate
a literary style into a visual one. It is demonstrated nowhere more
brilliantly than in LOLITA and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
LOLITA is perhaps the more stunning accomplishment, in that Nabokov's style is complex and multi-layered. Yet Kubrick captures the effect of it in camera angles and movements, in timing and point of view.
The broadest layer of Nabokov's novel, the parable of the aging culture of Europe trying to revivify itself by debauching the seductive young culture of America, is really missing in the film. But everything else is there, despite the fact that the film departs from the exact events of the novel.
Not to say that the film depends on the novel. It stands by itself quite easily. But it succeeds brilliantly in conveying the ideas and feelings that are the core of the novel, and it does so in completely cinematic terms. If films are to be based on works of literature, this is the way to do it, and the way it is almost never done.
This film remains my all-time favorite. It's a delicious, adult
meditation on youth, obsession and sex. While not entirely faithful to
the novel, it captures the book's spirit and is nonetheless a
masterpiece on its own terms. To fully appreciate what Kubrick has
done, compare this version to Adrian Lyne's anemic remake.
Kubrick chose his cast wisely for the most part. James Mason conveys both the tormented inner soul and the outwardly polite gentleman with such charm that you simply can't despise him for his treachery. Shelley Winters was never better as the shrill, man-hungry shrew. Sue Lyon is enormously credible in a complex role - physically attractive, childish at times in her behavior, but quietly calculating and manipulative. The weakest link is Peter Sellers, who Kubrick found amusing enough to let him run on too long. Sellers was a brilliant performer, but just not right for this film. As Quilty, he's fine. When masquerading as others, he's mostly intrusive and tends to alter the tone of what's going on.
The need to tread carefully around the censors in 1962 actually works in the film's favor. There's a sophisticated subtlety that counterbalances the lurid subject matter. In fact, I even prefer the edited-for-television version of the scene in which Humbert and Lolita first have sex. Here she merely whispers in his ear before a suggestive fade-out. In the complete version of the film, the scene continues with them discussing a silly game played at summer camp. The less said, the better.
"Lolita" has aged remarkably well. Its topic is relevant today, and the careful craftsmanship that went into this production holds up beautifully. I think it's Kubrick's best film - they tended to get more self-indulgent as time went on. This one's a gem. Not to be overlooked are the aptly provocative title sequence and Nelson Riddle's luscious piano score.
Having read the Nabokov novel and the two well-known versions of the film,
believe the most accurate way of defining the relations is: Lyne´s film is
more faithful to the literal reading of the story, Kubrick's one is far
faithful to its spirit and, what is even more important, it isn't drowned
comparisons with the book.
Probably what bothers most people who have seen both films and read the novel is that Kubrick gives ample space to cynicism, farce and mocking of all the main (and even secondary) characters: it ridicules both the cultured, refined and cosmopolitan Englishman and the pseudo-liberal and fairly tacky Americans (the cultural and behavioral differentiation reminding me of Henry James, just in reverse). The child temptress is here seen more realistically as a sexy however vacuous and irritating teenager and Humbert´s love of her as a noble and real but tremendously stupid infatuation (coming from a cold-headed intellectual like him). Also delightful the portrayal of alcoholic and neurotic Shelley Winters, and particularly of Peter Sellers as a mediocre tv writer enhanced by American middle-class culture. There is a lot of witty sociopolitical criticism here.
Adrian Lynne's version, being utterly romantic (and striving really too hard to be poetic) may seem more accurate on the love story but is really Nabokov's intention to tell a love story as such? I can't really appreciate how such wonderful novelist could be so obvious and open to his reader. Not forgetting the romanticism of Humbert's feelings of despair towards the girl, Kubrick doesn't indulge in a simple love story but explores all the most obscure consequences of irrationality and does so with irony and sarcasm (humour is everywhere) but also with a touch of compassionate dramatism when appropriate.
We have a classic here, both faithful to the novel and full of innovations. Lynne´s intent is merely a limp follower of its two (the literary and the filmic) predecessors.
What a surreal, dreamlike world Stanley Kubrick creates with this intriguing
The book, a recognized 20th century classic, is at times disturbing,
funny, uncomfortably erotic, and heartbreakingly sad. The film, made in the
captures many of the same feelings generated by the book--but the censorship
of the time could only allow Kubrick to suggest the more intimate and erotic
aspects of the book--which he slyly succeeds in doing. It is hard to believe now, but when this film was released, it was considered to be unbelievably
provacative and absolutely for adults only.
The movie becomes its own artistic statement---Kubrick doesn't merely try to
recreate the scenes and storyline of the book--although much of it is there--but he uses the period music, speech, clothes and mannerisms to create his own
imaginative and fascinating world. At the same time, we sure do end up caring about the characters. Within the exceptional cast, note the special performance Shelly Winters gives--her character is at once funny and so achingly sad and
pathetic. This is a real tour-de-force of acting. In several instances we go from laughing at her to really disliking her, to feeling so very sorry for her. She creates a truly memorable character.'
The film ranks right up there with all of the spectacfular films Kubrick made during his amazing and very singular career---each of his films was so
distinctive--and Lolita is one of the most distinctive of them all.
Not the two words that came to mind when I first read the book. This movie
nicely handles the taboo subject matter and is tremendously funny as well.
Peter Sellers was warming up for his triumph in Dr. Strangelove, Shelly
Winters gave her best performance, and James Mason made us feel his pain.
As Lolita, Sue Lyon is convincing although Kubrick makes her character a bit
older (probably to satisfy the censors, which still slapped this with an X
rating originally, much to my surprise). The movie could play on TV today
with no edits. I have not seen the 1997 remake but can only imagine, given
its director with a reputation of going over the top, that it's not as
classy and tasteful as this one. Since this was made in 1962, the risque
elements from the book were left to our imagination. And the movie scores
highly because of it. The movie's story is stuck in the '60s (that bubblegum
music, which played during Lolita's early scenes, will stick with you), and
if you are bored with the story, or cannot believe what you're seeing, you
can always get a culture lesson: Hula hoops, malt shops, pseudo
intellectuals, faulty cots and gas stations where they still pump your gas.
Kubrik's version of Nabokov's tale of a middle-aged professor's self-destructive obsession with a young schoolgirl. Making a film that dealt with underage sex was considered impossible in 1962 due to the strict censorship regulations. Kubrik manages to get round this by merely alluding to sexual encounters and subtle wordplay and symbolism creeps into several scenes. He also raises the girl's age from 12 in the novel to 14 in the film. Lolita is also rich in Kubrik's trademark dark humour.
The three central characters of the novel are all portrayed more than adequately in the film; James Mason as the smitten professor, Shelley Winters as the suburban widow with pretensions of culture and Sue Lyons as the young nymphet. However, it is Sellars' performance as the creepy eccentric Clare Quilty (a relatively minor character in the book) that steals the show and, ultimately, makes the film. The opening scene (which is the ending of the film) is an outstanding testament to his talent and versatility. The said scene gives the film the same "circular structure" used by David Lean in "Brief Encounter".
My favourite moments include; Quilty's re-introduction to the film at the school's summer ball as the camera pans across the dancefloor and subtly reveals a look of comic ambivalence on his face as he dances with his lover, Humbert awkwardly trying to book the only remaining hotel-room at the police convention and Humbert again trying to teach the cynical Lolita the joys of Edgar Allen Poe's poetry.
I thoroughly recommend this film. My only complaint is the length - the final third seemed to drag a bit.
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