Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lolita (1997)

Title: Lolita (1997)

Director: Adrian Lyne

Writer: Stephen Schiff

Cast: Jeremy Irons, Dominique Swain, Melanie Griffith, Frank Langella


On my review for Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita (1962), I mentioned that that particular version was a prisoner of its time, and it's true, the book on which the film is based on (Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita) is a novel about a  man who falls in love with a 12 year old. For all intents and purposes, it’s a story of pedophilia. Surprisingly as this may sound, considering how sexual a lot of Stanley Kubrick's films are, his version of Lolita is restrained in the sexual aspects of the story, failing to go where its story begs for it to go to. It fades to black in key sequences, and lets the audience imagine what is happening between Professor Humbert and Lolita. Fast forward more than 30 years later and director Adrian Lyne decides he wants to do another take on Nabokov’s novel. Was this version also restrained, or did it go further?

Lolita is the story of Professor Humbert Humbert, and man who suddenly finds himself playing with the notion of falling in love with a 15 year old girl, a child. He even goes as far as marrying Lolita’s mother so that he can be closer to Lolita! Will Humbert control his aberrant thoughts? Or will he move forward with his desires? And what will the outcome of his actions be?

I was a bit disappointed with Kubrick’s version of Lolita. Not that its badly directed or acted or anything. It was just one of those films that are kind of hard to digest. It was deliberately slow paced, it didn’t go all the way with its themes because of the conservative times it was made in, but the performances pulled me in and the story of course grabbed me, because I wanted to see how Humbert and Lolita would end up, would their crazy idea of a relationship work? But mostly, I stuck with Kubrick’s film all the way to the end for one main reason: its Kubrick, and I have to watch every Kubrick film before I die no matter what I do. I ended up liking the film even with its ‘flaws’.

On the other hand, Adrian Lyne’s version of Lolita was actually a pleasure to watch. Not that Im into stories about pedophiles, Im speaking more of the way the film was shot, wow. Lyne really captured some beautiful imagery on this film. He framed every shot perfectly, he filmed in beautiful locations, and got the best performances he could out of these actors. He pulled of a story that is not easy to tell, in a very beautiful way. My hands down to Mr. Lyne for filming such a beautiful looking picture. I really enjoy Lyne’s directing style. He frames things perfectly and beautifully, but he also gets right in there in the action, making you feel as if you are right there in the movie with the characters. There is one scene where Lolita comes back into the house running through the stairs to meet with Humbert so she could say goodbye to him. When Lolita is going up the steps, you feel like you are right there with her because of the way the scene was shot. Bravo, Mr. Lyne. Its no surprise this director has made one of my favorite horror films ever: Jacobs Ladder; yet another film that is visually striking. So be ready for some beautiful imagery with this version of Lolita.

The theme for this film are controversial, some might think the film favors pedophilia, which it doesn’t. Humbert and Lolita’s outcome is a testament to that. This film did come closer to capturing the developing intricacies of Humbert and Lolita’s strange relationship. It focuses on those little details, those little moments that are decisive in moving forward with a relationship, in this sense, I have to say that this film developed everything better than Kubrick’s version did. Kubrick's version was afraid of its themes, while this version embraces them. You see Humbert oogling on Lolita, you can see machinations forming in Humbert’s brain, you can tell this man wants Lolita in his arms. And Lolita is more of a provocateur in this film, she is the one pushing Humbert’s buttons as well. Dominique Swain, the actress who plays Lolita was only 15 when she shot this, but Adrian Lyne filmed her more erotic scenes with a body double. This illusion works perfectly well, for I didn’t notice it until I recently read about it. Still, the sex scenes are not graphic at all, it’s the idea that grabs and shocks you. But we're not here to see Jeremy Irons making out with a 15 year old girl, this film is after all a morality play, we want to explore what is the right thing to do. And if you choose to do the wrong thing, what are the consequences?

What I loved about Kubrick’s version more than anything was Peter Seller’s performance as Claire Quilty. The guy who tries to “rescue” Lolita from Prof. Humbert’s claws. It was such a crazy performance, the character comes off as kind of nuts, psychologically damaged. On Lynes film this character is played by Frank Langella, a solid actor if there ever was any. Langella brings an air of disgust and depravity to his character. Quilty is on screen for a very short time on this film, yet he is incredibly mysterious, and at the same time intensely revolting. A sexually aberrant individual. A despicable character, but a great performance!

All in all, a great movie. The controversy surrounding the thematic elements made it difficult for this movie to take off at the box office. It actually got a very small theatrical run and was later premiered on cable tv. I was surprised to discover that this film didn’t even get any Oscar Nominations when it so obviously should have gotten many awards. I guess this shows just how conservative the members of the academy are. This movie should have at least been nominated for cinematography, but alas, it was ignored by the academy that year. I guess Titanic was “king of the world” on that year and Lolita was completely ignored because of that. A shame, because even though this films thematic elements speak of a very ugly truth; this is actually a very beautiful film to look at. A true work of art.

Rating: 5 out of 5


otis rampaging heterosexuality said...

For the truth about this movie read Peregrine Fforbes-Hamiltons brilliant and incredibly honest comment over on Soiled Sinemas reveiw of this film, he says things there that you wouldn`t have dared to say in your reveiw but thats because Hamilton speaks "THE TRUTH, THE ENTIRE TRUTH, AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH", happy reading.

Franco Macabro said...

Dont know what "truth about this movie" you are talking about Otis, the review on the blog you mentioned says essentially the same things Ive mentioned on mine, I didnt see anything on that review that I "wouldnt have dared say" on my review.

Oh wait, they did use the word "c ock" so I guess that makes it edgier. Wow. Amazing.

otis rampaging heterosexuality said...

No..No.."Film Connoisseur" you misunderstood me, i didn`t mean "THEIR" actual reveiw i meant the comment left on that reveiw by "Peregrine Fforbes Hamilton" in the comments section under the actual reveiw itself, go back and read that comment specifically and then you will understand what i actually meant.

Unknown said...

Excellent review! I remember the controversy that surrounded Lyne's version when it came out and how no distributor wanted to touch it when it came to the U.S.

I admire Lyne for attempting to bring a European sensibility to the American masses. He keeps trying and I think that one of his more successful attempts was UNFAITHFUL. Man, he really got a great performance out of Diane Lane in that one. She actually manages to transcend the material.

I also really like JACOB'S LADDER which is a fascinating horror film with some really memorable nightmarish imagery. It's one of those films that stays with you days after.

Franco Macabro said...

The comment you are referring to is this one:

peregrine fforbes-hamilton said...
in certain ways i thought this was one of the best films of the 90`s (although it still wasn`t truthful or graphic enough, because of the lies, hypocrisy, censorship, and sexual repression that is still plagueing our society), however, its interesting to realise that when the next version is made in 2032 we will obviously get to see the 10 year old girl being buggered in graphic close-up, perhaps for the entire running time of the film, (and this remember in what will be a mainstream hollywood movie) only then will a version have finally been made that is completely true to the novel, and perhaps more importantly true to the lust and sexual violence that governs the minds of all men. Perhaps the release of that film will also be a sign that "the time of sexual repression" really is over once and for all."

I havent read the novel, so I cant really say if this film was faithful or not, notice I didnt mention that in my review, I did read that Lynes version was a bit closer to what Nobokov portrayed in his novel.

I will undoubtedly read the novel now, but what that comment is saying is that the film should have shown Irons and Swain graphically making out, and I dont think any film has to do that in order to stay truthful to the novel, after all, if it was too be as graphic as some wish, it would turn into a porn film, or I dont really think the film has to be as graphic to put its ideas through.

I did think Kubricks version was too restrained, way to restrained. But Lynes version goes just far enough. I thought Lynes film was perfect. It had to deal with a very touchy subject, but its such a beautiful film to look at. So well acted and shot. I personally thought it was one of the best films of that year, surpassing many fo the films that were nominated for an Oscar in 1998.

Franco Macabro said...

Oh and by the way Otis, sorry about my scruffy reply, I thought that what you were trying to say was "read Soiled Sinemas review, get the real dirt over there, cause Film Connoisseurs review is not the REAL truth about this film!" or something to that effect.

I didnt pick up that you were referring to peregrine forbes comment!

Franco Macabro said...

"I admire Lyne for attempting to bring a European sensibility to the American masses. He keeps trying and I think that one of his more successful attempts was UNFAITHFUL. Man, he really got a great performance out of Diane Lane in that one. She actually manages to transcend the material."

I need to see more of Lynes films! After seeing this one and knowing that he is the guy behind Jacobs Ladder as well, well, now I am obligated, like a good film buff, to see the rest of his films. Can you believe Ive never seen 9 1/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction, Flashdance or Unfaithful? Man, I feel like Ive really been missing out! I need to get up to date with Lynes films, it feels like he is a real genuine talent. A real artist. Apparently he enjoys sexy and edgy material.

"I also really like JACOB'S LADDER which is a fascinating horror film with some really memorable nightmarish imagery. It's one of those films that stays with you days after."

Yes, it defenetly resonates days after youve seen it. Its one of my top horror films EVER. Lyne is a gifted filmmaker, I cant wait to see the rest of his filmology.

As always, thanks for the comments everyone!

Will Errickson said...

I saw this version *twice* in the theater; obviously, I had the same reaction as you: much more faithful to the novel than Kubrick's version, but no disrespect to the 1962 film meant. At the time of Lyne's version I had a film prof who *hated* it and felt I didn't *get* why it was so wrong. Oh well. Fuck that noise. Haven't seen either movie in well over 10 years, though. Time for a refresher! (I have read the novel, twice; it's maddening and so much more horrifying than one would think).

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

I didnt think much of this. I agree that it was shot well, but a bit too much soft focus camera work for my liking though. Irons is no Mason and Swain is a far sluttier version than that seen in the novel. Wheras the Kubrick version was too restrained, this version lacks restraint in its efforts to highlight the controversial aspects. The film lacks the nuance and subtlety that Kubrick was forced to adopt in his film (Humbert looking at Lolita's photo while he seduces her mother for example). Perhaps weakest of all though is the character of Quilty in this version.

Franco Macabro said...

@Will: Thanks for the comment Will! I cant believe people can actually hate this movie! It seems your professor was a huge fan of the novel and obviously, the film has to be more restrained if it wants to be released in theaters, which Lyne's Lolita had a real problem in doing.

I need to get down to reading that novel, by the comments that have been made about it, apparently its even more shocking than anything Ive seen in the movies! Im currently reading Michael Endes The Never Ending Story (which I will be doing a book review on soon right on this blog) but I will tackle Lolita next!

@Shaun: I got a question for you Shaun, was Quilty a prominent character in the novel? Did he play a more meaningful part then what we saw in either version of the film? Ive read that Kubrick gave Quilty more importance just to give Peter Sellers more screen time. I loved Sellers Quilty, such a crazy character, you get the feeling that there was something defenetly strange about him.

On Lynes version Quilty is a bit more despicable, we get the feeling that he is a real scumbag as opposed to Kubricks version where we just hear what Lolita has to say about him. In Lynes version the augmented how sick and perverted he was a bit more.

As far as Lynes version being restrained and not going all the way, I dont know if I agree so much on that Shaun because I defenetly got the vibe of how obsessive Humbert was becoming with Lolita, a bit more than on Kubricks version. You see Irons looking at Lolita with desire in his eyes, they take a little more time in really establishing that he finds her sexually attractive.

There is a scene in which Lolita is on her bed chewing gum in her night gown or something and Humbert is going crazy in his room, peekig at Lolita through her half opened bedroom door. I thought Lynes film did a better job at capturing that feeling.

Or those scenes with Humbert and Lolita sitting together on the swing and she is touching him with her legs, I guess it was just little details that Lynes version captured perfectly in my opinion anyways.

Shaun Anderson [The Celluloid Highway] said...

Quilty is pretty much the shadowy figure he is in both versions. He doesnt have a substantial role in the novel but there is a sense that he has a hand in everything and his influence is never far from the surface. I think what makes the novel a pleasure is Nabakov's beautiful prose. I think the scandalous elements have been reduced to such a degree now that one can concetrate on other aspects of the novel. Unfortunately for LOLITA as a filmic enterprise the moving image retains the inbuilt realism that a novel can dispense with. Therefore a truly accurate adaptation will never occur - and I'm glad of that. I personally mark a film down the more faithful it is to the novel. I always hunt for the changes. The measure of a good film adapation is how successful the changes are.

Franco Macabro said...

Thanks for that mini-review of the novel, Im going to try and get the book this weekend, start reading it at some point. I love reading novels that films have been based on, I seeing what they changed from book to film, and try and figure out why. Most of the time is either because its too complex to film in terms of scope and effects or sometimes they just leave stuff out because its unnecesary to move the story forward.

Ruben Romero said...

interesting side note: Natalie Prtman turned down the role of Lolita because it was too trashy (she had a point).

Result: Beautiful Girls, Everyone Says I Love You, and Mars Attacks....

and our little Niquey got Face Off

Reina said...

First of all, this is a very honest review of a beautiful just read the comment otis left, and the comment he was referring to , and i don't believe that Peregrine talked the entire truth, or maybe he was just talking of HIS me is not truth that lust and sexual violence governs the mind of all men, that is just giving up to the cliche of thinking that all men are assholes, which of course is not truth...also, does he believes that sexual repression ( when it comes to a man who wants to rape little girls) should be over...Im sorry, but men like that should be kept in a cage forever. Im also questioning if the 2032 version of Lolita will in fact show us a 10 year old girl having sex with a thirty something guy, It is very naive to believe that the world will change like that in 23 years, and honestly, I don't think I want to live in a world where watching a little girl have sex with a man will ben seen as something normal, thats just fucking sickk said...

I'm sorry, but there is NO middle ground, no shades of gray, no "understanding of feelings." If an adult acts on ANY desire for a person under 18, then there is ABSOLUTELY NO REDEEMING VALUE WHATSOEVER to the movie depicting this them. I don't give a DAMN how "compelling" Jeremy Irons portrayal of a child rapist is is STILL a dipiction of CHILD RAPE, which in legal terms is known as "criminal child pornography."

Yes, I said it...CRIMINAL. EVERY adult associated with this production, every distributor of this film, and in fact every adult who knowingly purchases a ticket, by definition, has committed a REGISTRABLE SEX OFFENSE. NO decent person, especially adults would even CONSIDER this movie to have any redeemable value in any context.

The very fact that you refer to your distaste of pedophilia, then interject "But..." is itself damning. Unless you fully support the incarceration and registration of every adult associated with this production that depicts child rape, then I must consider you to actually support such activities. Pure and simple.

Franco Macabro said...

I dont know if you read my review or not, but I never approve or sympathize with the actions of Jeremy Iron's character in the film. In fact, I call his thoughts and actions "aberrant", meaning they deviate from the proper or true course of action. Meaning, he deviates from what is right.

Fact of the matter remains that the film depicts a real issue that happens in real life, it doesnt depict the characters actions as being correct either, his relationship with Lolita ends in disaster demonstrating how unfruitful a relationship like this is.

In my review, I stated my distate for pedophilia, and said "but" in regards to how well the film was shot, from the point of view of cinematography. I in NO WAY condone, or accept pedophilia as a good thing, get your facts straight!

Ruben Romero said...

@ RSOHunter

Would you say that those who take part in production, distribution, and consumption of films that depict murder should be considered willing participants in snuff?

Unknown said...

Not so long ago it was discovered that there was a WW I-era German novel with a similar Lolita, a very young loving character, thus published long before Nabokov's "Lolita" story in 1955. Nabokov even lived in the same neighborhood in Berlin before WW II, and although he was esp unfond of German authors, he is known to have been acquainted w/the Family of this author, Heinz von Lichberg. It is unknown if Nabobov deliberately kept his copying elements of this book, or just didn't think it important. See Michael Maar's "The Two Lolitas.

Robert A. Musacchio said...

Not so long ago it was discovered that there was a WW I-era German novel with a similar Lolita, a very young loving character, thus published long before Nabokov's "Lolita" story in 1955. Nabokov even lived in the same neighborhood in Berlin before WW II, and although he was esp unfond of German authors, he is known to have been acquainted w/the Family of this author, Heinz von Lichberg. It is unknown if Nabobov deliberately kept his copying elements of this book, or just didn't think it important. See Michael Maar's "The Two Lolitas.


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