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review wanted: lolita

Old 06-24-01, 06:24 PM
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does anyone have this? Is the movie any good? How about the A/V quality?
Old 06-24-01, 06:57 PM
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...which Lolita?

...the black-and-white 1962 version directed by Stanley Kubrick:

http://www.dvdangle.com/reviews/review.php?Id=1658

...or the 1997 color version directed by Adrian Lyne:

http://www.dvdverdict.com/reviews/lolita.shtml

. . . ? . . .
Old 06-25-01, 03:44 AM
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My thoughts on both films from http://www.jmreview.web.com

Note that my review of Kubrick's Lolita refers to the original DVD release; I have not seen the new one.

Mention Lolita, you donít have to specify whether itís the novel or one of the two films, and most people will shake their heads in disgust, proclaiming Lolita filthy and disgusting trash. While most can tell you Lolita is about, or so they think, a ďdirty old manĒ and an ďinnocent young girl,Ē chances are theyíve never seen either of the two films, and almost certainly havenít read the novel. Narrow-mindedness, ignorance, and fear are there, to be sure. Twentieth century America has the distinguished honor of turning adults lusting after young girls into taboo. Although good and wholesome are not adjectives I would use to describe Lolitaís subject matter, normal and natural would certainly be appropriate. At the heart of Lolita is a timeless, tragic love story, albeit an odd one.

Humbert Humbert, a literature professor from France, takes a job at a New England college. Before his fall term begins, he decides to spend the summer finishing up his book. Humbert finds lodgings at the home of the widow Haze. Humbertís reluctant to stay with Mrs. Haze at first, but quickly changes his mind when he sees Mrs. Hazeís young daughter, Lolita. The bratty Lolita immediately excites Humbert and he quickly grows to love her. The not so innocent Lolita is, naturally, very curious, and develops feelings for Humbert. Mrs. Haze makes attempts to win Humbertís affections, but he longs only for Lolita. When faced with leaving the Haze household and never seeing Lolita again or marrying Mrs. Haze, whom he loathes, to be close to Lolita, you can guess which Humbert chooses. An incident occurs which enables Humbert and Lolita to consummate their feelings. For a time, all is more or less, good. Both Humbert and Lolita live a lot and die a little, and both know this as itís happening. Naturally, trouble arises with the two in the form of Claire Quilty, a famous playwright and the alter ego of Humbert. Iíll stop here, as I donít want to give too much away, because Lolita is a sensational story.

I watched Stanley Kubrickís Lolita (1962) first, followed by Adrian Lyneís Lolita (1997). However, I would recommend doing the opposite if you havenít yet seen the films. The obvious question is how do Kubrickís Lolita and Lyneís Lolita compare with one another, and which is the better film? The political answer is that the two Lolita films are very different, and that there are some things I like better about Kubrickís version and other things I like better about Lyneís version. Often, the first film version of a novel remains the definitive version interpretation, and itís tough to live up to the great Stanley Kubrick. However, forget all youíve heard about the great Stanley Kubrick and think about the 1962 Lolita as simply a film with no specific director. (I know Kubrickís stamp is all over it, but play along). Taken in this light, and here is the blunt answer, Kubrickís Lolita is a severely flawed film, while Lynnís Lolita is a great one. Lyneís Lolita is far more effective, accurate, believable, and emotionally satisfying. It is the definitive interpretation of Nabakovís novel.

Artistically, Kubrick made some great choices, but he also made some poor ones. The way Kubrick opens his Lolita eliminates all suspense, which is a grave mistake. The opening plays like a comedy. In fact, the whole film plays like a comedy. Some say that the comedy is a faÁade to fool audiences and censors, and to a certain extent this might be true, but this excuse is not good enough. It is hard to take Kubrickís Lolita seriously, as the impact and emotion of Nabakovís novel is totally lost in Kubrickís film. (Nabakov adapted his novel for the film, but Kubrick later had his way with Nabakovís screenplay.) Lyneís opening, on the other hand, could hardly be better. We are immediately drawn into the film because of the scenes of Humbert driving drunk with a revolver. But, more importantly, we have quotations from Nabakovís novel that makes Ironsí Humbert a multidimensional character. Then we have a brief flashback to Humbertís childhood, which gives us even more insight into his character. Kubrickís opening is silly and shallow in comparison.

Lyneís Lolita has a more classic, dreamlike look and feel to it, while Kubrickís Lolita is dated and more matter-of-fact in comparison, although not as much as some of Kubrickís other films. Kubrick, unsuccessfully, moves the setting of the story forward to the Cold War years, while Lyne stays with Nabakovís post World War II setting. Lyneís sets have a timeless, artistic look to them, while Kubrickís sets are dated. Nelson Riddleís score for Kubrickís Lolita is annoying. Ennio Morriconeís score is absolutely perfect for Lyneís film, as itís beautifully sad and poignant with just the right amount of joy, sorrow, and doom.

How do the actors in the two Lolita films compare? I like James Mason and think he plays a wonderful Humbert, complete with a bit of comedy. However, I must confess that Jeremy Irons is one of my favorite actors, as heís brilliant in everything heís in. He is my preferred Humbert. While James Mason is certainly more dashing, animated, and physically intense, Jeremy Irons brings a much gentler, more feeling, more empathetic, and more intellectually and emotionally intense Humbert to the screen. We feel sad for Masonís Humbert, but Ironsí Humbert is truly tragic. The two actors bring different things to the role of Humbert, so personal preference must come into play. One point for each film.

Deciding who is the better widow Haze is an easy call. While itís easy to make the argument that Shelly Wintersí performance as the widow Haze in Kubrickís Lolita is over the top, it, nevertheless, works wonderfully. She is the definitive Mrs. Haze, and Melanie Griffith cannot begin to compare. Griffithís acting is atrocious, and thankfully sheís only in the film for a short time. One point for Kubrickís film.

Sue Lyon is not so much a nymphet as a slut. Sheís too old and too much of a bitch, even though Lolita is supposed to be somewhat bratty. Dominique Swain is a far better Lolita with just the right look and demeanor. One point for Lyneís film.

And so we come to Claire Quilty. In Kubrickís film, the character of Quilty appears many more times than what Nabakov had intended. While Sellers is fun to watch in his different disguises and brings a goofiness to the role, these extra appearances detract from the story and are totally unbelievable. Sellerís Quilty is dangerous and unstable, but in a goofier, more eccentric way than Frank Langellaís Quilty. When Langellaís Quilty first appears, we do not see his face, but the way Langella portrays that scene with the dog and the leash is brilliant. Like Mason and Irons, Sellers and Langella bring different things to their character. One point for each film. Tie game, for the actors.

Warner Brothersí transfer of Kubrickís Lolita is neither good nor horrible. Itís probably the best looking of all the films in Warnerís Kubrick Box Set, but thatís not saying much. The film is definitely showing its age, and Warner has done little to restore it. The DVD is full frame, Kubrickís preferred aspect ratio. The mono soundtrack is adequate, but could be improved. The only extra is a theatrical trailer. All things considered, this DVD is fairly pricy.

Trimark went all out on their release of Lyneís Lolita. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is breathtaking, preserving the misty quality that the film has. The green and gray color palette is rendered beautifully. Sound is also impressive with dialog and Ennio Morriconeís score sounding superb. Although a predominantly quiet movie, the surrounds are put to good use in a very convincing storm scene. Extras are plentiful and well chosen. Adrian Lyne has a great commentary track (he begins it with his thoughts on Ennio Morricone, which is always a plus). There are some deleted scenes and a featurette along with the usual cast and crew biographies and theatrical trailers. One terrific extra is a rehearsal scene between Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain. Itís quite fascinating (look at her cheek after Irons slaps her!).

Both versions of Lolita are worth acquiring, but if you can only buy one, get Lyneís version.

Lolita (1962)
Content: ***1/2
Audio: ***
Video: ***
Extras: **

Lolita (1997)
Content: *****
Audio: *****
Video: *****
Extras: *****

Old 06-25-01, 07:55 AM
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I thought the Kubrick version of "Lolita" was quite good. I've yet to see the new DVD version so I can't comment on the audio/video quality....
Old 06-25-01, 10:43 AM
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The new transfer of Kubrick's Lolita is definitely better than the old. How much, is up to you to decide. Since the new one is available there's no reason to even look at the old 1999 edition.

I like both versions for different reasons, but they're both very flawed--Lyne's is too serious and Kubrick's, too funny. A middle ground would have truly been the definitive film of this great novel.
Old 06-25-01, 12:56 PM
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Justin, I couldn't agree with you more on almost every point. I first saw the Kubrick version on video nearly 10 years ago. Then in 1998, I saw the Lyne version shortly after reading the book. A couple of months later I saw the Kubrick version again at a revival house. When it comes to reproducing the spirit and intent of the book, the Lyne version wins hands down. I find it very interesting that Kubrick always adapted other people's material, but always made each project distinctly his own. I completely agree with you on Shelly Winters although I think you're a little hard on Melanie Griffith. She wasn't great, but I don't think she embarrassed herself. What I find particularly remarkable is that Shelly Winters' performance could be lifted right out of the Kubrick version and placed into the Lyne version and fit seamlessly. It's the only part of Kubrick's version I can say that about(try doing it with Quilty).
I also feel I should point out that I am a huge admirer of Kubrick. I just don't think Lolita was his best work.

[Edited by GlennS on 06-25-01 at 09:59 AM]
Old 06-26-01, 10:09 AM
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forget all youíve heard about the great Stanley Kubrick and think about the 1962 Lolita as simply a film with no specific director. (I know Kubrickís stamp is all over it, but play along). Taken in this light, and here is the blunt answer, Kubrickís Lolita is a severely flawed film, while Lynnís Lolita is a great one. Lyneís Lolita is far more effective, accurate, believable, and emotionally satisfying. It is the definitive interpretation of Nabakovís novel.
I couldn't possibly disagree more. Kubrick's film is hardly perfect, but Lyne's is an embarrasment... or a good object for ridicule, something Nabokov probably would've loved.

Nabokov... my favorite author. And along with Ada or Ardor and Pale Fire, Lolita is my favorite of his novels. I've read it more times than I can recall and have studied many of the essays and annotations of it. It's a brilliant, completely literary work that isn't completely translatable into film. But Kubrick's film captured it's spirit, while Lyne's utterly misses the mark.

First of all, Nabokov's work is a multi-valent satire, skewering many literary genres and, ultimately, love itself and our (mis)representations of it. Lyne's film, on the other hand, is a vapid, sentimentalized, and mawkish tragedy. Scenes that are written as broad humor in the novel have been translated as somber drama in Lyne's 'Merchant Ivory' take. The precise dialog is employed, but given a meaning that Nabokov never intended. Or, more correctly, given only the superfical meaning. The uncomprehending literalness of a hack. Lyne has stripped every ounce of humor from Nabokov's most hilarious novel, and seems utterly unaware that the 'tragic' aspects are merely part of the self-serving confession of the imprisoned Humbert. The truth of the novel - if one could call it that - and it's brilliance, lies beneath this mawkish veneer.

I don't think Nabokov would've been offended by Lyne's gross misinterpretation. I think he would've found it quite humorous. All the misdirection and literary game-playing, the subverting of genre and expectations, are part and parcel of Nabokov's brilliance, particularly in Lolita and Pale Fire. Lyne's interpretation was the perfect, superficial reading. Exact quotations ripped from context and given a voice that Nabokov never intended. Tragedy? Since when has Nabokov ever written anything so old-fashioned as that? No. This work is best described as a 'meta-satire'. And Kubrick understood this.

Sadly, most critics did not. So caught up were they in the notion that in this new Lolita, the director was able to depict a goodly amount of sex! sex! sex! that they declared it closer to the tone and spirit of the original. One wonders if they ever read the original.

And it's true that the cinema codes of the day prevented Kubrick from a more graphic depiction of Humbert's obsession, but Kubrick understood that this was hardly the heart of the novel. Indeed, Kubrick understood that it was satire. His changes - and there were many - never betrayed the tone and intent of the novel; he never allowed it to droop into the tired cliche of a tragedy. And he never allowed moralistic notions to infect its satire.

As far as I know, there's only one critic who grasped the ridiculousness of Lyne's interpretation - Alan Stone of MIT's BostonReview. And, fortunately, it's published online:

http://bostonreview.mit.edu/BR23.5/stone.html


[Edited by Richard Malloy on 06-26-01 at 07:16 AM]
Old 06-26-01, 10:12 AM
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The 1997 version has Melanie Griffith in it. It has to be bad!
Old 06-26-01, 12:24 PM
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I do agree with Richard Malloy when comparing the novel to Lyne's film -- On the surface, Lyne's appears to be a more faithful adaptation than Kubrick's. Kubrick however, along with the aid of Nabokov's own screenplay adaption, and the performances of Peter Sellers and Shelley Winters, was able to imply the black humour subtext of the novel.

Now that said, taking the two movies on their own, and without considering the novel, I find the recent Lolita a better film... But - I own the Kubrick version, and have no intention of buying Lyne's. Go figure.

[Edited by bhomatude on 06-26-01 at 09:27 AM]
Old 06-26-01, 12:26 PM
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Originally posted by Richard Malloy

I couldn't possibly disagree more. Kubrick's film is hardly perfect, but Lyne's is an embarrasment... or a good object for ridicule, something Nabokov probably would've loved.

[...]But Kubrick's film captured it's spirit, while Lyne's utterly misses the mark.[...]
I remember a reviewer saying "Lyne doesn't seem to realize that 'Lolita' was supposed to be funny."

While I'm unaware what kinds of liberties Kubrick took with Nabokov's screenplay, I can't imagine it being too different from N's intent, given that the social and sexual satire of Kubrick's version seems more in line with my take on the book.

Happily, Kubrick's and Nabokov's (and the censors'?)collaboration produced a "Lolita" that's only obliquely related to the novel. This seems to me to be one of those rare occasions in which a movie and the book it's based on can coexist without sullying each other.

BTW, in the recently-issued Kubrick documentary, somebody mentions that Kubrick had to make significant edits to the movie before the censors would let his version of "Lolita" fly. (They had to edit down the degree to which James Mason looks at Lo's picture when he beds Shelley Winters, for example. Luckily, they kept the best line in the film -- "I know the feeling.") I'd love to see a pre-censored version of the film, but I suspect the original elements are lost.

[Edited by Birdcell on 06-26-01 at 09:30 AM]
Old 06-26-01, 12:42 PM
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Richard Malloy: thanks for the link to that excellent, very perceptive review! I say 'Amen'!

(signed) Non-intellectual reader who was aghast at the new 'interpretation' given to Nabokov's great novel - Kubrick's version will live on long after Lyne's wrongheaded one has been forgotten!...

. . .
Old 06-26-01, 03:13 PM
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Richard Malloy, i was all set to post a response to Justin Doring and GlennS but found your reply covered my all of thoughts. excellent post.

[Edited by audrey on 06-26-01 at 12:20 PM]
Old 06-29-01, 02:30 AM
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I appreciate Richard Malloy's thoughts and he brings up several good points, but I disagree. First, it's very, very rare when a film can equal the book it was based on. With the exception of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was superior to the novel, I can't think of a single film that does so, and Lyne's Lolita is no exception. I never said it was equal to the novel, only that it captures it as well as a film can.

Second, yes, beneath the dramatic and tragic surface, the heart of Nabakov's Lolita is humorous satire, but don't confuse satire with slapstick which is what Kubrick's version is! I don't think Lyne took the drama too far at all. If you really look at Lyne's film, beneath the drama, there is a satire here! Some things are so wonderfully and humanly ridiculous in it that one can't help but laugh at humanity. If you don't see it, watch it again! Kubrick, on the other hand, got carried away (as he often did) and went way over the top. His Lolita degenerated into a slapstick mess with no direction. BTW: Nabakov had very little to do with the film, as Kubrick fired him.

Third, divorced from the novel, Lyne's film is still a superb film in it's own right while Kubrick's has major problems. By far, Lolita is Kubrick's worst film in my opinion.
Old 06-29-01, 10:34 AM
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First, it's very, very rare when a film can equal the book it was based on. With the exception of To Kill a Mockingbird, which was superior to the novel, I can't think of a single film that does so, and Lyne's Lolita is no exception. I never said it was equal to the novel, only that it captures it as well as a film can.
But that's exactly the point upon which I disagree with you. Lyne's film not only does not 'capture it [Lolita] as well as a film can', it is an hilariously wrongheaded interpretation of the novel.

Just to provide one of the more egregious examples - in the introduction to his confession (in the novel), HH describes a lost love of his youth, suggesting in his usual self-serving way that this is the Freudian underpinnings of his later obsession with Lo. This is a tease. Nabokov considers Freudian psychoanalysis a joke and pokes away at it in all his novels. The erudite and well-heeled HH is playing here for sympathy - and in a rather ridiculous manner. He doesn't even bother to make up a believable name, instead assigning the moniker "Annabel Leigh", a patently obvious allusion to Poe's greatest poem of lost love ("Annabel Lee") and, thus, a patently obvious fabrication. It's a literary allusion masquerading as a self-diagnosed childhood trauma which caused his adult sickness. It's a play for sympathy, and a rather transparent and ridiculous one. To put it simply, all that stuff about "Annabel Leigh" is quite clearly bullshot.

But Lyne takes it seriously. Indeed, he makes it the underpinning of his HH's 'tragic personal history'. This is an absurd misreading of the text. And it's a fundamental error because it transforms the entire narrative into something which it not only is isn't, but which it in fact is satirizing.
Old 06-29-01, 01:05 PM
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BTW, Justin, even though we disagree on this, I'm very much enjoying the opportunity to talk in some depth about my favorite novel and the films it's spawned!
Old 06-29-01, 03:17 PM
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While I do enjoy the obviously expert dialogue between 2 of our impassioned members, I wanted to take the opportunity to say interject that, to my way of thinking, the relative faithfulness of the film to it's source material is only of very slight relevance in analyzing the film itself (IMHO). I took a college course (back in the stone age) on Nabokov myself, and am a big fan of his work, yet I find the Lyne film to be highly enjoyable and the DVD to be a great addition to my collection.

The acting, atmosphere, and sexual tension created in the Lyne film is exceptional. The camera and Irons work well together to create a longing for Lolita that is very real and palpable. Whether or not the novel or subsequent screenplay was intended to tell the story that the Lyne film tells, or convey the emotions that it conveys so well, is a tangential point (unless, of course, it is the focus of your particular debate, which I understand, in this case it is).

Still, to dismiss the film because of it's relationship to the source material is not fair or, even, cogent.
Old 06-29-01, 03:59 PM
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Yes,Glenn Glass,I agree with you totally. This one (Lyne) stays in my collection as well.
Old 06-29-01, 10:45 PM
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Richard is correct that there is no comedy in the opening of Lyne's film. But perhaps Lyne and all played the opening so straight, serious, and overly dramatic so that it could only be taken humorously; it's like an extremely high quality soap opera. Once the opening is over, however, there is definately underlying comedy in Lyne's Lolita. It's just burried a little deeper than in the novel. Lyne, Irons, Morricone, et. al. are NOT stupid artists. Kubrick, Mason, and Sellers weren't either, but I think they were misguided with their attempt.

Tragedy cannot exist without comedy, and comedy cannot exist without tragedy. Beneath Nabakov's tragic facade is comedy, but there is comedy there to relieve the tragedy of life. I don't know everything about Nabakov's philosopy on life, and Lolita is the only novel of his I've read, but when someone is cynical and pessimistic and composes satire, it is usually to combat the tragedy in life and put it at arms length. Lolita the novel, like mankind, is simultaneously absurd and profound, and I think Lyne captured that perfectly.

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