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JulyDiaz

Episode 67 - Lolita

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Devin and Amy are entering the world of Stanley Kubrick as they discuss the 1962 film Lolita based on the novel of the same title by Vladimir Nabokov. It tells the story of a middle-aged man who becomes obsessed with a teenage girl. Will Devin & Amy prefer the film to the source material? Listen in to find out -- and head to the forums on Earwolf to cast the deciding vote!

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It seems that now every time I am at the wolfpop site, I am bumped back to Earwolf as the two have been absorbed together (though they were hardly apart in the beginning.)

 

I agree that Lolita does not belong in the Canon, however this is not to discount Kubrick's masterful moviemaking. The studio producing his film forced Kubrick to cut his original vision, one arguably creepy beyond Nabokov's standards, to the point that although the film has become a part of the Criterion collection, it is merely a garbage piece of Hollywood that Kubrick himself was never proud of.

 

I vote for exclusion from the canon.

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I love Shelly Winters in this movie. I agree with Amy that she is hearbreaking. Her character is lonely and in love and when she finds out the truth, it is so sad. I think Winters made the character much more 3 dimensional than was written on the page. I always loose interest in the movie once her character dies. And I agree, Peter Sellers is very annoying in this, expecially in the openng.

 

I vote for exclusion from the canon.

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No.

Don't put Lolita in the Canon.

You guys cleared up some of my confusion about Peter Sellers in this movie - I just assumed he was playing multiple characters, like Meg Ryan in Joe v the Volcano or something.

Either way it's poor since either way it makes zero sense.

 

However I suspect some of the letting Sellers just go wild in this movie was the timing of its release since he was a pretty big deal at the time. Like just letting Will Ferrell do whatever he wants 6 years ago...

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NO to Lolita in the Canon, but I agree with jacobinwunderland that this is not the fault of Kubrick in the long run. It is totally true that he often didn't give a flying fuck about the source material, but this movie reeks of interference on the behalf of the production code. It's interesting that this is his last film right before Dr. Strangelove, where he starts the string of films that really cemented his status as a legendary filmmaker. I think Amy nailed part of it when she said he hadn't really found his voice yet. All of his films pre-Strangelove feel very of their time while Strangelove and onward all feel timeless.

 

I do disagree on your guys' reading of the film. Lolita and her mother are entirely fucked up by the horrible men in their lives. Shelley Winters's character seems to have terrible abandonment issues, probably stemming from the early death of her husband and the callousness of men like Quilty that she has dated since. Lolita's sexual politics have been entirely fucked up due to Quilty molesting her at a young age. In the film, he's the one who has robbed her of her childhood, not Humbert (although this is clearly a flaw in the film, as it does take some blame off Humbert). I don't see Lolita's life at the end of the film as a punishment for anything she's done, more so a demonstration to Humbert of how terribly people like he and Quilty have ruined the life of a young woman. Seeing her sitting there, drinking a beer with some moron, he finally sees her for as young as she is, even though she's at her most adult.

 

This is nowhere near Kubrick's best and is a betrayal to the novel, but so are many adaptations and that's fine. The filmmaker shouldn't have to adhere completely to the author's vision, and while that can be extremely frustrating it in no way lessens or enhances the quality of the film. It's just simply an alright movie, adaptation or not.

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I'm a college professor and always show this adaptation of LOLITA when I teach the book. In the terms that are established by the podcast it seems like a clear NO, especially given other obvious Kubrick YESes -- but I wonder if there's a place in the canon for films that are failures for interesting reasons. The 1960s LOLITA seems utterly doomed by the film norms of the time, for all the reasons suggested by the discussion on the show and for more reasons besides; I kept waiting for Amy or Devin to mention that the studio kept trying to wriggle out of what the story is actually about (including, legendarily, pitching an alternate ending where Humbert and Lolita go to one of those states with a low age of consent and get married!). The differences from the book and the way in which they basically uniformly serve to destroy the point of the novel are really interesting from craft and critical perspectives, even if the film itself wouldn't really stand as "canon-worthy" on its own.

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Strong NO to this one.

 

I think Devin is overestimating people's unconditional love of Kubrick. I think even among hardcore Kubrick fans, most admit that this is one of his weakest films. I agree this film is very creepy and goes against the book in ways that are, frankly, immoral. The book makes it very clear that Humbert is a pedophile who is ruining her life and completely deceiving himself into thinking they have any kind of a romantic or loving relationship. The film makes you think that maybe he does love her. I know Devin felt creepy by saying the film lets him off the hook or morally justifies him, because by normal people's standards it does not. But if you look at the way real life pedophiles rationalize their own behavior, it is letting him off the hook in the same ways pedophiles deceive themselves and others. The girl is genuinely seductive. She genuinely is asking for it. Adult women are unattractive, evil shrews who drive men to girls just because they have no one else

 

But the ultimate is that it transforms the murder from Humbert killing a man to preserve his secret to Humbert killing a man to save her from someone who will treat her even worse. It's like this is a world where children being sexually abused is just a natural thing that happens to children, and Humbert is giving her the best alternative in that world. And the movie makes you think he really cares about her and wants to do right by her. He's giving her slightly better treatment after all the abuse. He even seems better than her mother, from the movie's point of view. Unlike the novel, which clearly shows that he is lying to himself about his love for Lolita being genuine (just like real pedophiles rationalize their abuse by saying they do it out of love).

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I totally get the format of the show, and I'm not trying to soften the debate, but let's not get carried away and imply that Dominique Swain in the '97 version is more childlike or less seductive than Sue Lyon in Kubrick's film. Adrian Lyne's version sexualizes the relationship to the point where the black comedy is eliminated. The meeting scene in Lyne's version has Swain sitting underneath a sprinkler, completely soaked, while she reads a magazine with pictures of older men. His version of the seduction scene features Swain kneeling in front of Jeremy Irons and rubbing her foot against his crotch.

 

What struck me was how childlike Lyon is with her flirtation. It really comes off as a young girl discovering the power her sexuality holds over men. But while you both read it as this woman destroying the lives of these men around her, I see this as a film about piteous obsession with James Mason basically becoming Shelley Winter's character in the last half of the film.

 

I was surprised by Devin talking about his fascination with the age of consent and the birth of the American teenager, but not relating it to Lolita. That's at the core of the film because it dances around studio limitations by directly addressing the sexualization of teenagers. To me the film is provocative because Humbert Humbert isn't presented as a pedophile, but as a normal person contending with his obsession with a sex symbol who is below legal age. Scenes like the cot sequence don't need to be creepy because it feels super fucked up and cringe-y to root for James Mason to have sex with a minor.

 

That being said, this is a No for me. Fantastic performances, but get Peter Sellers out of there and cut the running time down by at least an hour.

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No.

 

One of the biggest drawbacks of the film is that it drags its feet so much. If this had been a quick 90 minutes (and Peter Sellers had taken it down a notch) Lolita might have been an interesting time capsule in regards to censorship and the early '60s ideas on sex and the fetishizing of youth, especially as this is nearing the end of both the studio age and the Hayes code. Later Kubrick films sprawl too, but they tend to be better layered and more open to interpretation. Lolita is surprisingly straight-forward in how the material is presented.

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I actually though the way the forums were set up over on Wolfpop was better than over here on Earwolf. This is going to take some getting used to. As for the movie, in spite of some great performances I think the story in all of it's iterations is inherently vile and should never be in a canon of great anything.

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No.

 

This is Kubrick's least accomplished film and should not get in on name recognition alone. As was brought up on the podcast, the performances are great and I do like the look of the film sometimes, but narratively it has problems. I actually agree with all of the criticisms of the actual film that Devin and Amy discussed, but the show went off the rails regarding the adaptation.

 

I think the quality of an adaptation can be a valid criticism in some respects, but it cannot ever be the entire reason for a complete takedown. Especially from Kubrick who showed zero interest in faithfully adapting any of the stories he used as inspiration for his films. Why is The Shining acceptable while Lolita is garbage? What about Red Alert, which was completely reworked tonally? I don't think the source material is sacrosanct in any adaptation to film. I'm often ok with writers and directors completely abandoning everything for the sake of their cinematic vision. Who cares? The book still exists. If you want to experience the story as Nabokov or Burgess or King or George or Hasford intended, then read the books. They still exist. The strangest part of the episode was that I think Devin and Amy actually agree with that idea, but just allowed their infatuation with the book (which is amazing) to color their otherwise valid criticism of the movie. It felt like I was listening to my 14 year-old sister go off on the inconsistencies between The Prisoner of Azkaban and Cuaron's adaptation.

 

Devin's statement about A Clockwork Orange was also a little misguided. Kubrick initially read the US release of the book without the final chapter (which is awful anyway, talk about letting someone off the hook) and was inspired by that story to make the film. Only after that did he find out that the final chapter even existed (it was a part of the UK release of the book) and chose to proceed without it. I don't fault him in the least for sticking with the version that initially sparked his interest. If the final chapter had been a part of the book he read, then the movie may not even exist. Burgess even initially approved of the adaptation, but soured on it over time as he started to feel more and more jealous that Kubrick was getting all the praise and recognition for his story... it wasn't his story anymore. It was Kubrick's. Who cares what an author thinks of the adaptation anyway? Their opinion has some validity mainly because they want to protect and preserve the source material they created, but they are not filmmakers. I listen when they speak up mainly because it often pushes me to revisit that source material, but it has zero impact on my enjoyment or dislike for the film adaptation.

 

I'd rather live in a world where Kubrick found the kernel he would like to explore in a text and then went his own way, otherwise we just get boring adaptations like the one from Adrian Lyne.

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