Jeremy Irons: "Lolita" Part 2 Chapter 2 (Excerpt)
She had entered my world, umber and black Humberland, with rash curiosity; she surveyed it with a shrug of amused distaste; and it seemed to me now that she was ready to turn away from it with something akin to plain repulsion. Never did she vibrate under my touch, and a strident "what d'you think you are doing?" was all I got for my pains. To the wonderland I had to offer, my fool preferred the corniest movies, the most cloying fudge. To think that between a Hamburger and a Humburger, she would--invariably, with icy precision--plump for the former.
Angelo Badalamenti and Kinny Landrum: Dark Lolita
Distributing Lyne’s Lolita in the United States in 1997 proved to be a difficult task. The film was released in Europe shortly after it was produced, but it was not until July 1998 that an American distributor, Samuel Goldwyn Company, chose to release the United Artists production. The film had an exclusive engagement in a Los Angeles theatre in July 1998 to qualify for awards consideration, then opened simultaneously in limited theatrical release and on the television station Showtime in August 1998. The New York Times from that era suggests that distributors did want to take on the project because “the relatively high cost of the drama, about $58 million, coupled with its lack of star power and potentially offensive sex-with-a-child subject matter, made the 2-hour, 17-minute movie very risky.” (1) The controversy surrounding the film’s subject matter was not the only reason it had a hard time finding a distributor in the United States, but it did play a significant role in the film’s lack of financial success in the late 1990s.
The controversial and potentially misogynistic subject matter of Lyne’s adaptation continues to have an effect on its reception to this day. The film is treated as a minor piece in both film studies texts and in Nabokov studies.
Lolita’s character is also developed through Lyne’s usage of popular culture. According to Alfred Appel, the most striking problem with Kubrick’s adaptation is his decision to cut the popular culture allusions crucial to his source material. As Appel puts it, “the nymphet’s movie culture is virtually absent from the film, as is its aural equivalent” (5). Kubrick does not allude to other films in his adaptation (except for his self-referential allusion to 1960’s Spartacus by way of Quilty in the opening scene), nor does he use popular music as either diegetic or non-diegetic sound. This eliminates an essential aspect of Lolita’s character. According to Appel, in Nabokov’s text, “the women in Lolita, the large as well as the little ones, are a product of the movies they view” (6). Lolita lives in a fantasy world of film where she is a starlet. Her actions follow those of the movie stars of her era. Appel goes to great lengths to examine the extent to which American pop culture informed the creation of the characters in Lolita. Lolita is consumed by it. Humbert, an immigrant, is unfamiliar with it. “The two dimensions of reel life [...] are most pervasive reality in Lolita’s America. Humbert’s unfailingly dim view of Hollywood is consistent with his characterization as a displaced European intellectual.” (7) Appel suggests that there is both a cultural and an æsthetic-based divide between Humbert’s European professor and Lolita’s Hollywood-obsessed wannabe starlet. Popular culture is thus important not only for an understanding of Lolita’s character, but also of the relationship between Humbert and Lolita. When Humbert visits Lolita’s room after she has been sent to summer camp in Lyne’s adaptation, we find it covered with photographs of Hollywood stars. In this scene, there are two separate medium long-shots of a photograph of two Hollywood stars together. Lolita has drawn a heart with “H. H.” on it and an arrow pointing from the heart to the male character. For Lolita, Humbert is a living male star with whom she can be a starlet. This is a direct visual recreation of Nabokov’s original text. Later in Lyne’s film, even Lolita’s speech takes on the form of Hollywood cliché as she asks Humbert, “Buy me a drink?”, but then reminds us of her childlike state by ordering an ice cream soda. Popular culture both inspires Lolita to enter the relationship and leads to conflict between them. Kubrick nevertheless cuts all allusions to popular culture from his film.
In order to live, man must act; in order to act, he must make choices; in order to make choices, he must define a code of values; in order to define a code of values, he must know what he is and where he is—i.e., he must know his own nature (including his means of knowledge) and the nature of the universe in which he acts—i.e., he needs metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, which means: philosophy. He cannot escape from this need; his only alternative is whether the philosophy guiding him is to be chosen by his mind or by chance.
Ayn Rand (“Philosophy and Sense of Life,” 1966)
John Lee Hooker: Harry's Philosophy