Magazine article Newsweek

Lolita

Magazine article Newsweek

Lolita

Article excerpt

So how is it? A first look at the controversial film.

AT LAST, LOLITA IS HERE. WELL, NOT exactly. Italy, to be precise, then Spain, Germany, France, Britain. And a screening room in New York, where I was the first critic in the United States to see Adrian Lyne's $60 million movie--which still hasn't found an American distributor. Thirty-five years after Stanley Kubrick's original film version of Vladimir Nabokov's controversial masterpiece about a middle-aged man's sexual relationship with his 12-year-old stepdaughter, "Lolita" is more controversial than ever. One studio executive told Variety, "Pedophilia's a hard sell." Even for Lyric, who's had big box-office success with movies like "Flashdance" and "Fatal Attraction." Lyne's most fatal attraction may have been to the Nabokov book, originally banned in France and avoided by U.S. publishers until Putnam took it in 1958. Since then it's sold 14 million copies. But the current cultural climate, symbolized by the murder of JonBenet Ramsey, has the studios running seared.

Seeing "Lolita" at last reveals that Lyne has translated Nabokov's classic with sensitivity, intelligence and style. Stephen Schiff's screenplay (after earlier attempts by Basil Dearden, Harold Pinter and David Mamet) is closer to the book than Nabokov's own script for Kubrick. As Humbert Humbert, the world's most famous pedophile, Jeremy Irons is more morally conflicted by his desire for girl-children than James Mason, who played Humbert as a suave hedonist. As Clare Quilty, Humbert's nemesis who takes Lolita away from him, Frank Langella is a shadowy, satanic figure, where Peter Sellers was a surreal, crazily comic Quilty. Lyne's Lolita is newcomer Dominique Swain, much closer to Nabokov's archetypal idea of the "nymphet" than Sue Lyon, who projected an older, more slutty seductiveness.

If "Lolita" doesn't shock, it's pointless. The young actress who dares to play the role must unnerve and disturb the viewer just as she disturbs Humbert. How can an actress (herself a 14-year-old child during filming) and a director do this without calling out the constabulary? Carefully, but also daringly. Swain's Lolita learns about her sexual power from Humbert's reaction to her. This process must be both charming and ultimately tragic, and in this movie it is.

The camera becomes Humbert's eyes, surveying Lolita, the landscape of his desire. He watches Lolita lying on the lawn, as a sprinkler bedews her as if she were a giant flower. …

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