Sorry for the long pauses between blog posts, we are working hard at Kino on our screenings and don't get much chance to write. If you haven't seen it yet please go and see Berberian Sound Studio its fantastic. Lots in the pipe line for us including Carpenter's They Live and a halloween screening of Fulci's The Beyond.
Lolita was great and we thought we would share the essay with you if you didn't make the screening.
This months programmes were road maps.
How did they make a film of Lolita?
Lolita was an important film for Kubrick, it helped to shape him as a director, it was a move towards the satire that is prevalent in his work that followed Lolita, It helped to sew the seeds for his next film Dr Strangelove, it helped him to set up in England and it shaped Kubrick’s philosophy regarding studios and censorship.
Lolita is part of a set of lost works, the Kubrick films you should have seen because they are classics but somehow you have never got around to it, Barry Lyndon, The Killing, and Paths Of Glory – the films that aren’t Clockwork Orange, the Shining and 2001.
“How did they make a film of Lolita” was the films clever tag line, a witty repost towards the difficulty in getting the film made and past the censors but it could now be “Why haven’t you seen Lolita?” Why isn’t Lolita screened more often or shown on TV? Why isn’t Lolita embraced in our hearts as much as say Dr Stangelove?
Obviously this is a presumption, I’m sure many of you have seen Lolita.
But I’m sure you had to search for it, Lolita isn’t a film that comes and finds you. Kubrick is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest directors of all time so why are some of his works neglected? Does the film still contain some power to shock as it did in 1962? Is the subject still a taboo?
Kubrick knew that he couldn’t just simply film Vladimir Nabokov’s book
as Lolita would not get past the censors. The decision was made to raise Lolita’s age from 12 to 14 (in some US states this was legal marriage age) Stanley also wanted to move away from the books feeling of sexual depravity and move the film more towards unconventional love and satire.
Nabokov was approached to provide the script and eventually handed in a massive 400-page script, which would have been difficult to film. Nabokov, who had it written into his contract that he would receive the sole screen credit, would later receive an Oscar nomination despite the fact that the script was really a joint effort between Kubrick and producer James B Harris.
Kubrick and Harris felt they needed to portray Humbert Humbert in a more sympathetic light and less of a snarling predator. His first choice for the role of Humbert was James Mason; Kubrick felt he would bring some dignity to the role. Mason was very keen to play Humbert but had signed on to do a Broadway musical despite not being able to sing “its never stopped Rex Harrison” he was heard to say. He did offer his daughter Portland up as a possible Lolita though. Kubrick next approached Laurence Olivier who turned the part down, next it was David Niven who accepted then quickly declined even Marlon Brando and Peter Ustinov were considered. Luckily Mason decided to drop out his show despite a lot of singing lessons and signed on to play Humbert. Lolita was more of a challenge to cast; Nabokov felt the part should be given to a dwarfess! Luckily Kubrick decided to ignore Nabokov’s suggestion and newcomer Sue Lyon was cast. Peter Sellers was offered the role of Clare Quilty invitingly as a 5 minute cameo that kept growing, Kubrick gave Sellers the freedom to improvise in all of his scenes constantly ad libbing until he reached a ‘comedic ecstasy’. Sellers also got to play more than one character as Quilty appears in different disguises one of which a Dr Kempf, who bears a striking resemblance to Dr Strangelove. It was also during the Lolita shoot that Kubrick would first read Terry Southern's book ‘The Magic Christian’ (later filmed with Sellers in the main role) Southern would go onto write the script for Kubrick’s next film Dr Strangelove.
Sellers played a vital role in lightening a heavy film by steering Lolita towards black comedy. Kubrick shot Sellers with 2 to 3 cameras to capture his spontaneity, this was a wise move as by the 3rd take Sellers would be spent; Kubrick often used the 1st take.
Shelley Winters joined next with the role of Charlotte Haze, she only agreed if it was written into her contract that she could be guaranteed to be allowed time to go to JFK’s inauguration ball for whom she had campaigned heavily. This never happened due to poor weather over the Atlantic but she was later the maid of honour at the private press ball for Kennedy.
Lolita was shot in the UK to take advantage of the Eady Plan and this was purely a business decision but Kubrick enjoyed the freedom of being away from the studio system and was also quite an Anglophile so decided to stay and make the UK his home.
The hardest part was always going to be getting the film past the MPPA, BBFC and the Catholic Legion of Decency uncut. This meant holding back on the sexuality and depravity, Kubrick said “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic church at the time, I believe I didn't sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert's relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did”. Kubrick kept close contact with the MPPA and John Trevelyan head of the BBFC and the film was released uncut, though the Legion Of Decency deemed any Catholic going see Lolita would be committing a mortal sin and Cannon John Collins went even further saying that he believed the film would lead to rape or even murder.
Lolita began filming in October 1960 with a budget of $1.75 million, and it generally followed the structure of Nabokov’s 400-page script, the film wrapped in March 1961.
Nabokov praised Lolita upon its release even going so far as to say that he felt some scenes in the film were an actual improvement upon his book but by the time (1973) he published his original screenplay he claimed that actually the film had left him a mixture of aggravation, regret and reluctant pleasure.
Though the finished result may not have been as sexual as both Kubrick and Nabokov has first imaged the film to be, it does stand out as a great black comedy. Many feel that Adrian Lyne’s 1997 version staring Jeremy Irons is a more faithful adaptation but is it as enjoyable to watch? There have been many films that have dealt with the heavy themes of Lolita since its original release, the idea of an older man in love with a young girl is a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work particularly in ‘Manhattan’ (1979) and the subject of paedophilia has been looked at in works such as David Slade’s brutal ‘Hard Candy’ (2005).
Kubrick’s Lolita deserves praise and it deserves attention, it’s a very dark and very funny film full of great performances. We hope you enjoy the film and that Lolita finds a place in your heart.