Monday, October 12, 2009

Lolita proves Lyne is a Langer

In spite of being a Nabokov fan since the age of seventeen (the short story collection Tyrants Destroyed being my first purchase. The story “Music” and the one about the cocainist remain my favourites) I spent twelve years avoiding viewing Adrian Lyne’s “movie” Lolita. In 1986 I had been dragged to see 9 and one half weeks by my future ex-wife. It was a cause celebre of a film in spite of not being the sort of material to excite the average Sundance film festival aficionado. It was in fact cinematically illiterate.
So when I heard in 1995 Langer Lyne had decided to adapt Lolita for the screen I groaned like a goat in labour. When it was released in 1997 I avoided it like the proverbial plague. I avoided it in the cinema. I avoided it on television, I avoided it in the video cassette and later DVD emporia. I avoided buying it at full price. I avoided buying it at discount price. I avoided buying it in any ten for the price of one dvd promotion sales. I would even have avoided accepting it as a freebie giveaway with a Sunday broadsheet had it been offered that way.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1960’s adaptation was a less than adequate representation of the novel but was a very successfully realised film with its own artistic qualities. At the very least it captured the dark irony and malevolent humour of Nabokov.
Last week Lyne’s crime against aesthetes and anti-paedophiles was broadcast on film four and I decided to record it on my skybox (the European version of a tivo whatsit).
I lasted six minutes before I decided to fast forward through the rest of the movie. Lyne’s movie was not without its redeeming features. There were at least two. 1st it portrayed Lolita as an innocent prepubescent at the start of the story, thereby underscoring the tragedy of her abuse (something Kubrick missed out on) The second redeeming feature was the casting of the American character actor (whose name I’ve never learned) in the role of Quilty. Everything else about the film was vomit-inducing.
Ironically Lyne’s version tracks the arc of Nabokov’s plot more faithfully than Kubrick’s, proving if proof were necessary that the appeal of Nabokov’s novel is not in its subject matter. Its appeal resides in its language, in its structure/form; in its dark, dark humour juxtaposed with the subject matter.
A further irony to Lyne’s “movie” is that whenever he believes he needs to sexually arouse the viewer he attempts it by presenting an animated parody of a Balthus painting where his leading actress’s long legs are on display in all sorts of configuration. Fast forwarding reveals that a good 15% of the film is taken up with this sort of crap. The irony of this Lyne stratagem is that Nabokov wrote an earlier novel called Laughter in the Dark which features an idiot of an anti-hero whose life ambition is to produce animated films where the paintings of the great masters come to life.
Nabokov would piss himself with laughter watching this movie if he wasn’t already spouting blood from every orifice with apoplexy.
Last point: Jeremy Irons might be a nice man but what a ham. He makes the worst Humbert Humbert. I’m convinced he’s the reason I didn’t like the film Swann’s Way. Try to visualise Irons in the Daniel Day Lewis role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being and you’ll understand exactly what I mean. He recently murdered some Yeats' poems by declamation on Irish radio.