Stanley Kubrick did the seemingly impossible: he turned Lolita into a motion picture.
Originally a book written by Vladimir Nabakov, the tale is about Dolores Haze (12 years old) and her relationship with a professor, Humbert Humbert. The book took the literary world by storm not only for its subject matter, but also for the unreliable narrator (Humbert), double entendres and irony.
Lolita‘s portrayal of such a taboo topic was rare for the 1960s and subjected the film to heavy scrutiny and censorship. Though Stanley Kubrick did what he could to film Lolita without heavy censorship (filming in London, with British sponsors, increasing Haze age from 12-14 and having Martin Quigley who created the Hollywood Code employed as a consultant) he was still unable to release the film without some censorship. A scene where Haze seduces Humbert was cut and a few lines were cut as well. Kubrick stated years after the film’s release, that had he known the amount of censorship the film would have had to endure, he wouldn’t have made the film.
Regardless of the censorship, the film is considered a classic. Sue Lyon (Dolores Haze) is perfect as the flirty and precocious while James Mason’s depiction of Humbert Humbert as an amorous is spot on. However it is Peter Sellers portrayal of Clare Quilty that is particularly notable as he improvised most of his character’s lines. Kubrick had three different cameras set up to catch his lines, actions and expressions leading to the creation of a captivating character. Kubrick’s take on the characters had them share a common thread: they were tragic and while maintaining a sense of humor. Ultimately, Lolita is a film that doesn’t just depict a forbidden relationship but also the struggle between artistic freedom and censorship.
The Kubrick touch is hard to emulate as Lolita was remade in 1997 and didn’t have the critical success its predecessor. Interestingly, though the film was released nearly 30 years after the original, Lolita still had difficulty finding an audience and an American distributor.
Join the UCFS in SS 203 on September 25th at 5pm to watch this Kubrick masterpiece. We hope to see you there!
By Shanika Abeysinghe