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Lolita: The Screenplay

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As it charts the hypnotized progress of Humbert Humbert, a hypercivilized and amoral European emigre, into the orbit of a treacherously lovely and utterly unimpressionable preteen, Lolita: A Screenplay gleefully demolishes a host of stereotypes - sexual, moral, and aesthetic. Not least among the casualties is the notion that cinema and literature are two separate spheres. As it charts the hypnotized progress of Humbert Humbert, a hypercivilized and amoral European emigre, into the orbit of a treacherously lovely and utterly unimpressionable preteen, Lolita: A Screenplay gleefully demolishes a host of stereotypes - sexual, moral, and aesthetic. Not least among the casualties is the notion that cinema and literature are two separate spheres. For in his screenplay, Nabokov married the structural and narrative felicities of great cinema to prose as sensuously entrancing as any he had ever written, resulting in a work that will delight cineasts and Nabokovians alike.


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As it charts the hypnotized progress of Humbert Humbert, a hypercivilized and amoral European emigre, into the orbit of a treacherously lovely and utterly unimpressionable preteen, Lolita: A Screenplay gleefully demolishes a host of stereotypes - sexual, moral, and aesthetic. Not least among the casualties is the notion that cinema and literature are two separate spheres. As it charts the hypnotized progress of Humbert Humbert, a hypercivilized and amoral European emigre, into the orbit of a treacherously lovely and utterly unimpressionable preteen, Lolita: A Screenplay gleefully demolishes a host of stereotypes - sexual, moral, and aesthetic. Not least among the casualties is the notion that cinema and literature are two separate spheres. For in his screenplay, Nabokov married the structural and narrative felicities of great cinema to prose as sensuously entrancing as any he had ever written, resulting in a work that will delight cineasts and Nabokovians alike.

30 review for Lolita: The Screenplay

  1. 5 out of 5

    Franc

    Why should one read VN’s screenplay of Lolita? First, because it’s an enjoyable 2-hour alternative to re-reading the novel — “purely as a vivacious variant of an old novel,” as VN puts it in his introduction. Secondly, for the “deleted scenes” that Nabokov removed from the novel but reused for the screenplay such as a Humbert being given a grotesquely humorous guided tour of the ruins of the nonexistent McCoo home where Humbert was to have lived, but which has burned down before his arrival. Anot Why should one read VN’s screenplay of Lolita? First, because it’s an enjoyable 2-hour alternative to re-reading the novel — “purely as a vivacious variant of an old novel,” as VN puts it in his introduction. 
Secondly, for the “deleted scenes” that Nabokov removed from the novel but reused for the screenplay such as a Humbert being given a grotesquely humorous guided tour of the ruins of the nonexistent McCoo home where Humbert was to have lived, but which has burned down before his arrival. Another is Humbert’s tutoring Lolita through his favorite poem by Poe. 
Thirdly, for Nabokov’s delicious “Action” elements inserted between the dialogue, which are normally so staccato and boring in screenplays: “We are served the dish of the large, pine-fringed, scintillating Ramsdale Lake;” “Details of nocturnal storm, gesticulating black trees;” “She turns from sea-star supine to seal prone.” “The playwright Quilty, dead to the world, sprawls among emblems of drunkenness.” 
I think the best reason, however, is to see how Nabokov envisioned the film, and how he dealt with the central problem of filming the book and others like it (e.g. Catcher in the Rye) — namely where the is a function of the book’s unique narration, which is unlikely to translate to film. Nabokov’s solution surprised me. He chose to use Humbert’s psychiatrist narration as voiceover with a pastiche of visual elements: quick cuts to Humbert as a child on the beach, snapshots coming to life, (Cut to: Picnic, lighting) and maps with arrows tracing the route, etc.. This technique also seems to successfully transfer the parodic elements of the book into the film (something that Kubrick did well but in other ways.) Nabokov’s version reminded me of an almost Wes Anderson-like treatment. (It occurred to me that he would have been much better to direct the remake than Adrian Lynn’s gauzy sentimental 1997 version.) 
I’d been pondering on Nabokov/Anderson similarities/influences when, quite by coincidence, I read Michael Chabon’s introduction to The Wes Anderson Collection in which he specifically compares the worlds created by Anderson to the worlds created by Nabokov. Chabon summed it up quite nicely: “All movies [and books], of course, are equally artificial; it’s just that some are more honest about it than others.”

  2. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    Lolita is in my top five novels I’ve ever read. And I am a huge fan of Kubrick and his filmed version. So I don’t know why it took me so long to read Nabokov’s version of the screenplay, which differs greatly from Kubrick’s. It’s brilliant, of course. And, in an introduction, Nabokov says some pithy things about the 3 versions: original novel, Kubrick’s film and this screenplay. It’s interesting to read because, as he admits in the introduction, Nabokov did not know how to write a movie and this Lolita is in my top five novels I’ve ever read. And I am a huge fan of Kubrick and his filmed version. So I don’t know why it took me so long to read Nabokov’s version of the screenplay, which differs greatly from Kubrick’s. It’s brilliant, of course. And, in an introduction, Nabokov says some pithy things about the 3 versions: original novel, Kubrick’s film and this screenplay. It’s interesting to read because, as he admits in the introduction, Nabokov did not know how to write a movie and this version is probably unfilmable. Still it’s vintage VN and full of wonder and deep delight.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    In his foreword, Nab0kov states he might publish his modified screenplay "...not in pettish refutation of a munificent film, but purely as a vivacious variant of an old novel."* Since much of the novel itself takes place in Humbert's brain, the book itself is almost unfilmable. Which raises the big question: why try a film anyway? The answer is rather obvious: Nabokov+Kubrick+controversy=Big Box Office in (theory). But I digress: Nabokov does provide to us a slightly new variant of his classic n In his foreword, Nab0kov states he might publish his modified screenplay "...not in pettish refutation of a munificent film, but purely as a vivacious variant of an old novel."* Since much of the novel itself takes place in Humbert's brain, the book itself is almost unfilmable. Which raises the big question: why try a film anyway? The answer is rather obvious: Nabokov+Kubrick+controversy=Big Box Office in (theory). But I digress: Nabokov does provide to us a slightly new variant of his classic novel, and that in and of itself makes this a must read for Nabokov fans, and the same goes for Kubrick fans. And personally, I'd like to see a film version of this Nabokov/Kubrick collision, as it must have been just that. Then, we would be subjected to the following films: "Lolita 2", "Nabokov/Kubrick: The Aftermath" and finally a three hour "Lolita/Nabokov/Kubrick" with Lolita's mother as her Hollywood lawyer/publicist. All with Hitchcock directing in glorious black and white. But why, oh why, was Hitchcock not chosen to direct the 1959 version of "Lolita" anyway? *Oh, Nabokov, do words like these just naturally roll out of your brain and onto paper, much like Mozart's music notes? Imagine, lunch with those two plus Agatha Christie, adding simple sound bites for the benefit of the rest of us.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Novel, but not as novel as the novel. (How d'you like that wordplay, Mr. Nabokov?!) I get the sense that Nabokov adapted the book to see if he could, whereas Kubrick adapted the book because he had a vision of how it would look on-screen.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Eric Cepela

    has some fun lines. was afraid it would challenge my interpretation of the novel. hardly scathed. nabokov himself couldn't tell me otherwise.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth

    As it's Nabokov and it's his Lolita, there are inevitably a lot of great things about this screenplay, especially compared to Kubrick's Lolita, which is enjoyable but a different creature altogether. Nabokov is himself throughout the entire screenplay and is often quite witty in the stage directions -- for instance, a narrator for a commercial about peaches is "A FRUITY VOICE". Or Nabokov takes the time to be humorous: the collie that was supposed to be hit by the van, the van that instead struc As it's Nabokov and it's his Lolita, there are inevitably a lot of great things about this screenplay, especially compared to Kubrick's Lolita, which is enjoyable but a different creature altogether. Nabokov is himself throughout the entire screenplay and is often quite witty in the stage directions -- for instance, a narrator for a commercial about peaches is "A FRUITY VOICE". Or Nabokov takes the time to be humorous: the collie that was supposed to be hit by the van, the van that instead struck Charlotte, is happily going from group to group of the people gathered around her dead body. etc. Furthermore, here Charlotte was allotted her due grace; instead of being the petty, shrewish mother of the movie, here she actually seems to like her daughter quite a lot, something that's a lot more tenable for me. On its own, it's orders of magnitude less impressive than the novel. It's best as a supplement, so it can gain from the novel's brilliance without suffering by a comparison with the novel: it clarifies quite a few things that I somehow managed to miss in the novel, like the fact that Mona is Vivian Darkbloom's niece, and thus her friendship with Dolly is also Dolly's link to Quilty. Probably its greatest virtue is the insight it gives to the relationship between Humbert and Dolly; it's more removed from Humbert, which means that you can actually see how he is externally. And it was astonishing, to read Humbert declaring to her things like, "I love you, I adore you," or, "You know I'll die if you leave me." That removal from Humbert meant not only that the screenplay revealed a bit of the more veiled hijinks of the novel (Quilty pursuing Humbert, for example; I'd been under the impression that the shifting cars tailing Humbert were actually a figment of his paranoia, something the screenplay disabused me of) and, also, there was a greater dollop of Dolly than in the novel. (One quibble: on the announcement of her death, Dolly is called by her maiden name and not Mrs. Richard F. Schiller. That was a detail that I would have preferred preserved.)

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    Up until the final scene, I was actually more engaged with this screenplay than I had been with the novel. This was for the same reason that the novelic screenplay is normally criticized: so much is left out. While the novel is sunk deep in the folds of Humbert Humbert's mind, the screenplay has to stop short. The film requires detachment. And in the white space left by this detachment, you begin to see, for the first time, the ostensible subject of the book and the movie: Lolita. Dolly. She has Up until the final scene, I was actually more engaged with this screenplay than I had been with the novel. This was for the same reason that the novelic screenplay is normally criticized: so much is left out. While the novel is sunk deep in the folds of Humbert Humbert's mind, the screenplay has to stop short. The film requires detachment. And in the white space left by this detachment, you begin to see, for the first time, the ostensible subject of the book and the movie: Lolita. Dolly. She has the real psychological drama: a kid wrestling for her own sexual identity in an impossible culture -- a culture with extremely strict purity-rules for girls coupled with economic and social conditions that place them so fully in the control of rapists like Humbert Humbert. Her cynicism and resentment and eventual escape are profoundly moral gestures -- and they look awfully like the kind of nasty teenage rebellion we try to drum out of little girls in favor of feminine pliability. But once I caught a whiff of this, I only became frustrated that Nabokov continually neglected this story line, this psychology, in favor of whatever little soul-quibbles his pedophile might be burping up. And finally, once Humby couldn't damage Dolly anymore, old Vlad just did away with her. Keep her young and nymphic for life -- her final tragedy to have her flattened self immortalized in the prose of her adoring misogynist rapist.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ben Benson

    The screenplay of Lolita is in a similar structure to the Kubrick film in that it begins with the end, and then traces down the major stomping grounds of the novel, Ramsdale, the road, Beardsley, the road, Lolita's home, and for the screenplay it pretty much ends there whereas the Kubrick film replays the intro with a little more added. The differences between the Kubrick film and the Nabokov screenplay are rather different outside of the major plot points that must be touched upon and Nabokov's The screenplay of Lolita is in a similar structure to the Kubrick film in that it begins with the end, and then traces down the major stomping grounds of the novel, Ramsdale, the road, Beardsley, the road, Lolita's home, and for the screenplay it pretty much ends there whereas the Kubrick film replays the intro with a little more added. The differences between the Kubrick film and the Nabokov screenplay are rather different outside of the major plot points that must be touched upon and Nabokov's screenplay is similar to his novel but still very different in the context of the beautiful prose, internal dialogue, and literary references made within the novel that just can not be captured by a movie. I recommend the screenplay if you are a big fan of Lolita as a piece of work and if you do see the Kubrick film I think reading this version of the screenplay (the original version was 400 pages) is a fun comparison to make. Overall I say the novel is heads and tails above everything else but the 1997 movie is excellent, then I would say the Kubrick film and screenplay are amusing echos of something great. I would probably say the Nabokov screenplay is slightly better than the Kubrick film.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hamish

    Given that this was his only screenplay, it's pretty incredible just how well-done this is. Granted, N had written several plays and was a cinephile, so he had a lot of the necessary skill set. But even with that in mind, I was amazed by just how well he spoke the language of the cinema and perfectly understood what needed to go into a good screenplay. The prologue is dazzling in how well it conveys information and exposition without being obvious about it. The whole thing is so artistically and Given that this was his only screenplay, it's pretty incredible just how well-done this is. Granted, N had written several plays and was a cinephile, so he had a lot of the necessary skill set. But even with that in mind, I was amazed by just how well he spoke the language of the cinema and perfectly understood what needed to go into a good screenplay. The prologue is dazzling in how well it conveys information and exposition without being obvious about it. The whole thing is so artistically and cleverly done that it'll make you sad that Kubrick used almost none of it in the actual film. There are also lots of little asides and stage directions that are charming and funny and it's so characteristic of N to put them in there despite knowing that the audience would never get to read them. There are also some charms of the novel that are lost here (particularly the prose and the more generous page count), but that was kind of inevitable. And because most of the material here is also in the novel (though there are a few things unique to the screenplay), it's isn't quite required reading for N fans, but the fanatics like myself definitely need this.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Larry Wang

    Not nearly as captivating as the virtuosic novel, but a fine work in itself. Lolita doesn't translate well as a screenplay because now all the events as shown from a camera-like omniscient view, instead of the fuzzy, multi-layered vision we get from Humbert Humbert. There were some elements of this screenplay I didn't like all that much, particularly the awkward narration of John Ray Jr. However, certain new phrases of classic Nabokovian genius are born here such as "...solarizing your solar p Not nearly as captivating as the virtuosic novel, but a fine work in itself. Lolita doesn't translate well as a screenplay because now all the events as shown from a camera-like omniscient view, instead of the fuzzy, multi-layered vision we get from Humbert Humbert. There were some elements of this screenplay I didn't like all that much, particularly the awkward narration of John Ray Jr. However, certain new phrases of classic Nabokovian genius are born here such as "...solarizing your solar plexus" --> Humbert commenting on Lolita sunbathing "...numberless Humbertless" --> Humbert lamenting that Lolita is spending too much time with her friends It's a shame Kubrick didn't use more of the original screenplay (and keep some of these brilliant phrases).

  11. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    Absolutely AMAZING. A must read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Suzysci

    more readable than the novel itself, though less delicate

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nova...

    pada awalnya, penulis mengatakan sesuatu yang memang bener akan terjadi pada pembaca..bahwa pembaca akan merasa aneh, bahkan jijik dengan perilaku pedophile yang di derita si pemeran utama, tapi pada akhirnya -penulis tetap yakin- pembaca akan jatuh cinta pada tokoh utamanya.. man, that's totally right..XD pertamanya bener2 aneh ngebaca cerita ttg seorang pria tua yang jatuh cinta pada seorang gadis, bukan, anak kecil yang berumur 25 taun lebih tua..duh, aneh bgt si..sakit kali ni orang yak..gitu pada awalnya, penulis mengatakan sesuatu yang memang bener akan terjadi pada pembaca..bahwa pembaca akan merasa aneh, bahkan jijik dengan perilaku pedophile yang di derita si pemeran utama, tapi pada akhirnya -penulis tetap yakin- pembaca akan jatuh cinta pada tokoh utamanya.. man, that's totally right..XD pertamanya bener2 aneh ngebaca cerita ttg seorang pria tua yang jatuh cinta pada seorang gadis, bukan, anak kecil yang berumur 25 taun lebih tua..duh, aneh bgt si..sakit kali ni orang yak..gitu gw pikir..hehe tp pd akhirnya, gw bener2 nangkep betapa besar cinta Humbert terhadap Lolita..bahkan bisa dibilang cinta sejati.. (bahkan gw mulai berpikir klo si Lolitanya yang sakit jiwa, peri asmara, yg menggoda siapa aja disekitar mereka, sereem..gak kebayang anak umur segitu punya sikap yg..um..hiii...) ending yang cukup sedih..tp bahagia..yg jelas membuat gw puas dgn hasil akhirnya..^^ filmnya jg keren..om jeremy irons emang aktor watak bgt deh! top! XD

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julian Darius

    Read the novel first (preferably in the annotated edition). Then read Nabokov's fascinating screen adaptation of his celebrated novel. It's different, but the choices Nabokov makes are fascinating. They suggest that he didn't see his own novel as a sacred text, but rather something that could be adapted and changed for a different medium. Plus, there's a wonderful metatextual moment, where Lo and Humbert Humbert meet a certain professorly character. Well worth your time.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Vlad Gheorghe

    Libro etereo, di una raffinatezza mai vista, che tiene costantemente sospeso il lettore tra la bellezza e la repulsione, accompagnato da un personaggio poetico e splendidamente, profondamente maligno. Non trovo le parole adatte per definire quest'opera.

  16. 5 out of 5

    T G

    No, it's not so perfect as the novel, but it's still Nabokov, so you could do a lot worse. You need only read it if you are a one of his true devotees.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    It is all about the exquisite prose and fascinating characters!!

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen Hoehne

  19. 4 out of 5

    Saritza Legault

  20. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  21. 4 out of 5

    michele kaub

  22. 4 out of 5

    William Alberque

  23. 4 out of 5

    Iveta

  24. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sean

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  27. 5 out of 5

    Romane

  28. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  29. 5 out of 5

    Finney

  30. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

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