"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 September 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

In the Lyne of Pale Fire



Hollywood never looks so stupid

as when it tries to look smart.

In recent years we've seen Demi

adapt Hawthorne, Chris O'Donnell

play Hemingway, and now, to put

the cap squarely on the dunce,

Adrian Lyne, director of

Indecent Proposal and Flashdance, has

filmed Nabokov's Lolita, the

story of Humbert Humbert,

intellectual and pedophile, and

his obsession with the book's

titular heroine, the

pre-pubescent Lolita.


But Hollywood looking dumb every

now and then isn't news. What's

generating all the hot type is

Lyne's inability to find an

American distributor for his

film. In the age of the Soccer

Mom, Hollywood isn't keen to

back movies with middle-aged men

screwing 12-year-olds

(especially when they already

make so much money on movies

about middle-aged men screwing





What Lyne's Lolita boils down to

for the press, however, is the

classic battle between

Misunderstood Artist and

Mencken's "booboisie." From

Ulysses to Serrano's Piss

Christ, this has become such a

predictable genre of arts

journalism - as rote as any

Schwarzenegger film or Mel

Gibson buddy movie - that

whenever a work is publicly

disputed, journalists simply

assume the position, painting

the protesters as ignorant,

frightened rabble and the artist

as the long-suffering visionary.

Only this time, the unlettered

heathens just may be right.


After all, a proper adaptation of

Lolita wouldn't offend anyone.

Yes, there are people so

disgusted by the subject that

they oppose any treatment of it

whatsoever. Once past that,

however, Lolita loses its

controversial edge because

Nabokov isn't sympathizing with

the perverts, he's disgusted by

them. No, in order to really get

people angry over Lolita, you

have to miss, either willfully

or through sheer ignorance, the

novel's point. And fortunately,

with lazy journalists in love

with the effete pose of the

misunderstood creator, we're

getting just that sort of

knee-jerk reaction right now.


As Lolita is poised for its

European debut in both England and

France, both Premiere and The New

Yorker ran testaments to Lyne's

great battle and the upcoming

controversy. But Hollywood has

pre-empted the battle, because

no studio is bothering to

release this film. No one has

stated exactly why, but

Premiere's Rachel Abramowitz

places the problem well within the

genre when she writes this about

Hollywood executives: "For some,

it represents a clash between

their generally liberal politics

and their fear of provoking a

conservative backlash." Sure,

liberals love child molesters -

it was in Clinton's State of the

Union speech, I remember. Never

mind that it's Democrats like

Senators Lieberman, Exon, and

Simon who want stricter controls

on TV, movies, the Internet, and

Calvin Klein's marketing

department. Even Bob Dole drew

the line at simply scolding





But the cliché of

intolerant churchgoers - as

opposed to liberal feminists or

terrified parents groups, who

also hate porn - is important to

Premiere's by-the-numbers

approach, complete with scenes

of a howling Lyne forced to cut

scenes of Humbert banging Lolita

on a Sunday morning while she

reads the funnies. The New

Yorker, equally romanced by the

image of The Artist Who Dares,

ran its own wheezy piece by

Roger Angell, popping the


query: "Can we agree at last

that Vladimir Nabokov's twisted,

ironic shocker is the greatest

American love story of them

all?" The question is the Upper

West Side equivalent of a

desperate talk-radio host trying

to pump up his dead phone lines

with topics like "Hitler - Has

History Been Too Hard on Him?"

or "Should Americans Eat Dogs

for Dinner?" But in the genre of

Art über alles, these

journos forget one thing: The

artist can be wrong.


Abramowitz's assumption of

political aversion and Angell's

"We're all adults here"

pretentiousness overlook an

important point - maybe, just

maybe, Adrian Lyne blew it.

Maybe his Lolita really does

suck. Maybe Adrian Lyne's isn't

the story of an aesthetic

martyr, but of a martyr with

learning disabilities. Lyne

himself told Abramowitz, "The

book is ambivalent about

Humbert. There's no simplistic



And there, in the artist's own

words, we can now see the lynch

mob as the heroes in this little

fable. For Lyne has

misunderstood Nabokov from page

one. Ambivalent about

pedophilia? The novel is never

ambivalent about Humbert. It's

enthusiastic about him, supports

him, and cheers his every move -

because it's told in first

person, by the molester. Thus,

every perversion, every abuse,

every day that Humbert holds

Lolita prisoner is seen as

Keatsian poetry. Of course it

never condemns Humbert; it

champions him. It's what you

call irony, as big as a barn,

and Lyne has missed it so

completely you wonder if a man

with his eyesight should be

allowed to drive. If Lyne has

actually made a film purporting

to show both sides of

child-fucking can you

blame the mob?


In the end, there won't be any

controversy when Lolita finds

its American distributor. As with

Showgirls, Crash, or Spike Lee's

last 10 movies, no one will

march down to the theater to

throw bricks. The "controversy"

will be limited to local news

hounds finding someone, anyone,

to go on camera and say Lolita

should be banned. Most likely, a

Jim Carrey comedy or The Little

Mermaid II will be released the

same weekend, burying Lolita,

leaving it remembered only in

the press kits for Lyne's future

films, when he'll be written of

as "the controversial director

of Lolita."

courtesy of Furious George

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