Monday, September 24, 2012

Lolita (1962)

I have a series of books and films saved on Goodreads and Netflix, respectively, that, while not exactly my cup of tea, are listed because you're supposed to see them. For whatever reason, these pieces of work have been added to the echelons of "must experience." I just recently watched A Streetcar Named Desire and, one day in the near future, I'm going to read some Hemingway. Lolita is one of these "musts". I watched the 1962 Stanley Kubrick production, considered, I believe, the best adaptation of the 1955 novel of the same name. And, while I can't say I was eager to watch a movie about a middle-aged professor's obsession for a teenage girl, it was on the list and it wasn't as terrible as I was fearing.

Some immediate differences between the novel and film. It is my understanding that the novel is better and worse. It is better because motivations are more clearly defined but Lolita herself is twelve in the novel (ewww....) and less is left up to the imagination. In the film, Lolita is in high school, with fourteen being the accepted but never mentioned age (sooo much better! Sarcasm!). Apparently, Sue Lyons was chosen, in part, based on her bust size; censors felt a more physically developed fourteen year old would be easier to stomach. And, because they are dealing with 1960s censorship, a lot is suggested and implied without being directly shown. I was surprised that this film was in black and white. Certainly it was cheaper and I'm sure a film major would tell me the use of black and white is a comment on the stark mores of the world or a unique use of shadow to invoke our sympathies or hatred for particular characters. Anyway, it's black and white, FYI.

Our film opens with the dramatic ending of the film. We watch our hero (??) enter a derelict house and confront a very inebriated Peter Sellers. Oh, Stanley Kubrick and your love of using Sellers in films. Oh, Peter Sellers without a Clouseau 'stache, I don't know what to do with you. We are then rewound four years to the arrival of Professor Humbert Humbert (yes.) in Ramsdale, NH, where he will Summer before taking a position at Beardley College in Ohio. Humbert (first name or last name?!) is looking for a room to let and is shown around the house of Charlotte Haze, a sexually frustrated widow. She is wearing balloon pants, a picture of which I cannot find. Mrs. Haze is assuring Humbert of the finer qualities of the area, how well appointed the room is (I half expected her to point out shelves in the closet), and how progressive everyone is in Ramsdale. Also, everyone is of good Anglo-Dutch and Anglo-Scotch stock. Stock? Really? How progressive of you to be determining your quality by your bloodlines.

I was immediately amazed at just how much innuendo Kubrick manages to slip into this movie. It is placed throughout, but, in these opening scenes alone, we watch Humbert Humbert subtly rub the tip of an urn and Mrs. Haze suggestively eat a hot dog.

As Mrs. Haze simultaneously shows Humbert the house and throws herself at him, we watch his interest ebb. But she insists he see the garden before he goes and in the garden is Lolita.

Suddenly, Humbert Humbert finds the house infinitely more appealing and perfectly situated to his needs.
Charlotte: "What was the decisive factor? My garden?"
Humbert: "I think it was your cherry pies."
Me (as Humbert): And by "cherry pies" I mean that young bit of eye-candy lounging on the lawn.

A few quick side notes. Firstly, apparently Hayley Mills turned down the role, purportedly because of her contract with Disney. But they did a great job of finding someone who looks exactly like her. Seriously...

Secondly, the infamous bikini is the most we will see Lolita unclothed. And, to be frank, she is dressed quite conservatively throughout the rest of the film. Thirdly, none of the women chosen to act as "mothers" are old enough to be mothers. I'm not buying it, Charlotte and Mrs. Lolita's-Best-Friend's-Mom. Fourthly, every woman in this town is desperate for a lay and just falling all over themselves for this European Romeo. Another ladies' man-about-town is Clare Quilty, a playwright, currently keeping company with Vampira.
Unfortunately for all of these in-heat cougars, both men are only interested in their young daughters.

In her attempts to romance Humbert Humbert, Charlotte takes advantage of a night when Lolita is supposed to be out. She insists she'll teach him all the new dance moves and it's oh-so easy.
"You simply vibrate rhythm." Well, most people do. She does not.
She also tells Humbert that he reminds her of her dead husband, Harold. So sexy. Nice moves, Mama. She cannot understand when Humbert does not return her affections.
It's just so awkwardly desperate.
Even as Mama Charlotte is working her "moves", Humbert is thinking of Lolita and insists that Charlotte is being to liberal with Lolita, letting her galavant with boys. Mom laughs it off, until Lolita comes home early from her party, thereby interrupting the hunt. Tempers flare, mother and daughter argue, and Mom looks to have Lolita out of the way. When it turns out Lolita's best friend, Mona, also slipped away from the party and with a boy and didn't come home till 4? Well, it's off to Summer camp for the both of them! Away from the opposite sex! Mom tells Humbert of her ingenious plan and we have the joy of watching his face fall.
Humbert: "How far away is this camp?"
Charlotte: "Two hundred miles. It was a stroke of genius on Mama's part. Ain't I clever?"
Me (as Humbert): No, no, no, no, no! Not what I meant! I could strangle you, you cow!

Though I loathe Humbert, one also understands his detestation for Charlotte. Besides reeking of sexual desperation, she has an insatiable need to make herself seem more exotic. Awed by Humbert's being European, she tries to be European herself.
"Shall we take our coffee out to the piazza?"

"You know, 'monsieur', I believe that it's only in the romance languages that one is able to really relate in a mature fashion."

Charlotte: "I knew that I've never felt married until I heard myself addressed as 'Senora'."
Humbert: "You were in Spain?"
Charlotte: "No, Mexico."

Before leaving to take Lolita to camp, Charlotte leaves Humbert a letter telling him she loves him and that he can stay if he'll marry her but otherwise he must leave because it's too hard having him under the same roof. So he marries Mama to stay close to Lolita. In Humbert's own words he goes from "lodger to lover."

We are given a view into their matrimonial life on a rainy day. Charlotte wakes to find that Humbert has locked himself in the bathroom, where he writes in his veryprivatesecretjournal. Mama is very insecure about his habits and former lovers. She whines, whines, whines, like a child. Humbert asks her to make him some coffee, "like a good little wife." (Me: God, you pompous ass, I will kill you.) While Charlotte makes coffee and yells to Humbert about how sacred their love his and that he "arouses the pagan" in her, Humbert prepares to do his husbandly duty by drinking, a lot. It was the sixties, I guess. Then comes this really weird conversation where Charlotte asks if Humbert believes in God and, when he prevaricates, insists that if she ever found out he didn't believe in God she would kill herself. I...I don't know why. I don't know why she cares? She doesn't come across as very religious (maybe it's more prevalent in the novel) and it seems like she only married him to get him in her pants. Anyway, she goes on to tell him about the gun she keeps in the bureau. But not to worry, it's not loaded. Right. Foreshadowing! She insists it's a sacred weapon, only for committing suicide. Like a ceremonial Japanese sword? I don't....okay. To make Charlotte feel better/get her to stop talking crazy, Humbert starts making out with her. And...oh, okay, makes sure he's facing the picture of Lolita on the bedside table.
Charlotte continues to talk throughout their kissy time because apparently she can't shut up. She wants a French maid. But where will we keep her? In Lolita's room, of course. We'll send Lolita straight from camp to boarding school to college. It'll be her and Humbert alone together forever. FOREVER. And then all at once, Humbert's erection is gone. He goes into full-on pout and ominously watches the gun. They drink some more. (Me: God, you haven't even had that coffee yet!) When Charlotte goes to take a bath, Humbert inspects the gun, which, by the way, is totes loaded. We listen as he inner monologues about committing the perfect murder, which is impossible to plan but could happen by accident.
Humbert's VO: "She said it wasn't loaded. It belonged to the late Mr. Haze. She was having her morning tub. We had just finished talking about our plans for the future. I decided to play a practical joke and pretend I was a burglar. We were newlyweds and still did things like that to each other. As soon as it happened I called an ambulance, but it was too late."
Me (as Humbert): Of course, I just dropped all of the bullets and put them back, so my fingerprints are ALL OVER the bullets I thought weren't there.

Humbert approaches the bathroom but finds he just can't kill "the seal." But then, surprise! She's not in the tub! She's in his office reading his veryprivatesecretjournal! In which he has written all about his love for the nymphet, Lolita, and his loathing for the cow of her mother. Humbert goes into immediate action.
Me (as Humbert, paraphrased):'re hallucinating! I'll get you a drink! It's fragments of a novel. I used your names by chance! It was just handy!! It's just a funny story! Martini on the way!

Meanwhile, Charlotte is languishing to Harold's urn that it's all his fault for dying and leaving her alone with the brat and that it's Lolita's fault that Humbert doesn't love her. And then she starts kissing the urn because that's totally normal. And then she runs out into the street, throws herself in front of a car, and dies. Two minutes after their fight. Obviously, Humbert is very put out:

But he'll totally get away with it because apparently Charlotte was born with one kidney and it was distressed and she hadn't long to live anyway. Humbert is assured by neighbors and friends that he must think of poor, little Lolita. Oh, trust me, he is but not the way you're thinking.

So, Humbert goes to pick up Lolita from camp.
Me: Really? Really?! Camp Climax for girls? Camp CLIMAX?!
The best part is I'm not even joking.
All the perky, young things are walking about in short-shorts and swim suits. Camp Climax has one boy, the son of the owner, who works there all year as a towel boy. Humbert, a grown man, is immediately jealous of him and asks if he spends much time with Lolita. Not that it matters, he's taking Lolita away immediately.

As they drive off, Humbert explains the whole situation to Lolita and by "explain" I mean lies. He tells Lolita that her mother is sick and has gone to stay in a hospital in the country. He pulls the "Fluffy has gone to live on a big, big farm" line! He insists they just take a little road trip together to bide their time until she's well again. On their first night, they stop at a hotel where Clare Quilty and Vampira just happen to be staying too. As Humbert fills in the guest registry, he learns that the State Police are holding a convention at the hotel. He has the good grace to look concerned and bothers to ask after getting an extra cot for the room. Meanwhile, Quilty and Vampira are keeping close tabs on Humbert and Lolita, being very nosy.
So weird!
By the time the hotel manages to get an extra bed, Lolita has already fallen asleep, alone, in the room and there's this whole slapstick comedy of the porter and Humbert trying to get the cot in the room without waking Lolita. Despite extra cot, Humbert tries to crawl into bed with Lolita and she cock-blocks him. And this is what I actually find interesting about Lolita, the film and the character. For all of Lolita having come to mean a promiscuous and sexually active young girl, Lolita is not very promiscuous. She knows about the facts of life, she's not blind to Humbert's attentions and she will eventually have a sexual relationship with him but she's not encouraging him either. It's not like Alicia Silverstone in The Crush chasing after an older man and throwing herself on him. Lolita knows Humbert finds her attractive and she teases him a little bit about it but she's not the main force driving this train.

The next morning Humbert and Lolita are teasing one another and kind of flirting. She asks him if he'll play a game with her, a particular one she learned at camp with the one boy. I think you know what game it is. Anyway, this is the first time we are led to believe they have intercourse.
Lolita: "Have you ever seen any of those, you know, those foreign films?"
Me (as Humbert): Yes, frequently. After all, I am foreign.

The very next day the jig is up and Humbert has to confess to Lolita that her mother is dead. I'm not sure why he bothered lying in the first place. Did he really think he'd be able to keep that lie going?

We flash forward about six months. They're now staying at Beardsley college. Lolita has a new home, a new school, and Daddy issues aplenty. Daddy-Lover is painting her toenails and being jealous of her even looking at high school boys (seriously, so insecure for a grown man). When Lolita tells Humbert she's won the lead in the school play Humbert insists she can't do it. It will only be an opportunity for her to mingle with high school boys and he won't have it. Wow. Just wow.

To convince Daddy-Lover that Lolita should be the lead, Clare Quilty arrives, dressed as a German psychiatrist from the school. Humbert does not recognize Quilty, even though he's met him on a number of occasions now. It's another awkward scene, as all of the Quilty scenes seem to be. Dr. Quilty convinces Humbert that the school is concerned about Lolita's lack of maturity (HA!) and would like to do a home inspection. Humbert, worried about a bunch of quacks all up in his home situation, goes on the defensive. But maybe they can come to an agreement? She's a young girl, she should be expressing herself. Maybe in the school play? Perhaps going on dates?
This is a major production just to get Lolita in the play.
Opening night of the play Humbert learns from, yet another, desperate cougar that Lolita has been skipping her piano lessons for weeks and lying as regards her whereabouts. Enraged, Humbert takes Lolita home and refuses to let her go to the cast party. They have a fabulous row that the neighbors can hear but in the end they come to the arrangement that it's all Beardley's fault. They'll leave this city and all of its stupid nosy neighbors. They'll travel all the time, just the two of them. Really this is Humbert's arrangement but that's what they do. Regardless of Lolita's education or well-being (obviously he's concerned about that), they hop into the station wagon and off they go.

Somewhere along the way they notice they are being followed by a strange car. It keeps up with them for days, making Humbert more and more edgy. In his absent-mindedness, they have a blow out. The car stops behind them. Humbert begins to have pains in his left arm. Obviously a heart attack, neither of them are concerned or seem to know that it's a heart attack? Then the strange car turns around and leaves?? And then they make it to the next town and go to the hospital, where Lolita is admitted for a cold and the man who had a heart attack receives no medical care??? And Humbert is jealous of the nurse, the female nurse, because Lolita talks to her???? And is the nurse Eve Arden????? No, it's Moneypenny (Lois Maxwell).

Anyway, a bunch of stuff that makes no real sense happens and Humbert tells Lolita that, as soon she's well, they'll head for the Mexican border. The row was the beginnings of their discord but it is here that we really begin to see Lolita's growing distaste for Humbert. While he grasps and fawns to try and keep her, we can see that she is bored and irritated by him. I'm pretty sure she's lying when she tells him the Doctor wants her to stay another day or two for observation. And I'm right. After receiving a call from a mysterious and anonymous individual (Quilty), threatening an investigation into the rumors regarding Humbert and his little girl, Humbert freaks and heads for the hospital posthaste - only to find when he gets there that she's been discharged into the care of her "uncle."

We next see a letter being typed to "Dad", presumably by Lolita. It says that she's married, pregnant, and is in need of money for a number of debts. She asks Humbert to send a check. When Humbert arrives at a run-down house in the slums, he finds a very preggers Lolita.
You can tell she's pregnant by her voluminous shirt.

It's been a few years, we learn, and she's married to Dick, a young man she met while waitressing in Phoenix. Dick does not know about her relationship with Humbert and thinks Humbert is just her step-father. Humbert insists on knowing who it was took her from the hospital. Humbert is incredibly dense. Lolita explains that it was Clare Quilty and that Quilty was the snoop at the hotel, the German psychiatrist, the strange car, and the anonymous caller. She has been in love with Quilty forever, every since Quilty was in Ramsdale the first time. Quilty knew all about her and Humbert and together, she and Quilty, arranged all of these episodes - the play, the hospital escape - in order to be together. She likes Dick okay but Quilty is the only man she's ever really loved. When Quilty took her away they went to stay at his dude ranch in New Mexico and, though she loved him, he kept strange company and wanted her to be in an "art film". So she left.
Geez, Quilty, she's not one of your vampire women. You can't just expect her to be in an art film.

During this scene, pregnant Lolita drinks a beer. Fabulous. Humbert tries to get Lolita to go away with him again. And, at this point, I think he needs to take a tip from

Persistence Demotivator
When Lolita refuses, Humbert gives her $400 cash, a check for $2,000, and the deed to the house in Ramsdale.

We then return to our dramatic opening, where Humbert will kill Quilty for ruining Lolita's childhood and taking away her innocence. Ah, the sweet taste of hypocrisy.

So, in conclusion, Lolita:
Not my favorite, definitely notable for its controversy, but, otherwise, I'm not sure why it's a classic.


  1. this entry definitely made me laugh! Also, this seems like a movie I want to watch, despite the fact that I am not a very avid movie-watcher. I loved your paraphrasings and the me (as Humphrey)'s. Also the picture captions.

    Camp Climax?

    *clears throat* ahem. *scribbles on to-do list: watch Lolita*

    1. It is definitely worth seeing at least once. It's not worthy buying, in my humble opinion, but at least you can say you watched it.

      And yeah, Camp Climax. HI-larious. Maybe it can be right across the lake from the boys camp, Camp Thrust.