Kubrick-fest 05 - Lolita

Or a coke-addled Shelley Duvall.

l finally found some time to join the Kubrick-fest, and started with Lolita. l had never seen it before, and have mixed feelings about it. l have read the book when l was around 15 l guess, and don’t remember much of it; however, l do remember the beginning pretty well: it starts with “Lolita”. The book also ends with “Lolita”. However, the movie starts and ends with “Quilty”, and l don’t remember the book being this focused on him at all.

Do you guys know if this was an original idea from Kubrick, or did he rather decide to focus more on Quilty after seeing Sellers perform, or at least based on the fact Sellers would be playing Quilty?

Kubrick was fascinated with the idea of Quilty being a dark reflection of Humbert in the script he wrote with Harris.

As we move forward all I can say is to all book lovers; Kubrick looks at these novels as source material and then completely rewrites them and makes them his own unique works emphasizing completely different themes. If he tells a different story, he really doesn’t care. Frequently Kub fans who dislike or are put off by a particular work are clinging to the source material. This particularly applies to the authors (see Steven King). He doesn’t care about being faithful. He’s trying to make an original work unique to his themes and vision.

lt shows very much. Quilty is clearly presented as a version of Humbert that would be freed of his inhibitions. Humbert therefore kills this very part of himself, that led to his fall. Also, Quilty always appears at key moments in the evolution of Humbert infatuation of Lolita: in the ballroom, at the hotel and once they live together, appearing almost as a conceptual character.

This is not that dissimilar in the book, only that the book, by being longer, devotes less percentage of narrative to Quilty, but he’s very much there (although we only discover who he really is later). The theme of Quilty as a “freed” reflection of Humbert holds too, in the sense that he seems to be something he would love to be, but also (and this is lost in the film due to the omniscient narrator) Quilty serves as a moral scapegoat for Humbert. You think I’m bad, says Humbert, but look over there, that’s what “real” evil looks like. In that way, in the book we are actually left to wonder whether Quilty (the versión Humbert presents of him, not the person per se) really exists or it’s a construct. The possibility exists that Quilty is “less guilty” than Humbert (slippery slope and all) since we only have Humbert’s word for it and Quilty’s dead and Lolita too.

The movie IS Quilty though. Seller creates a character that remains the most memorable of the film, and the real magnet of attention and attraction.

Unreliable narrators/PoVs abound in my favorite Kubrick films.

I posit that here he missed the mark. While in Barry Lyndon and Eyes Wide Shut the unreliability of the narrator comes more to fore, here I don’t see it unless I force myself to look for it.

As much as I like the film.

But that might be me. Did others feel they were watching an unreliable story?

Yes, in the sense there is doubt. But he’s not thoroughly using multiple layers of techniques yet a la Orange, Lyndon or The Shining. But he’s developing those. Its enough for me in this work. My interpretation with all the ambiguities and “or, ifs and buts” largely converge with yours. I think your point regarding the omniscient narrator compared to, say, an omniscient (?) narrator with a subtle “take” on the events in Lyndon is an interesting comparison.

l agree. That was one of the things that l remember the most from the book actually, so l probably took it a bit as granted while watching the movie; but yes, it is clearly not obvious at all. That being said, how do you transpose that in a movie? By definition, the true narrator is always the camera (l’m trying to find a good, convincing example of unreliable narrator in a movie right now).

The Shining. Camera PoVs reflect different experiences of different characters, that are at variance. Altman’s Images and Roeg’s Performance and Don’t look Now are a couple of others.

In terms of unreliable voiceover narration many examples abound.

Ellipsis creating ambiguity are another common technique. You don’t see what happens, just people talking about it. This is somewhat in operation here, though muted.

Agree. We never “saw it” but its referred to without other confirmation is an under appreciated and subtle technique. Brunel is another one I’d throw out there off the top of my head. But in the above examples, Altman, Kubrick and Roeg are taking those surrealist techniques to a new level in how they integrate with the narrative, IMO. In the sense that they can’t be pegged as “Surrealist” works. Because they really are not.

Yes, but as you say, it “reflects” the POV;it isn’t the POV. So don’t we need, as spectators, to somehow intellectualize what we are watching, to add a layer of interpretation, and to constantly think “this is in fact Shelley Duvall’s POV”? While when reading a book, the relation narrator/reader, is a direct one, and as such doesn’t require the reader to make this effort. Thus, to me, the manipulation is even stronger in this case, precisely because not mediated.

(l realise l’m probably not clear at all. l’m very tired, and should think more about that).

PS: l was answering to your post about the Shining. l am very slow at typing.

Agreed, but for me, this is a literature trick, not something specific to cinema.

Not when the filmmaker cues you. Example, Jack sees things that make no sense, but we write it off as supernatural. Or Psychotic? Even our PoV is unreliable at times in that film (many deliberate continuity errors from a neutral PoV). If you don’t get the cue, cool.

But let’s save the deep Shining talk for that entry, Because there’s gonna be a lotta when we do that one, I sense it…

And I agree you should probably go to sleep before we engage in discussion about esoteric creative techniques.

The keywords there are “for me“.

Having never seen it, I am curious and will have a lot to say as a first time viewer.

As for this Kubrick film? I don’t have much to add here. What thoughts I had have largely been covered above, vis a vis narrator insert and perspective reliability. This is a movie I wasn’t as interested in due to subject, and ultimately prefer the previous 3 films to it. Sellers is, as usual, a stand out. Anyhow enough from me now, I’m more interested in seeing the continuation of the discussion above.

Zoinks, its time for the next entry! I’ll have it up tomorrow AM EST.

Whattya know, Kurbic-fest 6 is up! But I really like the Lolita discussion so don’t stop!

Some Ramblings on Quilty, Narrators, Reliability, PoVs and Perspective

So after some processing and thought.

The film opens with the killing of Quilty. Quilty admits nothing regarding Lolita, its merely apparent he was a dissolute type.

We’re introduced to the main narrative via a first person voice-over narrator (a technique only used from time to time) Humbert. Humbert is a pedophile. He also proves to be delusional, paranoid and possibly insane as the film progresses.

Question - Is that a reliable narrator?

We only see Quilty in the presence of other characters in the film (other than Humbert) once, at the Dance. Every other time his presence in the film, even in reference, is either via a neutral POV (once, the hotel below and at the play…where no one actually interacts with him), in a one on one interaction with Humbert (remember, ultimately told to us by our first person narrator, Humbert) or he is in disguise. He is never recognized as Quilty by Humbert.

The Hotel - the acknowledgement of Quilty as Quilty is by the receptionist, a “Mr. Swine”. We see Quilty in a neutral PoV. Humbert doesn’t recognize of acknowledge him at the desk. Later, Quilty is conversing with Humbert while looking away the whole time. He “pretends” to be a policeman. Humbert is very nervous at being at a police convention.

Humbert is visited at Home by “Quilty” disguised as a school psychologist. He does not recognized him as Quilty. Humbert feels VERY threatened and is VERY disturbed by the visit as it may threaten to uncover his relationship with Lolita.

“Quilty” calls Humbert at the Motel. He is almost completely around the bend now. He doesn’t recognize “Quilty”. We do.

The mysterious stalker who ruined Humberts wonderful life with his nymphet is revealed by a private conversation between Humbert and Lolita. It all becomes perfectly crystal clear to Humbert now! Quilty ruined everything and has been persecuting him! He departs to kill Quilty.