Lolita by Stanley Kubrick (1962)

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Lolita is a 1962 comedy-drama film directed by Stanley Kubrick, based on the 1955 novel of the same title by Vladimir Nabokov, who also wrote the screenplay. It follows a middle-aged literature lecturer who becomes sexually obsessed with a young adolescent girl. The film stars James Mason as Humbert Humbert, Sue Lyon as Dolores Haze (Lolita), and Shelley Winters as Charlotte Haze, with Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty.

Owing to the Motion Picture Association of America‘s (MPAA) restrictions at the time, the film toned down the more provocative aspects of the novel, sometimes leaving much to the audience’s imagination. The actress who played Lolita, Sue Lyon, was 14 at the time of filming.

Lolita polarized contemporary critics, but is well-received today. Kubrick later commented, however, that if he had realized how severe the censorship limitations were going to be, he probably would never have made the film.

At the time the film was released, the ratings system was not in effect and the Hays Code, dating back to the 1930s, governed movie production. The censorship of the time inhibited Kubrick’s direction; Kubrick later commented that, “because of all the pressure over the Production Code and the Catholic Legion of Decency at the time, I believe I didn’t sufficiently dramatize the erotic aspect of Humbert’s relationship with Lolita. If I could do the film over again, I would have stressed the erotic component of their relationship with the same weight Nabokov did.” Kubrick hinted at the nature of their relationship indirectly, through double entendre and visual cues such as Humbert painting Lolita’s toes. In a 1972 Newsweek interview (after the ratings system had been introduced in late 1968), Kubrick said that he “probably wouldn’t have made the film” had he realized in advance how difficult the censorship problems would be.

The film is deliberately vague over Lolita’s age. Kubrick commented, “I think that some people had the mental picture of a nine-year-old, but Lolita was twelve and a half in the book; Sue Lyon was thirteen.” Actually, Lyon was 14 by the time filming started and 15 when it finished. Although passed without cuts, Lolita was rated “X” by the British Board of Film Censors when released in 1962, meaning no one under 16 years of age was permitted to watch.

 

 

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