morricone and lolita

I thought I'd share some idle thoughts I had this weekend -- about one of my favorite books and favorite scores and how they are incongruent in a weird way. Nabakov's Lolita is one of my favorite novels for so many reasons -- key among them being the subtlety of Nabakov's accomplishment in the ultimate unreliable narrator. (Uh, don't read this, I guess, if you haven't read Lolita). You want to sympathize with Humbert in various ways here and there, but by the end of the book, you just have this really bad taste in your mouth. It's not a love story, and it's not supposed to be romantic. You suspect you've been misled. This is why the more recent movie with Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain bugged me (I've actually never seen the Kubrick version). This version of the story does a very poor job of communicating that distaste and distrust of the narrator (if it can be argued they made any attempt at all). Dominique Swain, being 17 when this movie was filmed, was hot in a very womanly way (in the book, Lolita was 12 at the start) and we're presented with a much less subtle taboo/forbidden love story. Anyways, I'm sure film and novel critics better than me have dissected this at length. That said, it's not a bad movie. And it's all the more pleasant to watch because of Ennio Morricone's absolutely gorgeous score, which is easily one of my favorites of his. And it's his score that really drives home the wistful sadness and romantic beauty of the movie -- elements which I didn't think really belonged. You can listen to some excerpts here:

... or elsewhere on youtube.

I just find it amusing that one of my favorite musical scores is, paradoxically, partially to blame for why I disliked a movie.

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  • Jon

    I haven’t read the book but did see the Kubrick film, and I think it’s probably more what you’re looking for. James Mason did an excellent job of making the character sometimes-sympathetic-but-usually-just-off-putting (to the point where one almost has to consciously resist turning one’s distaste for Humbert into a distaste for Mason).

  • aaron

    First of all, I second your love of the book. But yeah, as a movie, Lolita is a tricky one. I like both versions, and also don’t think either can do justice to the book. But the thing is, not in the usual “the movie’s not as good as the book” kind of way; on this one, I think a movie actually CAN’T do justice – is limited, is not allowed. (Damnit, it’s just a little hard to get a good dramatization of pedophilia on the screen these days.) The 1962 Kubrick version, which is good, uses a younger-looking more “nymphet” actress (though Sue Lyon *was* 16 when the movie came out), and is significantly less creepy than the book or the 1997 Lyne movie, but is bound by the 1960’s standards of presentation, so you just don’t get the sexual edge, or Humbert’s agonizing obsession. By 1997, sex and the dirty schoolgirl thing are more or less fine, but to pull it off, you need a fair amount of maturity in your actress, which means you ain’t getting a 12-year old.

    Part of me thinks Lyne knew that he couldn’t truuuly get the Humbert-Lolita relationship exactly right, so he glazed the whole movie in a creepy-almost-surreal haze, and went for gold with other beautiful cinematic moments, like the he opening scene of the meandering car (backed by your beloved soundtrack), and the scenes of Humbert’s revenge on Claire Quilty. So good.

  • Chris

    Agreed.. now you’re kinda making me want to watch the Lyne version again..