Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025468, Fri, 20 Jun 2014 20:33:10 -0300

RES: [NABOKV-L] Google Alert - vladimir nabokov
Jansy Mello: A few days ago I sent a commentary by Vice [ <http://www.vice.com/read/ragged-odds-and-ends-0000340-v21n6?utm_source=vicenewsletter> http://www.vice.com/read/ragged-odds-and-ends-0000340-v21n6?utm_source=vicenewsletter ] related to V.Nabokov’s “Lolita” original script:

“Something of a cinephile since his émigré days in Berlin and Paris, Nabokov had a keen understanding of the medium, and while he stuck to the basic characters and story line of his book, each scene was dramatized with the camera eye in mind.[ ] The genius of the novel, however, resides above all in the first-person narration of Humbert Humbert [ ] whereas a screenplay, no matter how gorgeously written, is confined mostly to the latter: dialogue. It’s hard to film a prose style.

According to Vice then, Nabokov’s script was written with “the camera eye in mind”. The example he selects is: “On page two of the novel, for example, a fraught parenthetical explanation—“(picnic, lightning)”—is given for the death of Humbert’s mother; in the screenplay, Nabokov elaborates the tragedy as follows:

Humbert’s Voice

…she was killed by a bolt of lightning during a picnic on my fourth birthday, high in the Maritime Alps.


A Mountain Meadow—A thunderhead advancing above sharp cliffs
Several people scramble for shelter, and the first big drops of rain strike the zinc of a lunchbox. As the poor lady in white runs toward the pavilion of a lookout, a blast of livid light fells her. Her graceful specter floats up above the black cliffs holding a parasol and blowing kisses to her husband and child who stand below, looking up, hand in hand.”

In my opinion, the images of a lady in white sheltered under a parasol, floating in the sky while blowing kisses is hilarious, in a Mary Poppins’s kind of way, but is veers away from the written kind of humor and pathos that I see in the novel. Nevertheless, since it was penned by V.N, it must correspond to his subjective way of processing images: the discrepancy I find in it must be only apparent to a few of his reader/spectators (anyway, Kubrick didn’t reproduce it in his movie*).

The vivacity of VN’s personifications and animations may be connected to his kind of visual humor and his transformation of visual images into verbal ones, or to the power to imagetically condense and announce future developments in the plot (like his initial introduction of restless dog, Charlotte and mail) thereby breaking away from the dictates of the sequentiality of the written lines (one of his most constant ambitions, as I see it). There’s something unique in this sort of transposition, particularly when one bears in mind V.Nabokov’s refusal to accept that “we think in words” and his various attempts to describe the simultaneity of images, ideas and sounds that accosted him while he was planning a novel.

1.Barbara Wyllie’s “Nabokov at the Movies” (Film Perspectives in Fiction,2003) addresses my sketchy query from a different angle and related to another scene and motivation: “ Both Michael Wood and Alfred Appel note the quotation of slapstick comedy and Western films in the scene of Quilty’s murder, yet the most intriguing aspect of the sequence is where it fails cinematically…”(p.158) “Quilty’a murder is the event which transforms Humbert Humbert from a coward into a hero, yet it is a dismal failure in terms of emulating the dénouement of a Western or film noir. It even fails as a consisten piece of slapstick” (p.159)

2.Anne-Marie Paquet-Deyris, Université de Paris X, janvier 2010 - Org. : Journée d’Etudes/Symposium « Lolita [Nabokov, 1955 ; Kubrick, 1962] writes, in “Metafilmic discourse and intertextual echoes in two scenes: Analyzing “At the drive-in” & “Breakfast at Humbert’s””

“In Kubrick’s clipped version of Nabokov’s meandering prose in Lolita, two scenes and their framing, adjacent sections exemplify in a peculiar and spectacular fashion the art of adaptation. “At the drive-in” and “Breakfast at Humbert’s” exemplify the interplay of filmic and literary echoes and tributes the writer and the filmmaker toy with in their respective novel, screenplay and movie. They function as immersive catalysts. In her 2006 book A Theory of Adaptation, film theoretician Linda Hutcheon explains how “modes of engagement” are meant to help the readers and spectators experience difference and similarity between two sign systems and hence, through intersemiotic transposition, to transcode and recode into a new set of conventions and signs the source text and its web of intertextual allusions. “ Cf. <http://anglais.u-paris10.fr/IMG/pdf/Lolita_Metafilmic.pdf> http://anglais.u-paris10.fr/IMG/pdf/Lolita_Metafilmic.pdf

3. My only copy of Richard Corliss book on “Lolita” is in Portuguese, so I had to search the internet for an apt translation of “Pale Film” to bring it up here. General excerpts:

a.“ The marvelous BFI Film Classics series …has already produced an interesting variety of approaches to film criticism and commentary. Richard Corliss' study of Stanley Kubrick's 1961 film, Lolita, is among the more creative takes. .. Credits, bibliography, and a fill of film-stills fortunately found space in the thin volume -- and Corliss' writing, though trimmed, is still an excellent commentary on the film, novel, and phenomenon that is Lolita./ Corliss begins with a 99-line poem, Pale Film, a commentary in verse on Kubrick's film (and homage to Nabokov's 999-line poem plus commentary that is his masterpiece, Pale Fire). While not quite Nabokovian in quality, Corliss' poem serves his purpose well, allowing him, in his commentary, to address almost all aspects of Lolita's various incarnations… Corliss pays special attention to Nabokov, whom he clearly venerates, pointing out how different Kubrick's version is even from Nabokov's published screenplay…An essential text for all those interested in Nabokov's nymphet.”


b. “The complete review's Review” offers information about Nabokov’s “puckish fantasy” script, its original and the inaccurate published version: “ When Stanley Kubrick acquired the film rights to Lolita he asked Nabokov himself to write the screenplay. Nabokov initially turned down the offer, and then changed his mind. He eventually wrote a screenplay, on which Kubrick based his film. Nabokov is credited as the film's author, though in fact Kubrick undertook many changes (and vigorous cuts). Nabokov gives a short account of the nascence of the script in his introduction to the screenplay. / The published version, revised and first published in 1974, in fact also differs greatly from Nabokov's original version. Richard Corliss writes in his remarkable little study of the film (see our review): ‘The version Nabokov published in 1974 was substantially revised and condensed from this script. If the early version was as prodigal as Greed(Nabokov's comparison), the published one is a contentious, puckish fantasia.’ / Naturally, it is the original that would be of far greater interest to readers; instead, we only have the carefully edited published version. It, too, is of interest, though since it is neither an accurate rendering of Kubrick's film version nor what Nabokov originally had in mind (and on paper) it is more of curiosity than anything else.” [ ] “Nabokov was not a born dramatist (his plays enjoyed only modest success, to put it politely), and the limitations of the filmscript form, heavily dependent on dialogue, were clearly a difficulty for Nabokov. He still fashioned a decent script here -- and a comparison with Stephen Schiff's script for Adrian Lyne's film, especially those scenes which are fundamentally the same, is illuminating, showing what a much finer ear Nabokov had than Schiff./ Worth reading, the screenplay is a minor Nabokovian exercise, more a curiosity than anything else./It is to be hoped that eventually Nabokov's original script, and the actual screenplay of Kubrick's film will also be made available.” http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/nabokovv/lolita2.htm

c. But I reached a partial translation of Corliss’s “Pale Film”** in “Twentieth Century American Fiction on Screen,” edited by R. Barton Palmer. Ch. Film and Narration: two versions of Lolita (2007). Robert Stam’s comments about it will suffice.

“The narrator of the screenplay is more interventionist than his counterpart in the Kubrick film; he requests specific shots, a technique “faithful’ to certain passages in Lolita where the narrator actually addresses any future adaptor of the book: “If you want to make a movie of my book, have one of those faces gently melt into my own, while I look.” The suggestions anticipates precisely the technique adopted two years later by Alfred Hitchcock in The Wrong Man (1957), where the face of the wrongly accused Henry Fond is lap-dissolved into that o the actual thief.

The screenplay also features completely fantastic images: a “ripply” shot shows a knight in full armor riding a black horse, Humbert’s mother floating to heaven gripping a parasol, a vignette anticipatory of Woody Allen’s mother floating in the sky over Manhattan in New York Stories (1989). Had these vignettes been filmed, they would have formed part of a completely different film, featuring an anti-illusionistic aesthetic, more reminiscent of Federico Fellini or Woody Allen than of the early Kubrick. Nabokov’s screenplay constantly anthropomorphizes the camera as well, having it “glide”, “slide” and slither” – in a way that suggest a very active, constantly moving camera functioning as a kind of narrator.

[ ]The Nabokov screenplay also brings up interesting questions relevant to the theory of adaptation. It reveals the instabilities of textual production, the fact that so-called definitive works are actually only one version arbitrarily frozen into definitive status. The screenplay, for example, includes scenes rejected from the final draft of the novel yet reinstated in the screenplay, as well as dialogue unlike anything in the novel, all of which elicits a fascinating question: if a novelist has written a novel, but also provided a screenplay which is already “unfaithful” to the novel, to which text is the filmmaker to be “faithful”?

[ ] Nabokov also offered his own analysis of the Kubrick film in the form of a poem, entitled “Pale Film” in an allusion to his own “Pale Fire” (1962). In the poem, anatomized by Richard Corliss in his 1995 BFI study of “Lolita”, Nabokov speaks of himself as the “novelist who watched/as each of his books-into-films was botched,” where “similes were debased into a smile”…”I saw my words made whispers, twelve made teen/Back roads made blacklots, US made UK/ And green made gold/ and me an émigré/From Lo, whom I conceived but could not save. [ ] Applying his “writer’s sleight-of- hand” to these “film-besotted wretches,” Nabokov finally consoles himself with an assertion of the ultimate superiority of the verbal medium of literature: “nitrate reels will decompose, but each good reader will preserve my prose”


* - VN’s “puckish fantasy” in item 3b (from the Complete Reviewer’s Review) and, in item c, (R.Stam) its connection to Fellini and Woody Allen give expression to my initial perplexity, but not to my query (however flimsy my presentation of it seems to be)

** - Lolita, Richard Corliss, Rocco 1998. “Lolita” (BFI Film Classic Series”, 1994).

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