Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0023442, Fri, 2 Nov 2012 08:43:10 -0400

Nabokov’s 1932 novel “Laughter in the Dark” ...


NOVEMBER 1, 2012, 8:17 PM
Bille August to Direct Nabokov Tale of Lethal Desire

Vladimir Nabokov’s 1932 novel “Laughter in the Dark,” which includes a scathing commentary on the Berlin movie world of the early 1930s, is to be filmed for the second time. According toScreenDaily, the Danish director Bille August, best known for “Pelle the Conqueror” and “The Best Intentions,” will shoot it in the second half of next year.

The screenplay is being written by South African screenwriter Greg Latter, who also adaptedPascal Mercier’s bestselling philosophical novel “Night Train to Lisbon,” which August filmed (in English) in Switzerland and Portugal earlier this year. Led by Jeremy Irons, its formidable cast includes Tom Courtney, Charlotte Rampling, Lena Olin, Bruno Ganz, Mélanie Laurent, and Christopher Lee.

There is no word yet on casting for “Laughter in the Dark,” which will be co-produced by Kate Caspar and Sandor Söth, who describes it as “a tragicomic tale of lust, lethal obsession, and betrayal, where love is both figuratively and literally blinding.”

A grimly ironic meditation on moral turpitude, it traces the plight of a “rich, respectable, happy” art critic and picture expert, Albinus, who falls in love with a 16-year-old temptress, Margot, cruelly abandoning his wife and doomed little girl in the process. He helps Margot, a cinema usherette, to fulfill her dream of becoming a movie actress – one without an iota of talent – but she conspires with her Machiavellian lover Rex to fleece Albinus.

“Laughter in the Dark” equates the act of seeing with the seeing of moral truths – Albinus, significantly, is blinded. With its self-consciously cinematic prose and film industry setting, it offers a gift to a filmmaker interested in its potential for self-reflexive storytelling. Drawing onTolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” in its relating of adultery to death, it has a movie star character called Dorianna Karenina, of whom Rex asks, “Tell me, have you read Tolstoy?” “Doll’s Toy?” she queries him. “No, I’m afraid not. Why?”

The largely forgotten 1969 film version, set in England against a modish backdrop and directed byTony Richardson, starred Nicol Williamson, Anna Karina, and Jean-Claude Drouot. Williamson was brought in to play the Albinus character (a knighted art dealer called Sir Edward More) after Richard Burton was fired for persistent lateness. Karina, who was then 28, was miscast as Margot.

If August were seeking inspiration, he would do better to look at Josef von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel” (1930), Jean Renoir’s “La Chienne” (1931), and Fritz Lang’s American remake “Scarlet Street” (1945), starring Edward G. Robinson as an amateur painter humiliated and destroyed by Joan Bennett’s streetwalker and Dan Duryea’s pimp. (The same cast has appeared in Lang’s likeminded 1944 “A Woman in the Window.”)

“Scarlet Street” is of special interest when considering Nabokov. It shows the abject Robinson character devotedly painting the streetwalker’s toes, prefiguring the scene in which James Mason’s Humbert Humbert paints the toes of Lo (Sue Lyon) in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film of Nabokov’s “Lolita.” (“Laughter in the Dark” and his last Russian novel “The Gift” anticipated the later masterpiece in their evocations of middle-aged men coveting teenage girls.) In both movies, such perverse acts of devotion contain the seeds of dehumanization and obliteration.

Image: Anna Karina and Nicol Williamson in the 1969 “Laughter in the Dark”/Courtesy Les Films Marceau

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