Lolita: minor masterpiece or a scandal over a minor?

Adrian Lyne: Interview

Adrian Lyne is battling to get his latest film, `Lolita', on screen. It is the labour of love which he finished two years ago, with Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain cast in the controversial roles that were played by James Mason and Sue Lyon in 1962. Lyne, right, cannot get the film past the moral objectors, but, he tells Cameron Docherty, he is proud of the film and determined to have it shown.

For once, Adrian Lyne is lost for words. The British director, no stranger to controversy, is trying to sum up his frustration at the realisation that Lolita may never be released in the US.

"It's a depressing thought," says Lyne, who considers the film to be his best work. "There have been so many setbacks that I'm fairly immune to it all now."

The major studios have all balked at distributing Lyne's retelling of the sexual relationship between a middle-aged man and a 12-year-old girl. They fear retribution by a hyper-sensitive American public, which is still reeling at the brutal slaying of five-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, and applauding President Clinton's crackdown on child pornography and tougher sentencing for convicted paedophiles.

"My timing wasn't great, was it?" the director says wryly.

Hollywood's top brass seem to agree with him. Despite a unanimous vote of admiration for the latest adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's 1955 novel, every studio passed on the opportunity to screen the film in the US, including Paramount, where Lyne's previous movies grossed more than $500m. "Seen it, loved it, was the typical response," says Lyne. "But there were no takers." Warner Bros, Sony, Fox and even the usually open-minded Miramax Films all shied away from Lolita because they thought it wouldn't be profitable in this political climate. "How can you blame them?" says one former studio head. "I certainly wouldn't touch it. First of all, you're remaking a classic, directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of our most revered film-makers, which means the critics will kill you. And without the critics on your side, you have no defence against the charge that it's kiddie porn. Adrian told me he intended to be absolutely faithful to the novel. For Christ's sake, it's a 12-year-old girl!"

"It was doomed from the outset," says Lyne. "It's such a bloody marvellous book that no matter what you do, you're in trouble. But I thought, OK, why not have a go."

His interest in the destructive power of sexual obsession is itself almost an obsession. After working for several years as a director of television commercials in his native England, Lyne burst on to the Hollywood scene in 1983 with Flashdance, which featured Jennifer Beals - welder by day, erotic dancer by night - scantily outfitted as a male fantasy in torn sweats. Then came 91/2 Weeks, starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger, which only just broke even. Then, in 1987, there was the torrid Fatal Attraction, for which he received an Oscar nomination for best director. By 1993 he again tapped into movie audiences' sexual fantasies with the phenomenally successful Indecent Proposal, in which Demi Moore struggles with the complex proposition of sleeping with Robert Redford for $1m.

When he set about raising the $50m required for Lolita, Lyne, perhaps sensing the trouble ahead, avoided going to Hollywood, begging bowl in hand, and teamed up instead with the French industrial group Chargeurs, who were confident of finding an American buyer after the film wrapped. Despite some acquisitions at Cannes in May, there are still no offers from the major territories - the US, Germany, Japan and the UK - each presumably waiting to see how the other is going to react before jumping on the bandwagon if the film becomes a hit. "Whether I like it or not, America is the key," admits Lyne begrudgingly. He still has one more ace to play, but it comes with a price. "It might mean I sign a deal to make two more movies, but that would be all right. I just want to get Lolita into theatres because I'm proud of it and I think there's a big audience out there who'll enjoy it."

His confidence in Lolita is underlined by his willingness to show it to anyone who'll watch it. He had arranged a screening for some foreign buyers at his office in New York, where he has been working round the clock to complete the finished print and tone down the sex. The footage he shows, after introducing Humbert Humbert (Irons), and his child enchantress, ends in the bedroom.

There, Lolita is seated on Humbert's reclining form, facing away from him, wearing only a pyjama top. She is reading the comic strips from a newspaper, biting her lip and giggling. It gradually becomes evident that she is also making love. Soon Lolita has dropped the comic and her pyjama top. Her hair and forehead are beaded with sweat. Her budding breasts, bare belly, and shoulders heave and glisten. "It's beautiful, just beautiful," says Lyne proudly.

Even allowing for the fact that the breasts and bare belly belong to Swain's 19-year-old body double, the scene is discomforting and troubling.

"I really don't think there's anything in there that will shock people," says Lyne.

Nabokov had great difficulty getting his novel published in America in 1955. New York publishers were wary even though Nabokov relied on his masterly command of language for shading, slyly and poetically burying his characters' lewder actions in such deft phrases as, "I gave her to hold in her awkward fist the sceptre of my passion." Fellatio was veiled in this way: "Knowing the magic and might of her own soft mouth, she managed - during one school year! - to raise the bonus price of a fancy embrace to three and even four bucks."

Kubrick had to be even more demure when it come to tackling the novel's sexual content, so much so, in fact, that it is virtually absent from his movie. Lyne, however, attempted no obfuscation. Stage directions for the sexual encounter read: "The fly settles on her belly, which is glistening with sweat, and wanders up toward her breasts... Lolita's face, reading the comics. She is breathing hard, and her eyes are very bright. She moans again. There seems no dividing line between her sexual pleasure and the pleasure she takes in the comics."

The key to a US distribution may ultimately lie in how much sex remains in Lyne's final cut when, and if, it is shown to the Motion Picture Association of America for a rating.

The question they, and every movie-goer, will ask is: "Is it dirty?"

Lyne is adamant it's not an issue. "To me that was a line that wasn't interesting to cross," he says. "The line between a story that has an erotic component and one that is porny. It wasn't hard to define that line."

Perhaps Lyne has, in fact, crossed that line. While he was shooting Lolita in 1996, President Clinton signed the Child Pornography Act, which banned so-called computer-generated child pornography, where children's heads and adults' bodies are graphically fused to give the impression that viewers are actually seeing children engaged in sex acts.

Using a body double to simulate a minor having sex in a movie might fall within these parameters. "That would clearly apply to Lolita," says Robert Peters of Morality in the Media. He believes that Lyne may have overstepped the bounds of decency and the law. He would bet his " bottom dollar" that somewhere in the footage of the film there exists real child pornography.

Maryam Kubasek of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children and Families says: "Our concern would be that, however artistically it is done, it really panders to the paedophile community. "

When I put this argument to Lyne, he becomes incensed. "I could make a movie about a 12-year-old girl getting chopped up and eaten and no one in America would say anything," he says, adding that he and a lawyer spent weeks going over the finished print to ensure it did not break any new laws.

As it now stands, Lyne's version now rivals Kubrick in the fact that there's very little sex left on screen. For Lyne, the experience of hacking back his film has been painful. What made it worse was that he believed he'd got a mesmerising performance from Swain in her feature film debut, particularly in the heated exchanges with Irons.

"Film-makers hate to be compromised," he adds, "especially when they feel they've accomplished what they set out to achieve."

Voices
voicesMoyes' tragedy is one the Deputy PM understands all too well, says Matthew Norman
Arts & Entertainment
Such tweet sorrow: Will's gone digital
arts
News
Matthew Mcnulty and Jessica Brown Findlay in 'Jamaica Inn'
mediaHundreds complain over dialogue levels in period drama
Arts & Entertainment
Rocker of ages: Chuck Berry
musicWhy do musicians play into old age?
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
With Jo Joyner in 'Trying Again'
tvHe talks to Alice Jones on swapping politics for pillow talk
News
Jilly's jewels: gardener Alan Titchmarsh
peopleCountry Life magazine's list of 'gallant' public figures throws light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
Sport
John Terry goes down injured in the 70th minute
sportAtletico Madrid 0 Chelsea 0: Blues can finish the job at Stamford Bridge, but injuries to Terry and Cech are a concern for Mourinho
Student
student
News
<b>Rebecca Adlington</b>
<br />This, the first British swimmer to win two
Olympic gold medals in 100 years, is the eversmiling
face of the athletes who will, we're
confident, make us all proud at London 2012
peopleRebecca Adlington on 'nose surgery'
Arts & Entertainment
tvJudge for yourself
Life & Style
tech
Life & Style
Tough call: is the psychological distress Trott is suffering an illness? (Getty)
healthJonathan Trott and the problems of describing mental illness
Life & Style
23 April 2014: Google marks St George's Day with a drawing depicting England's patron saint slaying a fire-breathing dragon
tech
Life & Style
On the dogwalk: a poodle on the runway during a Mulberry show in London
fashionThe duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
News
peopleEmma Appleton says photographer said he would shoot her for magazine if she slept with him
Extras
indybest
News
peopleRevealed: Goop.com's losses - and the pay rises
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Projects Financial Analyst - Global Technology firm

    £55000 - £62000 per annum + outstanding benefits and bonus: Pro-Recruitment Gr...

    Reception Teacher

    £120 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Reception teacher required for an Outs...

    Commercial B2B Pricing Specialist - Global Bids and Tenders

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + excellent company benefits : Pro-Recruitment Group...

    DT Teacher - Food Technology

    £90 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: The Job We are currently recr...

    Day In a Page

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

    It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
    Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

    Migrants in Britain a decade on

    They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
    Why musicians play into their old age

    Why musicians play into their old age

    Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
    How can you tell a gentleman?

    How can you tell a gentleman?

    A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
    Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

    Sam Wallace

    Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
    Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

    Through the screen

    British Pathé opens its archives
    The man behind the papier mâché mask

    Frank Sidebottom

    The man behind the papier mâché mask
    Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
    Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

    Boston runs again

    Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
    40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

    40 years of fostering and holding the babies

    In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents