Correctness fears keep Lolita under wraps

Puritanism in the movies: Presidential election pressures prevent distribution of British director's version of film in US
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The Independent Online
A new film of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita by the British director Adrian Lyne may have fallen victim to the pressure for political correctness in Hollywood during election year.

He has been unable to find a United States distributor six months after completing filming, with Jeremy Irons playing the lead opposite Dominique Swain, an unknown 14-year-old schoolgirl from Malibu.

Mr Lyne, who directed the sexually explosive movies 91/2 Weeks, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal, this week suggested that the controversial plot - about a college professor's obsession with the young daughter of his landlady - meant it was "doomed from the start".

The novel was first filmed in 1962 by Stanley Kubrick - whose version of A Clockwork Orange was banned because of its disturbing violence - and starred James Mason as Humbert Humbert and Sue Lyon as Lolita.

Mr Lyne told Entertainment Weekly that he wanted to film a new version of Lolita because the original script, also by Nabokov, was so terrible. "Nabokov's screenplay is as bad as the novel is magnificent," he said.

His search for the perfect script saw Harold Pinter and David Mamet try their hand at the adaptation before the job went to Stephen Schiff, who writes for the New Yorker.

The director also wanted to make a more faithful adaptation of the 1955 novel; as a result some of the sexual scenes were so provocative that he used a body double instead of his child star.

But the problem is getting it shown. Distributors are fighting shy of the pounds 31m movie following the withdrawal of the Oscar-winning producer Richard D Zanuck from the project: he had lent it respectability in the eyes of the Hollywood corporations.

Almost 2,000 teenage hopefuls turned up to audition for the part of Lolita, but Mr Lyne's difficulties are compounded by the critical comments of the original child star, Lyon. Now 49, she said that playing the schoolgirl subject of an older man's paedophile fantasies ruined her life. "My destruction as a person dates from that movie. Lolita exposed me to temptations no girl of that age should undergo. I defy any pretty girl who is rocketed to stardom at 14 in a sex nymphet role to stay on a level path thereafter."

Ms Lyon went through three broken marriages, took drugs and suffered manic depression. She now works as a secretary.

Her attacks add fuel to the political-correctness campaigners and the far right in America, who believe that Hollywood films should promote family values, not explore paedophilia and violence.

One of their biggest supporters is the Republican presidential candidate, Bob Dole. It is this pressure to rein in Hollywood which could damage the film's chances of being released - at least until after November's election.

"No one wants to be seen handling a film like that when Dole is leading the crusade to eliminate violence and sex in the movies," said Matt Mueller, editor of Premiere magazine.

"Part of the problem is that Lyne is contractually bound to deliver an `R' rating. In America that means that anybody under 17 can see it if they are accompanied by an adult."

He believes that to get it Lyne may be forced to cut some of the more sexually explicit scenes - one is reputed to show Swain lolling nude on a bed and another shows her and Irons in bed - to get a distribution deal.

"Someone will pick up the film, I'm sure, but it could mean waiting until after the election. If Clinton gets in, it would not be so much of a problem," Mr Mueller added.