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Working with Stanley Kubrick


Lolita: the movie
Frederic Raphael Writer
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Everyone has the idea that Stanley... all Stanley Kubrick's films were enormously inventive and original and... and all the rest of it. Actually they weren't. They were nearly all dependent on original... some other material. Which is not to say anything against them or against Stanley. But Lolita, for instance, I think did defeat him, just as Ada defeated me before I even got to the battlefield. For various reasons, of course. The girl in the film of Lolita had to be much older than Lolita was in the book because she was actually a 12-year-old girl. And Kingsley Amis, not entirely foolishly when he reviewed Lolita, said más o menos, what the hell did the guy think he was doing? And it is, as they say, not a bad question. Because actually Lolita is about a paedophile. Yes, it's sort of admitted. But it also has the paedophile defence built into it which is she was the really hot little number and, you know, she couldn't wait for me to do what I did and then I discovered that she'd done it before with somebody else, anyway. So let's have all the fun of the fair, but then not be to blame for it.

On the other hand, there are wonderful passages in Lolita. I happen to prefer Pale Fire, by the way, to Lolita. I don't much like Pnin either but I do like Pale Fire, I do like The Defence, I do like King, Queen, Knave and I do love... Laughter in the Dark, I think it's called – Camera Obscura I was going to call it which I think is what its original title was. I read a lot of Nabokov and I liked it. I was influenced by it in certain ways with a particular book of mine called California Time, which does have Julie Christie in it in a very masked form. I thought Lolita was actually – when I read it – it was, sort of, wow. And I re-read it again not long ago because I found a copy in some shelf or other – I don't know – and I thought it was fairly crappy, really. And I also thought it was a dirty book. I've no idea what Nabokov did or didn't do in... with small girls and I don't much care either, actually.

But Stanley didn't really make a great movie of it because he had too much respect for the original text. So, unusually with Kubrick's films, Lolita is very verbose in spite of the fact that I think James Mason gives the most marvellous performance as Humbert Humbert. I wasn't all that bothered about Peter Sellers, who was wonderful in Doctor Strangelove. I thought it was a mess, actually – Lolita, the movie. There was... as I say, Mason was terrific but it was crap. Also because of the moral code then in existence in movies, he didn't actually – how shall I put it? – mount Lolita on his greasy pole or anything of that kind. It was all a bit what Joe Janni would've called 'nyah, nyah'. The bed collapsed before they could get into it. It was all turned into a sort of silly joke. I don't know why he bothered. And the reason is, it was a famous name and you could get the movie made. Poor Stanley Kubrick, the great genius who could do whatever he wanted. Oh really? I don't think so.

Born in America in 1931, Frederic Raphael is a writer who moved to England as a boy. He was educated at Charterhouse School and was a Major Scholar in Classics at St John's College, Cambridge. His articles and book reviews appear in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Los Angeles Times and The Sunday Times. He has published more than twenty novels, the best-known being the semi-autobiographical The Glittering Prizes (1976). In 1965 Raphael won an Oscar for the screenplay for the movie Darling, and two years later received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Two for the Road. In 1999, he published Eyes Wide Open, a memoir of his collaboration with the director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay of Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's final movie. Raphael lives in France and England and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1964.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Lolita, Stanley Kubrick, Vladimir Nabokov, James Mason

Duration: 3 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2014

Date story went live: 10 September 2014