@Deck – You mean Despair. I’ve got a really crappy copy of it. It’s intriguing but nobody does Nabby quite right.
Yes, Despair. :)
I do disagree with the common regard of him as merely a stylist.
Ditto. It’s not just how he says things, but the images, moods and small moments he observes. He’s also got a brutal sense of humor. As a filmmaker, I could see him working better as a freestylist like Jonas Mekas.
Still, I don’t think his writing lends itself to film at all. I guess what it comes down to for me is that his writing is so visually evocative (probably the most visually evocative writing I’ve ever read) that any accompanying imagery seems superfluous at best and numbing at worst.
In Sculpting in Time Tarkovsky mentioned that when he adapted work he would always choose literature that was strong in content but weak in mood. This approach makes a lot of sense to me, otherwise what will a film add?
True, most fim adaptations done from Nabokov’s work ignore the humorous qualities he employs. For example, with ‘Despair, the film adaption I know of takes the material awfully serious, because it’s about a murder. But they ignore how comical Nabokov truly meant it to be in that he’s depicting a business man killing someone whom he finds to be his double, yet in actuality bares no resemblance to him at all.
That’s why I’m completely disinterested in Lyne’s Lolita – soooo droll and overserious, so pining, so desperate (though for that mood, Irons is perfect casting. And that’s not a knock against him). Kubrick did his little version of what he liked best of Nabokov, and I think its a testament to Stan’s sense of humor that the film works as a comedy – though not really at all in the way Nabby’s book was comedic.
That’s a good point, Miasma, because Nabokov had a way of handling humour in a realistic way. He didn’t trivialize the reality of what was occurring in Lolita, but emphasized the absurdity of it, the futility of it. This is what I really connect with in Nabokov’s writing; his ability to take serious subjects, real characters in serious situations, and convey them in a slightly removed, but amusingly cynical way. It’s very difficult to achieve that balance in writing let alone in filmmaking (writing has the added advantage of employing more of the audience’s imagination) which is of course why there’s only one Nabokov.
Kubrick missed the hard-edged humour of Nabokov’s Lolita, but as a standalone film, it’s not bad at all.
@ Kate, I think you make an excellent point about Nabokov’s visually evocative style.
Nabokov should not be adapted for the simple fact that language itself is at the core of all his writing. Film is a beautiful medium, but is not suited to adapt a writer such as Nabokov, who I consider much closer to his modernist predecessors (Joyce, Faulkner, Proust) than his postmodern contemporaries/successors (insert whoever.)
Also, I think it should be noted that Kubrick adapted Lolita because it was a popular novel and a way for him to tackle something literary (as always) and accessible. Kubrick wasn’t a big time filmmaker in 1961. I believe that Lolita is the only novel that Kubrick did not improve upon – as Croix said, as a standalone film its wonderful, as an adaptation its weak.
I don’t know how much cinema figured into Nabokov’s writing. He was a great admirer of Andrei Bely, ranking Petersburg among the great works of the 20th century. I think he was drawn to the early Russian Symbolist works of the first part of the century because of their great sense of imagery, but haven’t read enough about his influences to say with any authority. There is a better translation by John Elsworth available in bookstores.
I’m sorry to say I don’t remember hearing where, but I know I read Nabokov saying that he heartily enjoyed Tati’s films. And it’s no surprise as to why… Hulot is, in many ways, another dead Nabby ringer, and Nabokov certainly delighted in the foreigner-out-of-water dynamic (ala Pnin).
Hmm, I’m a bit surprised that he was such a big fan of Chaplin. I didn’t think he’d be into that type of slapstick comedy.
I think he liked the combination of humor and pathos in Chaplin’s films. The Gold Rush and the Great Dictator are fantastic movies.
Yeah, The Great Dictator is great. I guess it’s just a case where what his style pertains in terms of his writing is different from what he enjoys to watch.
I see someone went to a lot of trouble drawing comparisons between Nabokov and Hitchcock. The introduction notes a few plot ideas that they apparently tossed around back in 1964. You can peruse the book at your leisure.
I don’t think his choice of movies influenced his writing very much. Judging by the list Kate noted, Nabokov probably just enjoyed these comedies as a diversion. Interesting that he didn’t think much of German Expressionism, but then maybe it was just a jab at Appel’s leading question ; )
Nobody sees continuity between these films and Nabakov’s stories? He practically spells it right out in his interview. These films are full of clumsy, inept aristocrats… much like the characters in Pale Fire, Ada or Ardor, or whatever else. It’s all about epic drama and romance, subverted by the mundane stupidity of the human condition. Even things that work out dramatically only seem to do so accidentally.
Invitation to a Beheading is filled with a weird kind of cordial absurdity; Cinncinnatus is led through a tunnel, as if escaping, but ends up in the middle of a dinner, having been tricked into becoming the main attraction.
In Lolita, Humbert Humbert is a ridiculous boor and klutz, a veritable Laurel/Hardy character in his own right, who always wants to be in control but is constantly acting out of confusion and being taken off-guard by circumstances. His defining features — the murder of his wife and the seduction of his step-daughter — are both accidental. The man is less a villain or an anti-hero than a chronic fuck-up, and that’s why he’s somehow sympathetic, despite being totally repulsive.
And in Ada, or Ardor, Van Veen is supposed to be a dashing aristocrat, but he’s painfully accident-prone, like a Buster Keaton character. He plans to murder a rival, but on his way, he gets into an unrelated fistfight that leads to a duel, which he totally bungles, putting him in the hospital; there, he discovers that his original rival was actually hurt in combat and is in the same hospital, but he can’t bring himself to exact his revenge upon a debilitated man, and ends up resentfully comforting him instead.
The exaggerated emotion, humorous and ironic twists, twisted situational punchlines, and mix of slapstick and pathos in Nabakov’s work resonates strongly with those early silent films, in my opinion. Reading V.N.’s work, I can practically see it projected from an old black-and-white reel, flickering on a screen in my brain.