The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 3

Part 1    Part 2

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 3

Lolita - Novel American Beauty - Film

In comparing these first encounters between the novel and the film, through the poetic prose and the visual surrogate of it, it becomes undeniably clear that both Humbert and Lester are obsessed with their respective nymphets. This is the core aspect that has been adapted from the novel to Mendes’ film; true, American Beauty is not a visualized replica of Nabokov’s novel, but the heart of the novel is translated seamlessly into this particular film—much more seamlessly than the two previous adaptations of Lolita. There are obvious parallels between the two texts, and each character acts in rather similar ways. The descriptions of the events, though the events themselves are different, are constructed in a way that elucidates the protagonists’ obsessions. Humbert’s obsession for younger girls remains whereas this is obsession is a singular occurrence for Lester and it does eventually end. Although there are distinct parallels between the two texts, this is a notable exception that must be addressed.

Lester Burnham is representative of a modernized version of the postmodern Humbert. While both Humbert and Lester are obsessed with young females—equally latching onto these girls as ideas of love that they believe will fulfill their desires and fantasies—the former acts on his obsessions whereas the latter does not because his morals stop him in his tracks. Lester transforms into this modernized character when he realizes that the flesh-and-blood Angela is not the Angela he constantly envisions, and he is no longer fascinated or in love with her. Humbert does not make this transformation. When Humbert visits Lolita at the end of the novel, he sees her as “hopelessly worn at seventeen” but that he still “loved her more than anything [he] had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else. She was only the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet [he] had rolled [himself] upon with such cries in the past” (Nabokov 277). Yes, Lolita is his sin, but he still loves her and he cannot erase the various sexual encounters he had with her. When Lester attempts to have sex with Angela, he is struck by an epiphany and knows that his love for Angela is a farce. Angela is not who he thought she was; he cannot continue in his quest of youth-attainment and sexual fulfillment and recognizes that he must stop. The real frailty and innocence of Angela is seen and this reminds Lester of his estranged daughter, Jane, the one person he wants to reconnect with. He senses that if he were to consummate this fantasy relationship, he would essentially be harming Jane. “Lester’s seduction of the girl at the film’s end, thwarted by the realization that she is a virgin, gives way to a more paternal posturing, where he feeds and covers her and uses the opportunity to inquire about the well-being of his daughter” (McKittrick 6). Lester must grow up and he tries to connect with his daughter through Angela. She is no longer Lester’s obsession and he attempts, in a roundabout way, to reform his broken family; he discovers that happiness lies within his family, and he desires to reclaim that happiness (as seen when he is staring at a photo of Carolyn, Jane, and himself directly before he is killed). The process of fragmentation he slowly spiraled into, sparked by his sexual obsession with Angela, is now reversed, and Lester becomes a modernized version of his postmodern counterpart, a morally “improved” character who is appropriate for contemporary cinema-goers.

There are entirely too many factors present within Sam Mendes’ American Beauty to state that it is a direct film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. Yet, there is an interesting and obvious comparison when one focuses solely on the relationships between the two central characters of each text—Humbert/Lolita and Lester/Angela. While Lolita remains in the postmodern present, Mendes reimagines the characters in the modern past; Lester has specifically been transformed from a postmodern character to a modern character. This is certainly not revelatory, but this modification can be seen as an “improvement” for modern-day audiences. American films, generally, like to present obstacles and come to a solution. This adaptation of Humbert to Lester does not simplify the character, but bases him within a moral confine that is, perhaps, easier for 21st century viewers to handle. Adaptation is tricky, and changes must be made because of the two differing media. In saving only the core relationship between Humbert and Lolita in this adaptation, there is a lower risk of Mendes “betraying” his audiences who have read the novel and a higher risk of accepting this film as its own, with obvious influences from Nabokov’s novel of course.

Works Cited

McKittrick, Casey. “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 47 (2001): 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 2

Part 1

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 2

Lolita - Novel American Beauty - Film

Where Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Lolita falters and Lyne’s adaptation slightly improves, Sam Mendes’ American Beauty shines brightly. The interior monologue-ness of the novel is nearly erased in Kubrick’s film; while it is improved upon in Lyne’s film with the use of relevant voice-over, it is reimagined in Mendes’ film with the use of dream sequences. The novel’s prose is highly poetic, and, at times, almost lyrical; it brings the reader into the novel and seduces him or her into the stylized web of thinking that is Humbert’s consciousness. From the novel’s beginning, the reader is caught into believing Humbert’s obvious obsession with his prized possession: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta” (9). Not only is this a way in which Humbert can describe his obsession with Lolita, but it is also a stylistic modality that beautifully forces her name into the reader’s mouth; now the reader can mentally and physically understand the importance of Lolita. Nabokov’s highly stylized diction is entertaining in and of itself, but it also conjures up sympathy for Lolita’s protagonist. Through this prose, the reader can connect—to some degree—with this pedophilic murderer: “You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style” (9). One cannot help but connect with Humbert. Furthermore, the intermittent use of French—the language of love—also helps to build a relationship with Humbert, even if the reader does not know the language; it presents the protagonist as a sophisticated debonair, making it difficult to not be seduced. Nabokov’s prose is essential to understanding Humbert’s character; however, it is difficult to translate prose into dialogue, a central means of relating information to the viewer. While voice-over can be effective in reproducing Nabokov’s poetic style and the interior mind of Humbert, as seen in Lyne’s film, it would more than likely be intolerable if used constantly throughout the film. Instead, a filmmaker must decide how to properly convey this style. In “Pistols And Cherry Pies: Lolita From Page To Screen,” Dan Burn states that “[v]isual references function in place of the dense texture of verbal punning and allusion which Nabokov uses throughout the novel” (246). To represent the verbal texture through visuals, as Burn suggests, is a way in which Lolita’s atmosphere and poetic context can be reproduced. Through the use of dream sequences, Mendes is able to replicate Nabokov’s highly sophisticated writing style as a visual surrogate.

The poetic prose Nabokov uses in his novel is reinterpreted in Mendes’ American Beauty as dream sequences, usually involving rose petals. These dream sequences take the viewer directly into the mind of Lester, and so we are able to instantly recognize that this is within his head. This effectively replaces the voice-over (though it is used throughout the film as well), and gives us a visual representation of Lester’s obsession with Angela; visuals, one can argue, hold a greater importance in this medium. The rose petals, a common trope in poetry and literature, come to symbolize Lester’s love and sexual desire, a “represent[ation of] a pleasurable fragmentation (McKittrick 6). However, the rose petals do not just symbolize the sexual desire Lester has for Angela. Carolyn is seen cutting and pruning her roses—demonstrative of their failing relationship and marriage, which is, according to Lester, Carolyn’s fault. Jane wears a rose-covered shirt at one point in the film, which suggests possible incest between Lester and Jane, illustrative of the father/(step)daughter relationship in Nabokov’s novel. Yet, Angela is usually most associated with rose petals. Multiple dream sequences with Lester and Angela contain rose petals in one way or another and easily correlate to the poetic prose of the novel, a visual substitute. One instance in the film that beautifully represents Mendes’ use of a dream sequence is directly after he first encounters Angela:


CLOSE on a solitary red ROSE PETAL as it falls slowly through the air.

We’re looking down on Lester and Carolyn in bed. Even in sleep, Carolyn looks determined.

Lester is awake and stares up at us.

LESTER: It’s the weirdest thing.

The ROSE PETAL drifts into view, landing on his pillow.

LESTER (cont’d): I feel like I’ve been in a coma for about twenty years, and I’m just now waking up.

More ROSE PETALS fall onto the bed, and he smiles up at…

His POV: Angela, naked, FLOATS above us as a deluge of ROSE PETALS falls around her.

Her hair fans out around her head and GLOWS with a subtle, burnished light. She looks down at us with a smile that is all things…

Lester smiles back and LAUGHS, as ROSE PETALS cover his face.

LESTER (cont’d): Spec-tac-ular. (Ball)

The sight of Angela has wakened Lester from a twenty-year coma; he is, essentially, reborn. This dream sequence illustrates Angela both as an innocent angel, complete with halo, and as a sexually desirable female. The deluge of petals, falling onto Lester’s body, signifies Lester’s desire for Angela. He smiles and laughs, knowing that he has found a new object of desire, a new obsession that can reactivate his life and be his fountain of youth. Lester, in a very Humbertian way, enunciates each syllable in “spectacular,” just as Nabokov does with “Lo. Lee. Ta” (9). Humbert’s desire for Lolita forces the reader to read her name in a specific manner; likewise, Lester’s reaction to seeing this rose petal-clad young woman forces him embrace and linger on his newfound obsession. Even though this is a vision, Lester is confident and now wishes to include Angela in his life. This dream sequence, one of many, shows Lester’s intense fixation on Angela.

Another dream sequence, which occurs in in the latter section of the film, again illustrates Lester’s desire for and fascination of Angela. The use of rose petals surfaces once more, bringing the poetic quality of Nabokov’s writing back to the forefront. Alan Ball writes:

She reaches inside the refrigerator to grab a bottle. As she does, she moves to place her other hand casually on Lester’s shoulder. He sees it coming. Everything SLOWS DOWN, and all sound FADES…

EXTREME CLOSE UP on her hand as it briefly touches his shoulder in SLOW MOTION. We HEAR only the amplified BRUSH of her fingers against the fabric of his suit, and its unnatural, hollow ECHO…

BACK IN REAL TIME: She grabs the root beer and smiles at him.

CLOSE on Lester: his eyes narrow slightly, then:

He cups her face in his hands and kisses her. She seems shocked, but doesn’t resist as he pulls her toward him with surprising strength. He breaks the kiss, looking at her in awe, then he reaches up and touches his lips. His eyes widen as he pulls a ROSE PETAL from his mouth right before we SMASH CUT TO:


Fantasy qualities are apparent within this portion of the text, as seen in the use of slow motion and the “unnatural” aspects of sound and jumping in time These features help set a specific dreamlike atmosphere. The rose petal, as representative of poetic style, reemerges. The petal, however, holds even more significant meaning here because Lester and Angela kiss; as a symbol for sexual desire, and winning Angela’s affections, Lester receives that youthfulness and sexuality that he longs from her. As Kurt Fawver, in his essay “Little Girls and Psychic Fiends: Nabokov’s Lolita as Vampire Tale,” states, it’s “possible that Humbert’s aberrant sexual proclivities are…attempts to drain Lolita’s essence so that he may be spiritually resurrected and renewed” (133). Just as Humbert sucks the blood out of Lolita’s body—“not simply as a dermatological aid, but as sustenance”—a similar representation is presented here with the transference of the red rose petal (Fawver 133). Now that Angela is the trigger for his reawakening, he can, through these physical interactions—though they are solely within his mind—“drain” Angela’s youth and sexual libido. Lester is using Angela in an uncannily similar way that Humbert is using Lolita. He is restoring himself with the aid of his prey. This dream sequence, again, is a visual representation of Nabokov’s prose; his poetic style and the usage of these roses are analogous. That fact that these petals emerge time and again within American Beauty suggests just how deeply rooted Lester is in his obsession with Angela.

The visualization of Nabokov’s poetic prose facilitates Lester’s obsessive thoughts of Angela. Just as the novel depicts Humbert’s initial nymphet obsession—that is, Annabel—Lester’s initial obsession with Angela is just as impactful. Humbert’s obsession with Annabel is taken over by his obsession with Lolita, however, who he sees clearly, almost as if she is a projection on a screen. However, Annabel and Lolita are actually one in the same; much like in Poe’s fiction, Nabokov presents both these characters as dream figures, ciphers for Humbert’s imagination—although they are real entities, they do not fully exist except in Humbert’s mind. Humbert first sees Lolita in a garden, in “a sudden burst of greenery…in a pool of sun” that frames the “half-naked” Lolita (Nabokov 39). Thus, one can immediately connect Lolita to nature, especially when one considers Humbert’s remark to Charlotte Haze’s presentation of her daughter and her lilies simultaneously; Nabokov writes, “‘That was my Lo,’ she said, ‘and these are my lilies,’” in which Humbert responds, “‘Yes,’ I said, ‘yes.’ They are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!’” (40). Humbert is obviously commenting on Lolita rather than the lilies, but, here, the two bleed together, becoming one in the same. As Paolo Simonetti states in his essay “The Maniac In The Garden: Lolita And The Process Of American Civilization,” the reader, because of this simultaneous presentation, “inevitably associates the garden with Lolita” (155). Painting Lolita as an innocent yet desirable character—almost like Eve in Eden—gives her significance for Humbert and he is immediately entranced. This becomes even clearer when one considers how cinematically Nabokov is writing; his descriptions are fully formed in one’s mind. The effect of meeting Lolita for the first time creates an earth-shattering obsession. Nabokov writes:

I find it most difficult to express with adequate force that flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition. In the course of the sun-shot moment that my glance slithered over the kneeling child…while I passed her by in my disguise (a great big handsome hunk of movieland manhood), the vacuum of my soul managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty. (39)

Humbert’s fascination and obsession of Lolita is instantaneous. He wishes to drink up every detail of her—in vampiric fashion—which enables him to constantly have a mental picture of her. Humbert is unable to, with “adequate force,” fully illuminate his complete enthrallment with Lolita. The striking “impact of passionate recognition” seen in Nabokov’s novel makes a reappearance in American Beauty where terms of nature—that is, the rose petals—bloom into view.

Lester Burnham’s first encounter with Angela is just as affecting and entrancing as Humbert’s first meeting with Lolita. The metaphoric connection between Lolita and nature rematerializes here; what is even more interesting, though, is that nature is used in a nature-less setting. The use of the rose petals, thus, makes Angela unique in reference to the other individuals in the scene; she easily becomes the focus for Lester and he can imagine her in his own terms. Mendes’ film relocates the action to a gymnasium where, during halftime, Jane, Angela and the rest of the Dancing Spartanettes perform their routine:

His POV: Jane performs well, concentrating. Dancing awkwardly next to her is Angela.

Suddenly Angela looks right at us and smiles… a lazy, insolent smile.

Lester leans forward in his seat.

His POV: We’re focused on Angela now. Everything starts to SLOW DOWN… the MUSIC acquires an eerie ECHO…

We ZOOM slowly toward Lester as he watches, transfixed.

His POV: Angela’s awkwardness gives way to a fluid grace, and “ON BROADWAY” FADES into dreamy, hypnotic MUSIC. The light on Angela grows stronger, and the other girls DISAPPEAR entirely.

Lester is suddenly alone in the stands, spellbound.

His POV: Angela looks directly at us now, dancing only for Lester. Her movements take on a blatantly erotic edge as she starts to unzip her uniform, teasing us with an expression that’s both innocent and knowing, then… she pulls her uniform OPEN and a profusion of RED ROSE PETALS spill forth… and we SMASH CUT TO:


Angela, fully clothed, is once again surrounded by the other girls. The HIGH SCHOOL BAND plays its last note, the Dancing Spartanettes strike their final pose, and the audience APPLAUDS. (Ball)

Ball, just like Nabokov, writes in cinematic terms. “[M]uch of the film’s mise-en-scène,” such as this first encounter scene, “is devoted to his fantasy of ‘getting’ the adolescent girl” (McKittrick 5). The music changes from The Drifters’ poppy-soul track to that of dreams and hypnosis; again, Lester is completely spellbound by Angela. The crowded stadium becomes virtually empty and Lester becomes the sole voyeur of Angela’s erotic dance, now brightly illuminated in her own pool of sun. Everything begins to slow down and the viewer is able to see how close Lester and Angela symbolically get, even with the vast emptiness surrounding them. In wiping the slate clean—by eliminating the crowd of spectators—Angela becomes Lester’s, at least in his mind. Additionally, one could argue that in eliminating his competition, the budding flower that is Angela can flourish. Likewise, the fact that she is “both innocent and knowing” plays with the concept of seeing her as a part of nature; so, quite expectedly, when she unzips her uniform, “a profusion of RED ROSE PETALS spill forth” (Ball). This scene, as do the other dream sequences, provides the interior monologue aspect from the novel and transplants it into the film. We are able to get a glimpse inside Lester’s head, just as we are able to read Humbert’s thoughts on the page.


Works Cited

American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari. DreamWorks Pictures, 1999. Film.

Ball, Alan. American Beauty. N.d. Final draft. Web. 1 May 2014.

Burns, Dan E. “Pistols And Cherry Pies: Lolita From Page To Screen.” Literature Film Quarterly 12.4 (1984): 245. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Fawver, Kurt. “Little Girls And Psychic Fiends: Nabokov’s Lolita As Vampire Tale.” Notes & Queries 58.1 (2011): 133-138. Academic Search Complete. Web. 3 May 2014.

McKittrick, Casey. “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 47 (2001): 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

Simonetti, Paolo. “The Maniac In The Garden: Lolita And The Process Of American Civilization.” Critique 53.2 (2012): 149-163. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 May 2014.

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 1

The Modernization of a Postmodern Humbert: Lolita and American Beauty – Part 1

Lolita - Novel American Beauty - Film

Adapting popular short stories, plays, and novels to celluloid is an inevitable phenomenon. For some pieces of literature, it takes years to produce a film; for others, like John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, it takes just months to go from page to screen. Various obstacles appear in adapting literary works, especially those known the world over, so certain choices are made in order for the film to be produced and reach the global market. This means that changes are unavoidable. One must remember that making films is a business, thus films must be made in order to appeal to the widest ranging public as humanly possible—at least for the larger studios. This is ever so much the case in the various adaptations of Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita. Nabokov’s novel details thirty-something Humbert Humbert’s pedophilic obsession with a twelve-year-old “nymphet,” the eponymous Lolita. Humbert’s constant obsession with this young girl is fascinatingly intriguing in the novel, but is less apparent in the first film adaptation. Directed by Stanley Kubrick and released in 1962, the Humbert of this film, played by James Mason, is a simplified version of Nabokov’s psychologically complex Humbert. Humbert’s obsession with Lolita (Sue Lyon) seems to be the first of its kind, and he appears more as a father figure rather than an older lover; while their relationship is present in the film, Humbert’s obsession is less of a focus. Adrian Lyne’s 1997 adaptation of Nabokov’s novel presents a more “faithful” depiction of the novel’s plot and of Humbert (Jeremy Irons) and Lolita’s (Dominique Swain) relationship, but it is devoid of the novel’s romanticized passion; unlike the novel’s Humbert, this Humbert does not seem fully entranced with this Lolita. Perhaps a more accurate illustration of Humbert and Lolita’s relationship is seen in Sam Mendes’ American Beauty (1999). While neither character directly appears in the film, they are equivalently portrayed in the characters of Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) and Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari). While there are several differences between Nabokov’s Lolita and American Beauty, the relationship between these two characters, as depicted through Mendes’ poetic visuals and obsession-obvious first interactions, illustrate a comparable relationship.

One may question whether or not American Beauty actually is an adaptation of Lolita; and, yes, it does seem difficult to define it as such. Yet, it also seems remarkably uncanny that Lester Burnham is an anagram for Humbert Learns and that Lester falls in love with a girl with the last name of Hayes. American Beauty is undoubtedly inspired by Nabokov’s novel, if only when one considers the relationship between Lester and Angela. The novel Lolita focuses mainly on the relationship between Humbert and the titular character, and this central focus returns in the form of Lester and Angela’s relationship; more precisely, it is the obsession Lester has with Angela that is undeniably similar to that of Humbert’s obsession with Lolita. Mendes’ film, however, incorporates other factors and characters that complicate the notion that it is an adaptation of Lolita. Lester’s life is in shambles and he is having a mid-life crisis. He is in a crumbling marriage with Carolyn (Annette Bening) and his relationship with his daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), is, to put it mildly, distant. He quits his magazine-writing job of fourteen years and finds employment at Mr. Smiley’s, a fast-food restaurant. While Humbert is married a few times, his marriages are relatively short and do not cause any immediate consequences; additionally, Humbert does not have a biological daughter, just a stepdaughter, Lolita. These differences certainly complicate the Humbert/Lester parallel.

Thus, more direct comparisons between Humbert/Lolita and Lester/Angela should also be considered in viewing American Beauty as an adaptation. In the novel, Lolita is twelve—a definitive nymphet, a maiden “[b]etween the age limits of nine and fourteen” (Nabokov 16). However, Angela is not technically a nymphet. While her exact age is not given, she is in the latter part of her high school career. Even though Angela is older and is more cognizant of her flirtatious advances toward Lester, she is still a virgin, which places her in the realm of youth and innocence. While Humbert has had an obsession with nymphets for decades—beginning with the Poe-etic Annabel in his early teens—this is, to the best of our knowledge, Lester’s first occurrence of loving or fantasizing about a minor. Furthermore, Lester and Angela never end up having sex, which is in complete contrast to Humbert and Lolita. Casey McKittrick, in his essay “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness,” posits that these changes are too drastic to identify Angela as Lolita’s double. McKittrick writes:

The specularization of her body, combined with her adultlike knowingness, may tip the scales from perceiving her as a ‘woman-child’ to identifying her as a woman. Finally, the sexual relationship never comes to fruition; Angela’s ‘deflowering’ never takes place. Thus she remains an object of erotic fantasy, but her (filmic) body remains untouched or, at least, unpenetrated. (6)

McKittrick is correct when he states that a viewer may identify Angela as a woman, far removed from the cusp of initial puberty; yet, since Angela is not “deflowered” by Lester, she actually retains her innocence, which essentially tips the scales back to perceiving her as the “woman-child” figure. Nevertheless, Angela does remain “an object of erotic fantasy” for Lester, which undoubtedly signals the immoral obsession he has for her. While the novel’s Humbert is morally ambiguous—a trait indicative of postmodernity—Lester seems to have more of a moral compass, exemplified in his fight with Carolyn, who threatens him with divorce: “On what grounds? I’m not a drunk, I don’t fuck other women, I don’t mistreat you, I’ve never hit you, or even tried to touch you since you made it so abundantly clear just how unnecessary you consider me to be” (American Beauty). This not only illustrates Lester and Carolyn’s marital problems, but it also depicts that Lester has moral obligations to his family, even when his family members are unresponsive to his desires. Similarly, the fact that Lester does not end up having sex with Angela—he refrains from acting upon his obsessive desires—further demonstrates his morality, widening the gap between Humbert and Lester. Even with all of these notable differences, Lester’s obsession with Angela is easily correlated with Humbert’s obsession with Lolita. The obsession itself is the crux of interpreting these characters as a single unit. All of the noted factors play a role within American Beauty and the character of Lester, but the obsession seen within the film outshines the same depiction in direct adaptations of Nabokov’s novel—that is, the films directed by Kubrick and Lyne. The base of the novel is Humbert’s obsession with Lolita, and this is beautifully illustrated in Mendes’ film. Thus, American Beauty is not an adaptation of Nabokov’s entire work, but strictly of the obsession Humbert has for Lolita.

Works Cited

American Beauty. Dir. Sam Mendes. Perf. Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Wes Bentley, and Mena Suvari. DreamWorks Pictures, 1999. Film.

McKittrick, Casey. “‘I Laughed And Cringed At The Same Time’: Shaping Pedophilic Discourse Around American Beauty And Happiness.” Velvet Light Trap: A Critical Journal Of Film & Television 47 (2001): 3. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 May 2014.

Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. Print.

Criterion Announces November 2014 Titles

Well, it’s the middle of the month, and Criterion has announced its November 2014 release titles. Here you go:

The Shooting:Ride in the Whirlwind

The Shooting / Ride in the Whirlwind – November 11

In the mid-sixties, the maverick American director Monte Hellman conceived of two westerns at the same time. Dreamlike and gritty by turns, the two films would prove their maker’s adeptness at brilliantly deconstructing genre. As shot back-to-back for famed producer Roger Corman, they feature overlapping casts and crews, including Jack Nicholson in two of his meatiest early roles. The films—The Shooting, about a motley assortment of loners following a mysterious wanted man through a desolate frontier, and Ride in the Whirlwind, about a group of cowhands pursued by vigilantes for crimes they did not commit—are rigorous, artful, and wholly unconventional journeys into the American West.

The Shooting
In this eerie, existential western directed by Monte Hellman and written by Carole Eastman (Five Easy Pieces), Warren Oates and Will Hutchins play a bounty hunter and his sidekick who are talked by a mysterious woman (Millie Perkins) into leading her into the desert on a murkily motivated revenge mission. Things are further complicated by the addition to their crew of an enigmatic drifter (Jack Nicholson) who seems to delight in sadistically toying with the two men. Hellman’s singular odyssey is a vision of the weird old west unlike any other, a spare and challenging work leading to a provocative ending.

Ride in the Whirlwind
Working from a thoughtful script by Jack Nicholson, Monte Hellman fashioned this moody and tense western about a trio of cowhands who are mistaken for robbers and must outrun and hide from a posse of bloodthirsty vigilantes in the wilds of Utah. A grim yet gripping tale of chance and blind frontier justice, Ride in the Whirlwind is brought to life by a compelling cast, including Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell, Millie Perkins, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restorations of both films, supervised by director Monte Hellman, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentaries on both films, featuring Hellman and film historians Bill Krohn and Blake Lucas
  • New interviews with actors John Hackett, B. J. Merholz, Millie Perkins, and Harry Dean Stanton, assistant director Gary Kurtz, and chief wrangler Calvin Johnson, all in conversation with Hellman
  • New conversation between actor Will Hutchins and film programmer Jake Perlin
  • New video essay on actor Warren Oates by critic Kim Morgan
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Michael Atkinson
  • More!

It Happened One Night

It Happened One Night – November 18

Opposites attract with magnetic force in this romantic road-trip delight from Frank Capra, about a spoiled runaway socialite (Claudette Colbert) and a roguish man-of-the-people reporter (Clark Gable) who is determined to get the scoop on her scandalous disappearance. The first film to accomplish the very rare feat of sweeping all five major Oscar categories (best picture, best actor, best actress, best director, and best screenplay), It Happened One Night is among the most gracefully constructed and edited films of the early sound era, packed with clever situations and gags that have entered the Hollywood comedy pantheon. Featuring two actors at the top of their game, sparking with a chemistry that has never been bettered, this is the birth of the screwball comedy.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • New conversation between critics Molly Haskell and Phillip Lopate
  • Frank Capra’s American Dream, a 1997 feature-length documentary
  • Director Frank Capra’s first film, the 1922 silent short The Ballad of Fisher’s Boarding House
  • American Film Institute tribute to Capra from 1982
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Farran Smith Nehme
  • More!


L’avventura – November 25

Michelangelo Antonioni invented a new film grammar with this masterwork. An iconic piece of challenging 1960s cinema and a gripping narrative in its own right, L’avventura concerns the enigmatic disappearance of a young woman during a yachting trip off the coast of Sicily, and the search taken up by her disaffected lover (Gabriele Ferzetti) and best friend (Monica Vitti, in her breakout role). Antonioni’s controversial international sensation is a gorgeously shot tale of modern ennui and spiritual isolation.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring film historian Gene Youngblood
  • Selected-scene commentary by filmmaker Olivier Assayas
  • Antonioni: Documents and Testimonials, a fifty-eight-minute 1966 documentary by Gianfranco Mingozzi
  • Writings by director Michelangelo Antonioni, read by actor Jack Nicholson, plus Nicholson’s personal recollections of the director
  • New English subtitle translation
  • Trailer
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, along with the statement Antonioni made about the film and the letter that circulated in support of it after its 1960 Cannes premiere


Tootsie – November 25

In Tootsie, the character Michael Dorsey lands the role of a lifetime—as does the actor playing him, Dustin Hoffman. This multilayered comedy from director Sydney Pollack follows the increasingly elaborate deception of a down-on-his-luck New York actor who disguises himself as a woman to get a coveted soap opera gig; while his female persona skyrockets to fame, he finds himself learning to be a better man. Hoffman’s ball-busting yet disarmingly sweet Dorothy Michaels is a sensational comic creation, given support by a stellar cast including Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, Teri Garr, George Gaynes, Bill Murray, and, in her first Oscar-winning role, Jessica Lange. Imbued with poignant drama, Tootsie is a funny and cutting film from an American moment defined by shifting social and sexual identities.

Special Features:

  • New 4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Audio commentary featuring director Sydney Pollack, taken from Criterion’s 1991 laserdisc edition of the film
  • New interviews with actor Dustin Hoffman and comedy writer Phil Rosenthal
  • Interview with Dorothy Michaels by film critic Gene Shalit, from the film’s production
  • Making of “Tootsie,” a 1982 documentary directed by Rocky Lang
  • A Better Man: The Making of “Tootsie,” a 2007 documentary directed by Charles Kiselyak and featuring interviews with Pollack; actors Dabney Coleman, Teri Garr, Hoffman, and Jessica Lange; and writers Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal
  • Screen and wardrobe test footage of Hoffman
  • Deleted scenes and trailers
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Michael Sragow

Les Blank - Always for Pleasure

Les Blank: Always for Pleasure – November 25

An uncompromisingly independent filmmaker, Les Blank made documentaries for nearly fifty years, elegantly disappearing with his camera into cultural spots rarely seen on-screen—mostly on the peripheries of the United States, but also occasionally abroad. Seemingly off-the-cuff yet poetically constructed, these films are humane, sometimes wry, always engaging tributes to musicians, food, and all sorts of regionally specific delights. This collector’s set provides a diverse survey of Les Blank’s vast output, including the warmly funny The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins, about the legendary Texas musician; Always for Pleasure, which captures the vivacious spirit of New Orleans; Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers, a hilarious celebration of the pungent, flavorful “stinking rose” of the title; and eleven other unexpected features, plus eight of Blank’s short films.

Films Include: The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968); God Respects Us When We Work, but Loves Us When We Dance (1968); Spend It All (1971); A Well Spent Life (1971); Dry Wood (1973); Hot Pepper (1973); Always for Pleasure (1978); Garlic Is as Good as Ten Mothers (1980); Sprout Wings and Fly (1983); In Heaven There Is No Beer? (1984); Gap-Toothed Women (1987); Yum, Yum, Yum (1990); The Maestro: King of the Cowboy Artists (1994); Sworn to the Drum (1995).

Special Features:

  • New 2K digital restorations of all fourteen films, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays
  • Excerpt from Les Blank: A Quiet Revelation, an upcoming documentary by Gina Leibrecht
  • New interviews with director Les Blank’s sons, Harrod and Beau; Blank documentary subject Gerald Gaxiola (a.k.a. the Maestro); filmmakers Skip Gerson, Maureen Gosling, Taylor Hackford, Tom Luddy, and Chris Simon; and chef and author Alice Waters
  • Blank’s short films Lightnin’ Les (1968), Mr. Charlie, Your Rollin’ Mill Is Burnin’ Down (1968), The Sun’s Gonna Shine (1968), More Fess (1978), Julie: Old Time Tales of the Blue Ridge (1991), My Old Fiddle: A Visit with Tommy Jarrell in the Blue Ridge (1995), and The Maestro Rides Again (2005)
  • PLUS: An essay by film scholar Andrew Horton

50 Excellent Novels by Female Writers Under 50 That Everyone Should Read


I’ve only read “The Namesake,” but I’m sure the rest of these novels are excellent as well.

Originally posted on Flavorwire:

It’s pretty much been settled that everyone should read more books by women. But when looking for recommendations, it’s often all Woolf, Morrison, Lessing, Austen, Brontë. Of course, these are essential authors for a reason, and you should definitely read all of their books. That said, there’s something to catching a writer at the beginning of her career and following her for years that is supremely satisfying — not to mention the fact that young female writers need readers rather more than Jane Austen does. So in an effort to get you in on the ground floor (or at least, like, the third floor), after the jump you’ll find a compendium of 50 novels written by 50 female novelists under 50 that are worth your time. But these aren’t the only 50 books that fit this description! Read through and add on as you will in the comments.

View original 1,907 more words

Maurice Binder and DePatie-Freleng – “Charade” and “The Pink Panther”

Here’s another excerpt from my research on animated title sequences. Here I discuss Maurice Binder (Charade) and DePatie-Freleng (The Pink Panther):

Charade - Title Card

Although Saul Bass is a monumental figure of cinematic graphic design during the Golden Age, he is not the only title designer by any means. Working within the similar genre of Vertigo—that is, adventure, thriller, and mystery—is Maurice Binder. Binder is probably most known for his work on the James Bond film series, most notably the famous gun barrel sequence beginning with Bond’s first outing in Dr. No (1962). While Binder slightly departs from the geometrically-based designs created by Bass with the use of groovy silhouetted dancers, he does bring in a series of color-changing circles—symbolic bullet holes—that advise the audience to expect dangerous adventure: the wild side of Mr. Bond. Binder’s work on Stanley Donen’s Charade (1963) illustrates a more abstract version of what will occur within the film. Charade, another mystery-thriller, recounts the murder of Charles Lampert, the husband of Regina “Reggie” Lampert (Audrey Hepburn), and how three men are in pursuit of the money Charles allegedly stole from them. Thus, these men suspect Reggie of the money; with the help of Brian Cruikshank (Cary Grant), in the form of multiple aliases, Reggie Lampert escapes the clutches of the three men, and ultimately ends up in love with Cruikshank. The opening title sequence displays the multifaceted and entirely intertwining storyline and characters through the use of constantly moving shapes. Perhaps the most elucidating shapes Binder uses are arrows and spiraling pinwheels. Arrows are continuously overlapping and spiraling into a ball of comedically-wonderful confusion, which is precisely the effect of the film. The viewer is always second-guessing who should and should not be trusted, yet it is still a fun and entertaining romantic-comedy of sorts. The pinwheel also accommodates this feeling of fun confusion; the twirling shapes only heighten the awareness of this fast-paced romantic-thriller. The combination of flashy colors and abstract symbols illustrates the core of the film—this chaotic thriller will have a multitude of twists and turns that will leave the viewer wildly entertained.

The Pink Panther

Veering away from the use of such abstract shapes is a welcome addition to the animated title sequence roster. DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, formed by director Friz Freleng and executive David DePatie, was constructed in 1963 (Beck, 2004). DePatie-Freleng Enterprises’s first assignment was for Blake Edwards’s The Pink Panther (1964), in which the duo created the eponymous character in animated form. This famous panther is seen in pantomime, cleverly interacting with the titles, a glove, and a curious inspector. The panther’s playfulness and sly attitude illuminates the human “panther,” Sir Charles Lytton, who is in search of the pink panther jewel. This is a departure from the majority of Bass’s and Binder’s work because we get an actual character within the sequence. As Beck (2004) points out: “The cool, contemporary style of the design and graphics, Henry Mancini’s distinctive theme music and the pantomime comedy were a complete departure from the cheaply made theatrical cartoons created by competitors,” as well as other opening titles (p. 208). The title sequence readily provides us with the sense of a comedic mystery-thriller; the audience will feel attached to this panther (even in human form) because of his wit and charm. The sequence itself also provides us with the overall action of the film: discovering the jewel and outlasting the nosy inspector; the sequence does not give everything away, but subtly hints about the overarching mystery.

Saul Bass – “Vertigo”

This is an excerpt of a larger piece about animated title sequences I wrote last fall. It discusses Saul Bass and his participation in Hitch’s Vertigo (1958). The overall thesis for the paper is that animated title sequences present the film’s tone and thesis in a relatively short time and in creative way. Here we go:


It would be utterly criminal to discuss title sequences without acknowledging the fantastic graphic designer Saul Bass (1920-1996), the king of title sequences during the 1950s and ‘60s. Bass is also known for poster art for a variety of films, as well as corporate logos. Director Martin Scorsese, who worked with Bass on a handful of films during the early 1990s, states that Bass’s designs are “thinking made visible” (Bass & Kirkham, 2011, p. vi). Bass’s undeniably inventive designs are unmistakable. One needs to look no further than some Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, or Alfred Hitchcock films to comprehend Bass’s appealingly abstract wonderment. Bass created animated title sequences for a variety of films during the latter part of the Golden Age, including: Carmen Jones (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), Vertigo (1958), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), Spartacus (1960), Ocean’s Eleven (1960), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). These are classic films that are equally set apart due to Bass’s imaginative designs. Jennifer Bass and Pat Kirkham’s (2011) Saul Bass: A Life in Film & Design takes a fascinating look at Bass’s life and career as a graphic designer for the cinema. Bass and Kirkham (2011) write that Bass’s “designs shaped complex ideas into radically simple forms that offered audiences a set of clues, a sort of hermeneutic key to deeper meanings under the surface of the movie” (p. 107). In other words, Bass was able to abstractly illustrate the underlying themes of those films without giving too much away. His titles also set the tone of the film, allowing the audience to become emotionally ready for what is to come; Bass states: “I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it” (Haskin & Bass, 1996, p. 12-13). It is curious that Bass’s usage of abstract and geometrical shapes provides an emotional quality, but it remains true. Further analysis of one of Bass’s most recognizable title sequences—for Hitchcock’s Vertigo—will elucidate not only underlying themes in the film, but also set the emotional pull the film will create.

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological-thriller Vertigo (1958) is a cinematic masterpiece. In 2012, Vertigo triumphed over Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) in the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound Poll; this was the first time another film ranked higher than Citizen Kane since the Poll’s inception in 1962 (Pogrebin, 2012). Perhaps the most mesmerizing point of the film is during Bass’s opening title sequence. A combination of live-action and animation, the title sequence is an incalculable feat of swirling forms that transfix the viewer. The majority of the sequence is the continuous emergence of spiraling Lissajous forms, based on images created by Jules Lissajous, a late-1800s French mathematician (Bass & Kirkham, 2011, p. 180). This mass of swirling figures not only relates to the vertiginous quality that will be easily apparent in the film (as hinted by the film’s title, as well), but the Lissajous forms also evince a sense of volatile danger, impending catastrophe, and mind-affecting hypnotism—all qualities evident within the film. Through the construction of intertwining pendulums, Bass was able to create these constantly-changing, minuscule maelstroms: raging tempests that reside in the fractured character of Judy Barton, played by Kim Novak (Bass & Kirkham, 2011, p. 180). Bass’s use of the Lissajous forms zooms in on the visible fragmentation of Judy’s mind. It is important to note that Judy Barton is posing as Madeleine Elster; the latter is obsessed with a painting of a woman named Carlotta, who looks precisely like Madeleine and, therefore, Judy. The multiplicity of characters within the singular is easily illustrated through Bass’s design, especially when the Lissajous spirals intersect and overlap; these dizzying forms also effortlessly relate to Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart), who suffers from vertigo. The forms project confusion and disorder onto the audience, too. These intricate patterns set a definite tone of the film, one of uneasiness and uncertainty. Yet, they are still beautiful and entrancing; they are almost willing the viewer to accept this confusion. That is the brilliance of Saul Bass and, of course, Alfred Hitchcock. The ability for simple, yet complex, rotating geometrical shapes to not only set a tone of uncertainty, but to also indicate the fragmentation and swirling storms that infect one of the film’s central characters is fascinating and admirable. Bass continued the use of meaningful geometrical shapes in two other Hitchcock films: North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960). Bass was able to create “compelling, at times near-abstract sequences that capture the undertones of and echo key elements in these three remarkable films” (Bass & Kirkham, 2011). As in all of his designs, Saul Bass was able to lay down the emotional pull of these films, while also placing clues as to what will occur during the film.

More excerpts may appear soon! Thanks for reading!