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Cover versions of Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’
03:29 pm


Vladimir Nabokov
John Bertram

Whether you are a professional designer, illustrator, a Nabokov nut—or even none of the above—there is much to like about Lolita - The Story of a Cover Girl, a fascinating new book edited by John Bertram and Yuri Leving. At the center of their project is the problem Vladimir Nabokov’s notorious 1955 novel of sexual obsession, pedophilia and quasi-incest has posed for over half a century of book jacket designers.

First consider the creative brief as laid out by Nabokov himself, a man who liked to be in firm control of how his work, and his own public image, were represented:

“I want pure colors, melting clouds, accurately drawn details, a sunburst above a receding road with the light reflected in furrows and ruts, after rain. And no girls.”

You hear that? Let me turn it up a little bit louder for you:

“Who would be capable of creating a romantic, delicately drawn, non-Freudian and non-juvenile, picture for LOLITA (a dissolving remoteness, a soft American landscape, a nostalgic highway—that sort of thing)? There is one subject which I am emphatically opposed to: any kind of representation of a little girl.”

The image most closely associated with the novel today, of course, is the misleadingly “sexy” image of Sue Lyon, who played “Lolita” in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, wearing the heart-shaped sunglasses and lasciviously licking a lollipop. This is not even a still from the film, it was a publicity photograph taken by Burt Stern. [In Kubrick’s film, Lyon, who was fourteen when it was shot, is meant to be sixteen to soften the situation for movie audiences (and censorship boards). I found it fascinating to learn that Nabokov would later remark that Catherine Demongeot, who played the title character in Louis Malle’s 1960 film Zazie dans le métro, was in fact closer to his own image of young Delores Haze!]

How do you solve a creative conundrum like Lolita? Not only is the subject matter uniquely problematic, you have its author, a towering genius of 20th century literature, telling you emphatically: “NO GIRLS.”

The genesis of the book began in 2009 when Bertram discovered Dieter Zimmer’s Covering Lolita, an online collection of nearly 200 Lolita covers from around the world and decided to sponsor a book cover competition for a new cover for Lolita. There were 155 entries from 34 countries. After the contest, Bertram was approached by Yuri Leving, the editor of the Nabokov Online Journal about writing an essay on the results. When his paper was published there, Bertram sensed there was more to say on the subject and the result is Lolita - The Story of a Cover Girl, which he co-edited with Leving.

Several of the entries are seen in the book. You can see them online, too, at Bertram’s Venus febriculosa website, where he has also held a contest for “cover versions” of Brian Eno’s decidedly minimalist Music for Films album art.

Today in Los Angeles at Skylight Books in Los Feliz at 5pm, Bertram will lead a discussion regarding the art and design of Nabokov’s novel over the decades. On the panel will be Johanna Drucker, Leland De La Durantaye and Mary Gaitskill.

First prize winner by Lyuba Haleva

Design by Rachel Berger (I especially liked this one. Subtle, but powerful)

Design by Derek McCalla

Design by Aleksander Bak

Design by Barbara Bloom

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like Lolita?’: In search of Nabokov

I found Stephen Smith, who presented this investigation into Vladimir Nabokov and his relationship to his infamous novel Lolita, an irritating prick. His opening premise that he can’t talk about Lolita to his friends without their prissy censure, explains much of what is wrong with Smith’s approach to documentary-making. When dealing with a subject as important, as controversial, and as difficult as Nabokov, what Smith or his friends think is irrelevant.

‘I want to be able to carry this around in public,’ Smith exclaims. ‘Read bits out to friends. Maybe not take it out at a parents’ evening, but feel comfortable with it—but I can’t. And that’s crazy fifty years after little Lolita first appeared.’

The problem is Smith’s petite bourgeois values infect everything he says. ‘What kind of person lives in a hotel,’ he asks, almost in sub-Lady Bracknell, before venturing onto what really interests him—the ‘conga-line of young women shimmering through the pages, particularly the latter pages, of Nabokov.’ He then tries to find the ‘missing link’ between Nabokov’s private life and that of his ‘aroused anti-heroes’.

Smith attempts to create a sense of Nabokov as some shady character (perhaps on-the-run?), hiding out in hotels, so that he can postulate about him being a dirty old man. He also asks trivial and facetious questions. For example, his opener to the bar man at the Montreux Palace, where the writer lived in his later years, is not ‘what sort of man was Nabokov?’ but rather, ‘was he a snob?’ which he followed-up with ‘did he tip?’

Whether intentional or not, Smith wanders round this whole documentary like some second-fiddle Nabokovian character, sweaty, charmless, petty, narrow-minded, and grossly bourgeois. It would be funny, if Smith did not clog-up so much of what should be interesting with his trite psycho-analysis (what would Nabokov make of that?) and his penchant for stating the-bleedin’-obvious. His conclusion is where he should have started, but then this would have been a documentary about why Stephen Smith thinks about Nabokov the way he does, and that would never have filled an hour.

What is good about this documentary is the original archive and interviews with Nabokov, and if you want to read the great man discussing Lolita and much more, then check out this excellent interview from the Paris Review


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
An animated short of Stanley Kubrick’s films

Superb animated timeline of Stanley Kubrick’s filmography by animator Martin Woutisseth. Music by Romain Trouillet.

(via KFMW)

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
The Lolita Question: Who was the Real Humbert Humbert?
04:09 pm


Vladimir Nabokov


Henry Lanz, Stanford professor, Nabokov’s colleague and chess partner who “married the 14-year-old daughter of a friend.” Was he Humbert Humbert?

Over the chessboard, Lanz confided a dark secret that Nabokov told biographer Field: the memorably dapper professor led a double life. On weekends, he drove to the country to participate in orgies with ?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment