Lolita: that "lovely, lyrical, wilting name". After Nabokov's novel and Kubrick's film adaptation, the name Lolita has, unfortunately, become synonymous solely with sexual precociousness. Really, we should add 'vulgar' and 'brash' to that synonymy - the real Dolores Haze (Sue Lyon) is brusque, and anything but wilting. She's known by two names; she leads two VERY different lives.
Given the reputation that follows the tale of Lolita around, it's sometimes easy to forget how funny this first (and best) film adaptation is. With Kubrick, we're in the hands of a master satirist. So when Lolita is shipped off to the hilariously named 'Camp Climax', her emotional farewell embrace with Humbert Humbert (James Mason) is cut short with what amounts to a snappy "see ya" before the camera swoops over our troubled anti-hero as he gazes longingly over the banister, full of yearning and repressed passion, while melodramatic music swells like something out of Gone With The Wind.
Humbert is an amusingly sardonic sort when he knows he's going to get what he wants; he's stroppy when he can't. So, while we're never offered any backstory to help us build a psychological justification for Humbert's infatuation, we can clearly see that his passion brings out the teenager in him: fickle, randy, playful and obstreperous.
Shelley Winters marvellously over-plays Dolores' lonesome mother, the actress's alleged poor treatement by the director pre-dating Shelley Duvall's by almost 20 years - and, similarly, it could be argued the performance is improved accordingly.
This was Kubrick's first collaboration with Peter Sellers (who plays the writer Clare Quilty). Like Dr Strangelove, there's an exhilarating unpredictability whenever the chameleonic Sellers occupies the screen. This was the first time Kubrick encouraged improvisation - it's partially this, I believe, which elevates the film to the status of the first true Kubrick classic. Paradoxically, with Lolita we're able to see the control Kubrick would wield thereon; he arrests the image, moving the actors with the precision of chess grand-master, shooting everything from the beautiful to the banal with sublime artistry.