Here’s a flawed but fascinating little film about the life of Vladimir Nabokov, examined through the prism of his most famous book.
How Do You Solve a Problem Like Lolita? first aired on British television in 2009. The host is Stephen Smith, a culture correspondent for BBC Newsnight. We don’t know the rest of Smith’s resume, but in watching the documentary we get the feeling he may have picked up a little of his journalistic sensibility from the British tabloids. The problem referred to in the title is the sense–at least among Smith’s friends–that there is something “pervy” about Nabokov’s 1955 novel, Lolita, and that this raises certain questions about the author’s own sexual penchants. “Was it a morality play,” Smith asks at the outset, “or the fantasy of a dirty old man?”
It’s a contemptible point of departure. But How Do You Solve a Problem Like Lolita? manages to be worthwhile in spite of itself. It’s filled with interesting old footage of Nabokov talking about himself and his work, as well as contemporary footage of the writer’s old haunts in Russia, America and Switzerland. The film is a kind of travelogue. Watching it is like taking a one-hour tour through a fascinating landscape with an amiable but slightly annoying guide.