Short Documentary, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Lolita?, Psychoanalyzes Vladimir Nabokov

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.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Vladimir Nabokov Mar­vels Over Dif­fer­ent “Loli­ta” Book Cov­ers

Vladimir Nabokov (Chan­nelled by Christo­pher Plum­mer) Teach­es Kaf­ka at Cor­nell

Nabokov Reads Loli­ta, Names the Great Books of the 20th Cen­tu­ry

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