Region: North America
Subject: Explicit Sexuality
Medium: Film Video
Artist: Stanley Kubrick, director (1928 - 1999); Vladimir Nabokov, novelist (1899 - 1977)
Confronting Bodies: Catholic Legion of Decency
Date of Action: 1961
Location: United States
Description of Artwork: The novel, Lolita, which was published in 1955 and quickly became a classic, follows the seduction and sexual relationship of a middle-aged man with his twelve-year-old stepdaughter. It has been both praised as a masterpiece and denounced as pornography.
The Incident: Kubrick acquired the rights to make a movie based on the novel, but his distribution contract required him to not only meet the standards of the Production Code Administration (PCA) but also the Catholic Legion of Decency. Working closely with Nabokov, the film was watered down considerably. Lolita's age was raised to make her a teenager, no provocative clothing was worn, any scene remotely sexual was watered down to being merely implied and further obscured by comedy. Even though the PCA further required dialogue muted and scenes cut short, it eventually got their seal.
However, even after being cut, the Catholic Legion of Decency still condemned the film for "offering unrelieved sexual depravity."
Results of Incident: A deal was eventually struck to release the film in 1962. The seduction scene had to be cut even more, and nobody under the age of 18 was admitted.
Critics were divided saying the film adaptation had lost the novel's shock value and had lost its purpose in the editing.
Source: Censorship: A World Encyclopedia. Ed. Derek Jones. Chicago; London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001.