Looking for Lolita

On the nature of nymph mania

Mo Ogrodnik's Ripe (1997) might have offered some relief from the paranoia surrounding newly nubile females. But beneath its arty veneer, her first feature is punishing and prurient. Violet and Rosie, 14-year-old fraternal twins, escape from a car crash, leaving their mother and their monstrous father to die. Violet, the pretty one, is always flirting--Rosie is a tomboy. When she uses a shovel to smash two rats having sex, you sense a splatterfest is coming. They end up romping around an army base, where a carpenter takes a shine to Violet, while Rosie learns to use a gun. No one warns him that being Lolita's beau is more than ever a dangerous occupation.

Freeway (1996) is a lowbrow Lolita spinoff with a sense of irony--former Pretty Baby Brooke Shields plays the wife of a sociopath who preys on young girls. Matthew Bright's demented retelling of "Little Red Riding Hood" stars Reese Witherspoon as 15-year-old Vanessa, an aging nymphet with a troubled social profile. Her mother is a prostitute; Mom's drug-addled boyfriend regularly paws her. When they're arrested, Vanessa takes to the highway to visit her grandmother. Along the way, her car breaks down and she's picked up by Bob Wolverine, a blandly creepy reform school counselor: he makes her open up her heart, and then pulls out a knife. But this ferocious Lolita finally rights society's wrongs.

Jennifer Montgomery's Art for Teachers of Children (1995) is a film of a different order. This autobiographical "docudrama" explores the affair Montgomery had when she was 14 with photographer Jock Sturges, who was then her prep school freshman adviser. Though she's no fan of her former "teacher" or his work, which sparked a 1989 FBI investigation for child pornography, Montgomery refused to collaborate with his prosecutors. Instead she retaliated with this strangely ironic and melancholy film about a young girl's sexual confusion and an older man's overweening vanity. "There's nothing more dangerous than boring men who make bad art," her mother says ruefully, some 15 years after her daughter's deflowering. The directors of today'sLolitas should take a lesson from her.

--Leslie Camhi

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