Showtime adopts homeless ‘Lolita’

After long search, pic settles down

Culminating a fruitless two-year quest to sell director Adrian Lyne’s $58 million remake of “Lolita” for wide theatrical release in the United States, Pathe Prods. has struck a deal with Showtime that grants the Viacom paycabler all U.S. distribution rights — including control of a long-delayed limited play in theaters later this year.

Sources put the pricetag for the acquisition at about $4 million.

Under the agreement, Showtime will give “Lolita” its American premiere jointly with its sister Sundance Channel service sometime in August. Showtime Networks’ programming prexy Jerry Offsay told Daily Variety on Tuesday that the network is already in discussions with “four or five companies” to distribute the film theatrically following its plays on Showtime and Sundance.

Held out for all rights

The pact culminates two months of negotiations between Showtime and Pathe, which had originally discussed Showtime’s acquiring only the TV premiere rights. The network, however, held out for all U.S. rights.

“At the end of the day, we believed that Adrian’s desire for a responsible presentation of the material and a later theatrical release would best be accomplished if all of the rights were in our hands,” Offsay said.

Lyne’s film, which more closely follows the storyline of Vladimir Nabokov’s classic 1954 novel than did Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 original, stars Jeremy Irons as Humbert Humbert, the 45-year-old college professor who becomes sexually obsessed with a 12-year-old girl (Dominique Swain). Melanie Griffith and Frank Langella also star.

Subject-matter concerns

But despite “Lolita’s” expensive pedigree, fears about the film’s pedophilic subject matter — coupled with some negative buzz about its quality — kept it from landing any significant distribution deal with a major studio. In the end, the filmmakers were forced to take what they could get from Showtime and cut their losses.

Reached on Tuesday at his home in the south of France, Lyne — whose previous films have included the blockbusters “Flashdance,” “Fatal Attraction” and “Indecent Proposal” — commented, “This is a lot of relief. I’m just happy that people are finally going to see the movie, and I think it’s a courageous decision for Showtime.”

Indeed, Lyne and Pathe found a kindred spirit of free expression in Showtime, which prides itself on being a refuge for disenfranchised filmmakers with non-traditional (read: uncomfortable) material. It was Showtime that in 1996 picked up Anjelica Huston’s child abuse-themed “Bastard Out of Carolina” after it was dropped by TNT and took the reins on the miniseries sequel “Armistead Maupin’s More Tales of the City” after PBS pulled out amidst political pressure.

“People also said that we shouldn’t have made a movie like (last year’s) ‘Twilight of the Golds’ because it had offensive subject matter (dealing with a couple’s considering terminating a pregnancy when they discover that their unborn child will likely be gay),” Offsay said.

‘Artistic freedom’

” ‘Lolita’ fits in with our mandate to put on the best possible programming. We are honored to be providing a measure of artistic freedom to an important internationally successful filmmaker like Adrian Lyne … because we have no advertisers censoring our content, we have the ability to do certain things that the broadcast networks can’t.”

One film industry executive said Tuesday that it was inevitable “Lolita” would wind up premiering on cable TV, given the modest box-office returns on such risque mainstream releases as “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Boogie Nights.”

“A studio maybe could have taken in $20 million and absorbed a lot of aggravation with ‘Lolita,’ ” the exec said. “You’d spend $12 million, $14 million to get back that $20. For $6 million or $8 million — and maybe risking a loss — it just wasn’t worth the hassle.”

Lyne disagreed, saying, “I don’t think this was purely a financial decision at all. It got branded here early on as a film about pedophilia when that simply isn’t the case. The idea that we apparently shouldn’t be allowed to deal with this kind of subject matter is unhealthy and sinister. In the current climate in America, I doubt you could get away with doing a ‘Taxi Driver.’ ”

Modest price

Offsay is simply happy to snare a $58 million film with quality production values for such a comparatively modest price.

“If Adrian had walked in and offered to make this film strictly for Showtime — even without the beautiful scope he has given it — we would have said yes,” Offsay said. “The studios would have been hard-pressed to make a significant return on investment, but it’s perfect for us. And we’re thrilled that it was available.”