Sunday, November 2, 2008

Manuel Puig and his Kiss of the Spider Woman

By Alejandra Espasande Bouza



Hector Babenco's The Kiss of the Spider Woman was recently released in Blue-ray and DVD for all to enjoy, hopefully this release will shed light upon the life of Manuel Puig (1932-1990) author of the novel that inspired the film.

The film The Kiss of the Spider Woman, based on the novel published by Manuel Puig in 1976, and adapted to the screen in 1985, revolves around the relationship of two prison inmates who share a cell in the sinister humidity of an undisclosed Latin-American country.

Valentin Arregui Paz, interpreted by the late Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia (1940-1994), is a leftist revolutionary obsessed with justice and the woman he loves. Luis Alberto Molina, played by American actor William Hurt, is a fragile homosexual who has been imprisoned for pederasty, and whose only desire is to reunite with his sick mother.

In spite of their striking differences, Molina has no problem in asserting his "feminine role" with confidence by considering himself a "normal woman," only capable of loving men. In contrast, Valentin struggles with an ideology that keeps him from accepting his devotion for an upper class woman. With time, Valentin opens up to Molina by allowing him to care for his wounds, and admitting his fear of revolutionary martyrdom by expressing his desire to have a “normal life.”

During the night, when the lights are turned-off, Molina makes use of his repertoire to recount old film plots. His visual memory, and his attention to detail make his narratives ever more palpable for a sick and bitter Valentin. From a thriller set in a Nazi occupied Germany, to the terror of a Zombie island, or the heat of a tropical night, Molina succeeds in drawing Valentin into his fantasy world. Every film tale, every anecdote, every word, slowly penetrates the remoteness of Valentin, who eventually succumbs to the workings of Molina, the "spider woman."

In one of the most defining moments, Molina sings a Mario Clavell bolero, titled My Letter, that summons what is going to became the core of the inmates relationship:

"Querido, vuelvo otra vez a conversar contigo. La noche trae un silencio que me invita a hablarte. Y pienso, si tu también estarás recordando, cariño...los sueños tristes de este amor extraño." Mi carta, Mario Clavel

"Dear, I come back, yet once again. The night brings an inviting silence for conversation. And I wonder... if you also remember the sad dreams of this strange love."


Unlike the collaboration of filmmaker Barbet Schroeder and author Fernando Vallejo in the literary adaptation of Our Lady of the Assassins, or the more recent collaboration of director Eloy de la Iglesia and author Eduardo Medicutti in The Bulgarian Lovers, there never existed a collaboration between The Kiss of the Spider Woman's director Hector Babenco and Manuel Puig.

Though the end result caused major distress upon the author, who never agreed with the changes of screenwriter Leonard Schrader, the film managed to gain an Oscar nomination for best adaptation. Another criticism of Puig fell upon the casting of William Hurt. The author did not agree with the choice, and never approved of the performance, which he considered shallow, but a performance that gained the actor an Oscar. In spite of Puig's disagreement, Hurt delivered a heart-wrenching final scene not to be forgotten in the history of contemporary cinema.

Excerpt of interview with Manuel Puig.



Could it be that there was too much of Puig in the character of Molina to let just anyone take a hold of it? Regarding the closeness of an author to a special character, French novelist Andre Guide, pioneer of "homosexual" literature, once expressed "How many buds we bear in us that will never blossom save in our books!" If Manuel Puig's passion for nostalgic boleros and classic cinema was the bud that sprang through Molina's persona, his political stand against dictatorial governments, cause of his exile, was also reflected in the persona of Valentin.

In an interview with Jorgelina Corbatta, following the 1979 Congress of Hispanic-American Writers in Medellin (Colombia), Puig was asked about the role the reader played in his literary work. His response was "Whenever I write, I'm always thinking of the reader. I write for somebody who has my own limitations. My reader has a certain difficulty with concentrating, which in my case comes from being a film viewer. That's why I don't request any special efforts in the act of reading."

For those interested in discovering the genius of this author here is a list of his novels:


1 comment:

Gerd Tepass said...

Talking about Manuel Puig!! Maybe the blogg http://www.manuelpuig.blogspot.com will interest you. I posted some interviews he made during 1968 and 1992. All these articles are part of the first multimedia-biography on CD-ROM about Puig: „Manuel Puig: Una aproximación biográfica". Buenos Aires 2008. ISBN 978-987-05-4332-9. Distribution via: http://www.manuelpuig.com
mil greetings!!