Kiss: Utopian Romance and Manuel Puig’s Spider Woman
Manuel Puig’s novel, Kiss of the Spider Woman, was published in 1976 and in it circulate questions about Hollywood fantasies, political injustice, and unrequited love all in one of the most austere narrative frames possible: a prison cell. It seems to me that the unrequited intensity of the material is precisely what seems to elude its many critics and the various adaptations it has undergone. For example, in Brazilian director Hector Babenco’s film version of the book, released in 1986, the erotic charge of the book is absent. William Hurt plays Molina, the gay movie fan, and Raul Julia plays Valentin, the straight revolutionary. William Hurt plays his idea of a gay man, which means talking huskily, walking with one hand on his hip, and wearing a towel like a turban on his head. It is not so much his stereotypical mannerisms that jar me as much as the extremely low energy level at which Hurt plays Molina. Hurt is not a very expressive actor, and his deadpan, levelheaded, WASPishness is all wrong for a gay character who is practically drunk on movies and fantasies of romantic love. The acclaim that Hurt received for the role (he won a Best Actor award at both Cannes and the Academy Awards) seemed to stem from his daring to play a gay man at all. This self-serving aspect of his performance is evidenced by the character’s unrelenting seriousness. Nowhere is there any indication that Molina gets any pleasure from even thinking about movies, not to mention elaborating upon them. What is also missing is an understanding of the relationship between expressive camp and the movies, which has to do with the “queer” perspective of Puig’s novel.
KeywordsMass Culture Romantic Love Prison Official Male Homosexuality Prison Guard
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