While Teen Wolf was opening this past summer in 1,500 theaters. Kiss of the Spider Woman found only 15 receptive movie houses. This may seem odd, given that Teen Wolf is a formula flick, a werewolf comedy in which Lon Chancy Jr. would’ve felt at home, while Kiss of the Spider Woman is “Cinema” writ large, with William Hurt in his first post-Big Chill role (and one for which he received the 1985 Best Actor Award at Cannes); Raul Julia, who has a list of Tony nominations to his credit; and Sonia Braga, acclaimed as the Brazilian actress since her performance in Doña Flor and Her Two Husbands. Yet there are reasons for the American public’s preference for Teen Wolf over Kiss of the Spider Woman, reasons more fundamental than simple philistinism.
At one point in Kiss, the homosexual character played by a henna-haired Hurt says with a voice edged in pique, “I don’t explain my movies—that just ruins the emotion.” The emotions in Kiss itself are so debased that explanation is simply irrelevant. Here we have two prisoners in a South American cell: Hurt as homosexual, Julia as revolutionary. Neither has a compelling sense of identity: Hurt thinks that only females can be “sensitive,” so he has become a (wo)man; Julia has given up his upper-class girlfriend to become a small-time Che because he cannot think his way past leftist slogans.
As the movie unfolds like a colorful but bespotted silk scarf, the two men exchange identities. The climax of the metamorphosis, and of the plot, is sealed with a kiss—footage of a real female spider consuming her mate would have been less depressing. As a result, the homosexual—who has previously lived in a fantasy world of 1940’s B-movies spun in his head—leaves the prison determined to act as a revolutionary on behalf of his lover. The macho revolutionary, in turn, turns from Spartan to Sybarite.
For all of its deficiencies, Teen Wolf is honestly packaged: it’s transparently a flimsy comedy made for the buck, a marketing device for popcorn, tickets, and sound tracks. No one going to see it can expect more. Kiss of the Spider Woman, on the other hand, is a fraud. Its producers and distributors represent it as serious art, a work of real substance. But the superficial manipulation of character and the facile repudiation of normative morality make Kiss a more disgusting film than any unpretentious entertainment made for adolescents. (GSV)
[Kiss of the Spider Woman; Directed by Hector Babenco; Written by Leonard Schrader; Based on the novel by Manuel Puig; Island Alive]
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