Cinephile Sunday: Kiss of Spiderwoman

Hector Babenco, Brazil/US, 1985

Sunday, May 4, 2014 - 5:00pm
Location: Collins Cinema

In a prison cell somewhere in Latin America, two very different men warily confront each other. Molina (William Hurt) is first seen wrapping his head in a towel, in the shape of a turban, while Valentin (Raul Julia), bearded and classically macho in appearance, watches with a mixture of fascination and revulsion. On the walls behind Molina's make-shift dressing table are pin-ups of Rita Hayworth, Lana Turner, Garbo, Dietrich. On Valentin's face are deep cuts and bruises, and a large scar as yet unhealed.

Thus begins Kiss of the Spider Woman, a film starring William Hurt, Raul Julia and Sonia Braga, directed by Hector Babenco and produced by David Weisman, adapted for the screen by Leonard Schrader from the 1976 novel of the same title by Manuel Puig. A collaboration by a handful of obsessed film-makers from both North and South America, brought together by the novel and the script, this film was not only a unique hybrid, but also a turning-point in independent cinema.

Shot in Brazil in English over a five-month period, its million-dollar-budget was financed by private investors from both American continents--without the safety-net of distribution deals or any other film-industry involvement. It was rejected by the New York Film Festival Selection Committee in August of 1984, about the same time the money had run out. But after fourteen solid months of editing in Los Angeles, on May 17 1985 it finally had its world premiere in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where William Hurt won the Best Actor Award. Ten months later, on March 24 1986, Kiss of the Spider Woman became the first independent film ever to receive Academy Award® Nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. Looking back, William Hurt's Oscar®-win that night sixteen years ago truly appears to have been a watershed moment in American film.

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