Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

R | 119 mins | Drama, Romance | 26 July 1985

Director:

Hector Babenco

Producer:

David Weisman

Cinematographer:

Rodolfo Sanchez

Editor:

Mauro Alice

Production Designer:

Felipe Crescenti

Production Company:

H. B. Filmes
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HISTORY

Kiss of the Spiderwoman was based on the 1976 novel of the same name, El beso de la mujer araña, by Argentine writer Manuel Puig, as well as his 1983 stage adaptation of the story. As noted in Puig’s 2001 biography, Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions, the novel was banned in Argentina, and the English translation edition preceded a widespread publication in Spanish. While the book alludes to five motion pictures, the film version focuses on a single Nazi propaganda movie, which biographer Suzanne Jill Levine identified as a compilation of various Third Reich productions with the American Paris—Underground (1945, see entry) and Die große Liebe (The Great Love), a 1931 Otto Preminger film starring Zarah Leander as a cabaret singer who falls in love with high-ranking German lieutenant. According to the 1974 book Nazi Cinema, Die große Liebe was one of the Third Reich’s most successful motion pictures, and Leander, a Swedish chanteuse, became the top film star in Germany after Marlene Dietrich left the country to protest the Nazis. Leander was the model for the Kiss of the Spider Woman’s “Leni Lamaison,” who was named after Adolf Hitler’s propaganda filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl.
       The novel was considered for a film adaptation by various directors, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, according to a 28 Jul 1985 Boston Globe article. In 1981, Argentine director Hector Babenco was in Los Angeles, CA, to accept an award from the LA Film Critics for his breakout feature film, Pixote. At the reception, ...

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Kiss of the Spiderwoman was based on the 1976 novel of the same name, El beso de la mujer araña, by Argentine writer Manuel Puig, as well as his 1983 stage adaptation of the story. As noted in Puig’s 2001 biography, Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman: His Life and Fictions, the novel was banned in Argentina, and the English translation edition preceded a widespread publication in Spanish. While the book alludes to five motion pictures, the film version focuses on a single Nazi propaganda movie, which biographer Suzanne Jill Levine identified as a compilation of various Third Reich productions with the American Paris—Underground (1945, see entry) and Die große Liebe (The Great Love), a 1931 Otto Preminger film starring Zarah Leander as a cabaret singer who falls in love with high-ranking German lieutenant. According to the 1974 book Nazi Cinema, Die große Liebe was one of the Third Reich’s most successful motion pictures, and Leander, a Swedish chanteuse, became the top film star in Germany after Marlene Dietrich left the country to protest the Nazis. Leander was the model for the Kiss of the Spider Woman’s “Leni Lamaison,” who was named after Adolf Hitler’s propaganda filmmaker, Leni Riefenstahl.
       The novel was considered for a film adaptation by various directors, including Rainer Werner Fassbinder, according to a 28 Jul 1985 Boston Globe article. In 1981, Argentine director Hector Babenco was in Los Angeles, CA, to accept an award from the LA Film Critics for his breakout feature film, Pixote. At the reception, LAT reviewer Kevin Thomas asked Babenco about his future projects, and the director mentioned his desire to adapt Puig’s Kiss of the Spider Woman, starring Burt Lancaster. The actor was in attendance at the event, and Thomas introduced him to Babenco. When Lancaster expressed interest, Babenco assumed he was disingenuous, but promised to send him a copy of the novel. Several days later, Lancaster’s assistant telephoned Babenco to make sure Kiss of the Spider Woman was in the mail, and the director sent it right away. The two met in the coming weeks at the New York Critics’ award ceremony, and Lancaster committed to the role of “Luis Molina.”
       Babenco met American producer David Weisman in early 1982 through a mutual friend to discuss bringing “Latin American magical realism” into the mainstream, as noted in Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman. Although Lancaster was attached to Kiss of the Spider Woman, giving it built in marketability, the novel’s untraditional narrative made it a challenge to adapt, and its homosexual theme was perceived as a detriment to attracting widespread audiences. Babenco, who was an expatriate in Brazil at that time, feared a xenophobic backlash against the production for casting American actors. Additional obstacles to the production included Manuel Puig’s antagonism toward Babenco; he did not like Pixote, and suspected the director was an “opportunist.”
       Babenco continued to develop the property despite the author’s misgivings, and attracted potential investors, including German filmmaker Frank Ripploh. Richard Gere was set to play “Valentin Arregui,” giving the production further box-office credibility, as stated in the Boston Globe. New York City socialite “Baby” Jane Holzer, who appeared in several Andy Warhol films and was an acquaintance of David Weisman, agreed to finance initial production costs, and Leonard Schrader, who had collaborated with his brother, Paul Schrader, on The Yakuza (1975, see entry), was hired to write the script. However, Babenco remained wary of anglicizing the source material, and was relieved by the casting of Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia, who replaced Richard Gere.
       Meanwhile, rumors circulated in the press that Lancaster had a penchant for cross-dressing, and Babenco attempted to dispel the scandal at the Cannes Film Festival by telling a French gay tabloid that he did not know Lancaster was homosexual when he was cast in Kiss of the Spider Woman. Although Babenco intended to imply that Lancaster was not gay, and his sexual orientation had nothing to do with the actor’s involvement with the film, his statement was taken out of context when it was published, and prompted further inquisition into Lancaster’s personal life. This, along with Lancaster’s advancing age, and a heart bypass operation in Apr 1983, caused the production to be delayed, and the filmmakers turned to William Hurt as a replacement. The morning after Hurt consented to the role, Weisman and Babenco met with independent producer Ray Stark, whose company, Rastar, had been acquired by Columbia Pictures. Stark agreed to take on the project at that time, but neither he nor Columbia are credited onscreen.
       Principal photography began 13 Oct 1983 in São Paulo, Brazil, as noted in a 29 Dec 1983 DV article. Hurt and Julia had agreed to work for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) pay scale, and deferred the greater portion of their salaries for a profit-share in the sale of the film’s distribution rights, as well as its box-office gross. While Babenco and Weisman were also working for the same “deferred investment plan,” other players, including actress Sonia Braga, opted to be paid upfront. The picture’s expected $1.5 million budget was financed in part by Brazil’s Embrafilme, which purchased Brazilian distribution rights for $160,000. Below-the-line expenses were raised by Babenco’s H. B. Filmes, and international production services were funded by Weisman’s Sugarloaf Films, Inc. The crew was mainly Brazilian, accompanied by several “Argentine-born craftsmen,” as stated in DV. Rehearsals took place in a São Paulo prison that had been vacated in the wake of riots, and sets were constructed at Vera Cruz Studios, which had been abandoned due to bankruptcy.
       Over one year later, a 1 Apr 1985 LAT news item stated that post-production had recently completed, and the 8 Apr 1985 Boston Globe added that the film was set to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 13 May 1985 as a Brazilian entry. One week passed, and a 21 May 1985 Chicago Tribune article announced that William Hurt had been named Best Actor at Cannes. At that time, Island Alive paid $1 million for distribution rights, according to the 28 Jul 1985 Boston Globe.
       Kiss of the Spider Woman was nominated for three Academy Awards in the following categories: Directing, Writing (Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium), and Best Picture. William Hurt won an Academy Award for Actor in Leading Role. According to Manuel Puig and the Spider Woman, Hurt’s honor represented the first time an Academy Award had been “won by an American for the portrayal of a homosexual.” The picture was reportedly the “first independent film to receive four Oscar nominations,” and was the first independent production to be nominated for Best Picture.
       Kiss of the Spider Woman was adapted into a musical which premiered on Broadway in 1993, music by John Kander and Fred Ebb, book by Terrence McNally.
       End credits state: “Filmed at TVC Studio/Vera Cruz/Sao Paulo”; “Special thanks: Burt Lancaster, Peter Dekom, Michael Black, Gene Parseghian, Jeffrey Hunter, Fabiano Canosa”; and, “Acknowledgements: Maggie Curran, Ben Benjamin, Chieko Schrader, Mata Yamamoto, Walter Teller, Kathy Hallberg, Nelson Lyon, Jolie Chain, Bruce Markoe, Donna Gigliotti, Cary Brokaw, Russell Schwartz, Jeff Young, Larry Sugar, Joel Papernik, Bruce Feldman.”

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Boston Globe
8 Apr 1985
p. 20
Boston Globe
28 Jul 1985
Section A, p. 1
Chicago Tribune
21 May 1985
---
Daily Variety
29 Dec 1983
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
14 May 1985
p. 3, 72
Los Angeles Times
1 Apr 1985
p. 2
Los Angeles Times
23 Aug 1985
p. 1, 13
New York Times
26 Jul 1985
p. 5
Variety
15 May 1985
p. 14
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Independent Cinema Restoration Archive presents
A Film By Hector Babenco
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr, United States
Prod mgr, Brazil
Asst dir, Brazil
Asst dir, Brazil
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Asst cam, Brazil
Asst cam, Brazil
2d unit cam, Brazil
Gaffer, Brazil
Grip, Brazil
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
Asst art dir, Brazil
Asst art dir, Brazil
Asst art dir, Brazil
Asst art dir, Brazil
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Addl ed, United States
Post prod coord
Asst ed, United States
Negative cutter, United States
SET DECORATORS
Props
COSTUMES
Cost des
Dressmaker
Dressmaker
Miss Braga's dressmaker
MUSIC
[Mus] In assoc with
Mus score rec at
SOUND
Supv sd ed, United States
Sd ed, United States
Sd ed, United States
Sd ed, United States
Sd ed, United States
ADR ed, United States
Asst sd ed, United States
Foley mixer, United States
Foley mixer, United States
Re-rec mixer, United States
Re-rec mixer, United States
Re-rec mixer, United States
Re-rec at, United States
Re-rec at, United States
Sd engineer, Brazil
VISUAL EFFECTS
Optical dir, United States
Main title sequence des by
Opticals
DANCE
Mr. Hurt's choreog
MAKEUP
Hairdresser
Miss Braga's makeup
Miss Braga's hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Post prod facilities, United States
Unit pub, United States
Asst to the prod
Project development in assoc with, United States
Prod and post prod services, United States
Prod assoc, United States
Prod assoc, United States
Prod assoc, United States
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Prod asst, Brazil
Scr supv, Brazil
Asst to Mr. Hurt
Asst to Mr. Julia
Accountant
COLOR PERSONNEL
Timer, United States
Color, United States
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel El beso de la mujer araña by Manuel Puig (Barcelona, 1976).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
SONGS
"Je Me Moque De L'Amour," lyrics by Manuel Puig and Dave Weisman.
SONGWRITER/COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
26 July 1985
Premiere Information:
Cannes Film Festival premiere: 13 May 1985; New York opening: 26 Jul 1985; Los Angeles opening: 23 Aug 1985
Production Date:
began 13 Oct 1983
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Island Alive
4 March 1986
PA293687
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
119
MPAA Rating:
R
Countries:
Brazil, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

In a Latin American prison, an effeminate window dresser named Luis Molina recites the story of his favorite movie to his cellmate, Valentin Arregui, a bold and austere political prisoner. Molina embellishes the romance to escape the brutality of prison life, describing a torrid WWII love affair between a French chanteuse, Leni Lamaison, and a German captain named Werner. As Molina describes Leni’s conflict between passion and conscience, Arregui protests that the film is Nazi propaganda. Molina’s homosexuality, and his sentimental interpretation of fascist cinema, are repulsive to Arregui, but the two begin to develop an unlikely friendship. Arregui admits his concern that the warden has stopped his interrogation, and fears officials will go after his girl friend for intelligence. Molina reveals that he was imprisoned for seducing a minor, and longs for a world in which he is free to love without persecution. One day, Molina is called to the warden, and reports back to Arregui that his mother is ill with a weak heart. He fears his transgression has caused her to suffer, and may precipitate her death. When the men are provided food trays with disproportionate servings, Arregui insists that Molina take the larger portion. As he reluctantly eats, Molina encourages his cellmate to write a letter to his girl friend, but Arregui does not wish to expose her to the government, and refuses to mention her name. Referring to the brutality of his captors, Arregui questions why they have kept him alive, and believes they are developing sinister new tactics to induce his confession. Impressed by Arregui’s dedication to his girl friend, Molina cries ...

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In a Latin American prison, an effeminate window dresser named Luis Molina recites the story of his favorite movie to his cellmate, Valentin Arregui, a bold and austere political prisoner. Molina embellishes the romance to escape the brutality of prison life, describing a torrid WWII love affair between a French chanteuse, Leni Lamaison, and a German captain named Werner. As Molina describes Leni’s conflict between passion and conscience, Arregui protests that the film is Nazi propaganda. Molina’s homosexuality, and his sentimental interpretation of fascist cinema, are repulsive to Arregui, but the two begin to develop an unlikely friendship. Arregui admits his concern that the warden has stopped his interrogation, and fears officials will go after his girl friend for intelligence. Molina reveals that he was imprisoned for seducing a minor, and longs for a world in which he is free to love without persecution. One day, Molina is called to the warden, and reports back to Arregui that his mother is ill with a weak heart. He fears his transgression has caused her to suffer, and may precipitate her death. When the men are provided food trays with disproportionate servings, Arregui insists that Molina take the larger portion. As he reluctantly eats, Molina encourages his cellmate to write a letter to his girl friend, but Arregui does not wish to expose her to the government, and refuses to mention her name. Referring to the brutality of his captors, Arregui questions why they have kept him alive, and believes they are developing sinister new tactics to induce his confession. Impressed by Arregui’s dedication to his girl friend, Molina cries about his failure to find love, and remembers a waiter with whom he was infatuated. Molina becomes violently ill, and convalesces in the infirmary. When he returns to the cell, Arregui suffers the same symptoms and realizes the food has been poisoned. Molina insists on calling the guards for help, but Arregui protests, knowing that he will be drugged to reveal the identities of his fellow revolutionaries. In his delirium, Arregui utters the name “Marta,” and Molina returns to narrating his favorite movie, hoping it will assuage his pain. As Arregui awakens, he soils himself with diarrhea, and Molina cleans the mess. Grateful for Molina’s care, Arregui lets down his guard and allows him to read a letter from his girl friend, whom he now identifies as Lidia. However, Molina inquires about the mysterious Marta. Shocked by Molina’s knowledge of her name, Arregui admits he is still entranced by his former lover, Marta, even though she is from an upper-class family, and his association with the bourgeoisie makes him a hypocrite to the revolution. Marta asked him to leave the rebels, but his friends were being abducted, and he agreed to a mission in which he gave his passport to an elderly dissident, codenamed “Dr. Americo.” After the transaction, Arregui was arrested and tortured, but he did not succumb to the inquisition. He admits he does not want to die, and begs Molina to protect him. Sometime later, Molina is called back to meet with the warden and his henchman, Pedro, who have promised to reduce Molina’s sentence if he spies on his cellmate. They demand to know the name of Arregui’s girl friend, and the identity of the prison’s new inmate, but Molina remains mum, pointing out that the captive’s face has been concealed by a hood. Molina, who knew all along about the poisoned food, insists he is ignorant about Arregui’s revolution, and is relieved to learn that his mother’s health has improved. He arranges to bring groceries back to the cell, claiming the gift will help maintain the charade that he is being visited by his mother. Molina hopes the delicacies will restore Arregui’s health. After the feast, Molina finishes telling the story of the movie, and Arregui hears the new prisoner’s moans. Looking through the bars of their cell, he sees that the inmate’s shroud has been removed, and identifies the captive as Dr. Americo, the man who received his passport. The next morning, Arregui is enraged to learn that Americo was killed, and lashes out at Molina. Later, Molina returns to the cell with more groceries, and Arregui apologizes. In another visit to the warden, Molina insists he is making progress, but continues to conceal the names Arregui provided. Hoping to secure his own emancipation, Molina argues that Arregui will reveal his secrets if he knows they will part ways, and the warden grants him parole in twenty-four hours. Back in the cell, Molina despairs his release, claiming that he will remain spiritually imprisoned in a society that castigates his sexual orientation. Arregui consoles his friend, and asks to hear the story of another movie. Molina narrates the cinematic tale of a woman who is trapped on a desert island, entangled by a spider web that grows from her body. One day, a man washes ashore, and she nurses him back to life. Explaining that the heroine is anguished by desire, Molina admits his love for Arregui. The revolutionary wishes to express gratitude for Molina’s compassion, and fulfills his longing to make love. The next day, Molina does not want to leave, but Arregui sees his liberation as an opportunity to communicate with the revolution, and asks him to deliver a telephone message. Molina refuses, and requests a parting token of tenderness that they did not share the night before: A kiss. Arregui begs Molina to stand up for himself in the outside world, and to never submit to degradation. Molina vows to make the call, and they kiss. As Molina bids his beloved farewell, Arregui whispers a telephone number and message in his ear. Molina makes a tepid reentry into civilian life, unaware that he is being followed by Pedro, the warden’s henchman. A few days later, Molina makes the call, and is ordered to meet the revolutionaries in person. He hesitantly agrees, despite the danger, and plans to disappear afterward. Molina clears his bank account, and asks a friend to deliver the package of cash to his mother. In a crowded city plaza, Molina heads to the meeting place and realizes he is being trailed by Pedro. As he approaches the revolutionaries’ car, a young woman introduces herself as Arregui’s girl friend, Lidia. However, she sees Pedro, suspects Molina of being an informant, and shoots him in the chest. While the rebels speed away, Pedro pulls Molina into his vehicle and holds him at gunpoint, ordering him to reveal the telephone number, but Molina dies, and his body is dumped in a trash heap. Back in prison, Arregui is tortured. A medic takes pity and secretly injects him with a painkiller. As Arregui loses consciousness, he is visited by Marta. She guides him out of the prison, and leads him to the desert island in Molina’s imaginary movie.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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