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Kiss of the Spider Woman(1985)
Two very different men are cell mates in a Brasilian prison; Luis Molina is a gay window- dresser jailed on a morals charge, while Valentin is a left-wing journalist accused of subversive revolutionary activities. To escape reality, Molina re-enacts a melodramatic film, impersonating its glamorous, but politically dubious heroine. Valentin's machismo and political convictions at first make him suspicious of Molina, but he gradually succumbs to his cell mate's kindness, and the two men develop a bond of friendship and respect for their sexual and social differences.
For more about Kiss of the Spider Woman and the Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray release, see Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray Review published by Lindsay Mayer on September 15, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Hector Babenco
Writer: Leonard Schrader
Starring: William Hurt, Raul Juliá, Sonia Braga, Jose Lewgoy, Nuno Leal Maia, Milton Gonçalves
» See full cast & crew
Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Lindsay Mayer, September 15, 2008
At first, the dramatic film Kiss of the Spider Woman looks like something of a generic "odd couple" story. Based on the 1976 novel by Argentine author Manuel Puig, the film depicts two polar opposite men, confined in a jail cell together and, at first, barely tolerating one another's presence. But Spider Woman, with its intricate web-like structure and observations of societal issues on a much larger scale, is more substantial than its initial impressions might lead one to believe.
The structure of the story, both as a novel and a film, is somewhat unusual. The original book lacks any traditional narrative structure and exposition, consisting entirely of dialogue between the two inmates. Even the identity of the speaker is not indicated, requiring active participation of sorts from the reader. In the film, a "movie-within-a-movie" structure is utilized, as one character's recounting of a favorite film cuts back and forth between fantasy and reality. Often, this method is used when the characters are confined or restricted in some way in the "real world," as is the case with The Fall and El Laberinto del Fauno. Spider Woman is somewhat different in that, for the most part, the fantasy and reality do not mesh or become confused with one another. In this case, the story of the film Her Real Glory is used purely for escapism and comfort.
The film, directed by Argentine-born director Hector Babenco, takes place in a small, grimly-lit cell within a Brasilian prison complex. At first, one only hears the dreamy, effeminate voice of Luis Molina (William Hurt), lost in his own recounts of a favorite romantic tale. He describes a woman of incomparable beauty - a cabaret starlet by the name of Leni Lamaison. Molina soon goes into too graphic a detail, however, and his cell mate growls at him to stop talking about pretty woman. This worn, hard-shelled individual is Valentin Arregui, played by the esteemed Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá. Both men are imprisoned for a substantial, even indefinite amount of time, though their crimes are nothing similar. Molina has been sentenced to eight years for "corruption of a minor." In plain English, the openly homosexual man had sex with an underage teen. Valentin, however, has been imprisoned for political crimes. Initially a journalist, Valentin became involved with a communist revolutionary group, resulting in his arrest and relentless torture for information by the prison warden. Perpetually weakened by his ordeals, and more loyal to his cause than ever, Valentin has become snide and utterly malcontent, shutting himself off even from his delicate cellmate.
Ever unwavering, Molina continues on with his tale of Leni, who is at a loss watching her beloved native France coming under Nazi occupation. Leni finds herself falling in love with a German commander, despite the deaths of friends and threats by French revolutionaries. Valentin quickly realizes that Her Real Glory is a Nazi propaganda film, and rounds on Molina like an angry wolverine, rebuking him for his ignorance in favoring such a story. Still, as loathe as he would be to admit it, Valentin became invested in the tale, and does not protest when Molina proceeds with his storytelling in the days after. The harshness of reality both disrupts and encourages further fantasy; the men's food has been poisoned, and while Molina is admitted and released from the medical wing, Valentin refuses aid because he knows the warden is trying to get him to reveal information about his group.
A further twist is added to the plight of the two men when Molina is revealed to the viewer to be a mole of sorts; originally placed with Valentin in order to gain information from him, Molina was promised a reduced parole. In the course of their relationship, and the subsequent softening of Valentin, however, Molina finds he has fallen in love with the man. Without either side suspecting him, Molina manages gain his parole without revealing information about Valentin. Once outside however, Molina is hollow and depressed. He does not find life worth much while Valentin suffers. In the end, both men sacrifice all for their cause - Valentin for his ideals, and Molina for love. Upon closer inspection, the two motives are really not all that different.
Kiss of the Spider Woman derives its namesake from the one story Molina does create himself within the film - an isolated and misunderstood character trapped by her own web on a remote island. She cares for a hapless castaway brought in with the tide, nursing him back to health. Being an original tale by Molina, it is clear he projects himself in the role of the forlorn spider woman. Adding a further dimension to the characters is Brasilian actress Sonia Braga, who plays the roles of Leni, the spider woman, and Valentin's love Marta at once. The characters are so transformative that I was initially unaware they were even the same woman. Molina's imagination and inventiveness with these characters are his defense against reality and his coping mechanism. A stark contrast with Valentin, who is so immersed in reality it ruins him. Ultimately, however, the men experience a sort of role reversal by the story's close, and Valentin finds peace in fantasy while Molina fully acknowledges and accepts the violent fate of reality.
The 1985 film went on to garner much acclaim that year; it won numerous accolades, including an Oscar, and was nominated for several more. It represented a pioneering trend in U.S. cinema - independent features were quite unheard of for such wide distribution in those days. Spider Woman was a key force in initiating the production of more films off the beaten path. The film's significance in film and sociology alike cannot be denied, and despite its unorthodox production, it has left an indelible impression in the 23 years since its release.
Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray, Video Quality
Kiss of the Spider Woman debuts on Blu-ray with an AVC encoding that averages about 25 Mbps. Despite a healthy bitrate and a fairly good amount of detail, the visual presentation is problematic. The source of the Blu-ray transfer is at times riddled with artifacts such as scratches and dirt flecks. Though not present throughout the film, these bits of debris are still quite noticeable when they do appear on the screen. Grain seems to be unaffected however, as the film carries a fine layer during playback. Much of the story takes place in a shadowy prison cell, and as such, the black levels are put to the test on this release. They come out well, with rich, dark levels that never overwhelm the characters or the meagerly dressed settings. The colors of Molina's flamboyant fashions stand out, with good tonal reproduction that provides a welcome contrast to the otherwise drab environment.
Another aspect of the film is the intentional softening of the segments filmed for Her Real Glory. In these sections, the characters have a blurry "halo" of sorts around the edges of their faces and clothes, affecting an old, badly-preserved film appearance, as well as that of something loosely recalled, as the story is by Molina. It represents a dream-like state, and is not a technical fault on the part of the transfer. Overall, the film has certainly never looked better, although its transfer flaws still leave something to be desired.
Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray, Audio Quality
With four audio tracks to choose from, Kiss of the Spider Woman is well-equipped to tell the story at hand, albeit with some confusing listings. One multichannel option is included - a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track in English. The other three are listed as "original mono," but are in fact a false two channel mono from the left and right speakers. With Spanish, French, and English options provided in this Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, one wonders why a Portuguese track was excluded from the Blu-ray. Spider Woman is, after all, a Brasilian film, directed by a Brasilian citizen who barely knew English at the time filming was to begin. The script was in fact written completely in Portuguese at one point, with the idea to hire on strictly Brasilian actors to play the parts. The lack of a Portuguese dub, or even subtitles, is a bit puzzling.
A dialogue-heavy film, Spider Woman's multichannel mix provides a satisfactory presentation, if a bit flat at times. Hardly a sound emanates from the back channels, and LFE is slim to nil. A lossless codec could have surely improved the sometimes murmuring conversations between Valentin and Molina - as it was, the subtitles were flipped on occasionally just to double check what was being said. The false mono tracks feel even further boxed in, but that is the natural consequence of such single channel mixes. Even for an introspective film like Kiss of the Spider Woman, a lossless audio track could work wonders. What is provided is sufficient for the storytelling, nevertheless.
Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
In lieu of a feature length audio commentary, Kiss of the Spider Woman provides a 1 hour and 48 minute making of documentary, entitled Tangled Web: Making Kiss of the Spider Woman. It chronicles the difficulties encountered before, during, and after the production of the film, which took those enchanted by the novel years to see it come to fruition. Author Manuel Puig initially refused to give over the rights to his work for film adaptation. Director Hector Babenco, passionate about the novel's story, began an odd bribing relationship of sorts with the author to entice him to relent, and in the course of doing so almost paralleled the story's characters. One closed off, gruff, and living a spartan existence, the other a creative spirit determined to pry the latter open and get him to see a different perspective. Traveling to Puig's hometown twice a week for years, Babenco would even purchase sorbets and ice cream for the author. Another bizarre facet of the tale is Burt Lancaster's two year involvement with the film. He was originally set to play the role of Luis Molina, but Lancaster gradually began to domineer the film's production, even demanding they use his own script, which was littered with bizarre changes that were completely unfit for the film's tone. Obviously, Lancaster was dropped, and William Hurt was brought on. His portrayal of Molina went over so well that he won an Oscar for his efforts, as well as several other acting awards.
Two alternate subtitle tracks exist alongside the lingual translations, a film Trivia Track in both English and Spanish. Relevant factoids about the film pop up throughout the feature, much of which seems to repeat the material discussed in Tangled Web. In addition to the feature-length documentary, three other featurettes are provided. Titled More Documentaries, the shortest is listed first. At 9 minutes, Manuel Puig: Secrets of the Spider Woman – The Submissive Woman's Role has Puig recalling gender roles in his society growing up, as well as how they are reflected in Valentin's machismo and Molina's compliance. Molina was first envisioned by the author as a woman, in fact. That the character is a gay man creates an undertone that is all the more substantial.
Kiss of the Spider Woman: Making the Musical is an 11 minute look at the success of the film sparking a musical stage adaptation. Though the production experienced some false starts, it went on to be just as acclaimed as the film, with numerous Tony awards to its name. Finally, Kiss of the Spider Woman: From Novel to Film is a 36 minute snoozefest. It feels like a flat presentation by a college freshmen, going through the plot step by step, rehearsing character lines, and occasionally throwing in an observation about the book's themes, or the character's motivations. Accompanied by a film slideshow of sorts, this featurette is better off skipped.
The Presskit section of the extras provides the original theatrical trailer and teaser in standard definition, as well as a brief segment containing excerpts from reviews upon the film's 1985 release, running at just under 3 minutes. Last, but not least, are Photo Galleries, divided loosely by theme. Here one can find Behind the Scenes material, as well as Costume Sketches by Patricio Bisso. Spider Island contains production photos of the location shoot for the spider woman's domain. Book Covers is a testament to the novel's worldwide popularity, as a myriad of samples from international publications are depicted here. The final section is Moments from the Film, showing a handful of production and promotional stills.
Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
With an engaging plot and fully realized, sympathetic characters, Kiss of the Spider Woman may feel like an "odd couple" film, but its themes and commentary run deeper than just that. It likely is a film that requires multiple viewings to pick up the full spectrum of characterization it undertakes. Significant as a pioneer in independent film presence in U.S. cinema, Spider Woman has left a tangible legacy even after nearly a quarter of a century since the film's debut. Though the picture quality is a bit lacking and the audio is no more than adequate, the film's presentation on a whole has never looked better, and the inclusion of an ample amount of extras rounds out the Blu-ray release as a fairly substantial package.
Kiss of the Spider Woman: Other Editions
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• Kiss of the Spider Woman Blu-ray Exclusively at Amazon - June 25, 2008
City Light Home Entertainment has announced that have partnered with Amazon.com to release the Oscar-nominated film 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' for Blu-ray on July 22nd, day-and-date with the DVD and digital releases. No technical specs or special feature have been ...
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