Welcome to Screen Gems, our weekend dive into queer and queer-adjacent titles of the past that deserve a watch or a re-watch.
The Tribute: Kiss of the Spider Woman
The world lost a great actor with the passing of William Hurt last week. Hurt, known for his roles in The Big Chill, Children of a Lesser God, Body Heat, and Broadcast News had proven himself one of America’s most reliable talents. He also made history as one of the few actors to score a trifecta of Best Actor Oscar nominations in three consecutive years.
For Hurt at his best, and for one of the most debated queer characters in the history of movies, we look toward his Oscar-winning performance in 1985’s Kiss of the Spider Woman. The film, based on Manuel Puig’s novel, details the relationship between cellmates in a Brazillian prison. Valentin (the great Raul Julia, another actor gone too soon) lands himself in jail for his work as a Marxist insurrectionist. Luis (Hurt) had sex with an underage boy.
Much of the plot focuses on the conflict between the pair. Valentin despises Luis’ effeminacy and flamboyance, as well as his apolitical attitudes. Luis, by contrast, finds Valentin boorish and culturally ignorant. The two find an odd way to bond: Valentin pines for his girlfriend Marta, and Luis uses knowledge of the movies to spin tales of Valentin & Marta on romantic adventures together. The fantasies of Marta come to sustain the prisoners as their imaginations give them hope for life outside the prison walls.
Critics, and even the original novelist Manuel Puig (who was gay) identified Luis Molina as a homosexual; Puig spent long passages of the book defending homosexuality as a healthy sexual orientation.
We have to wonder if Puig also stumbled onto something more complicated. Throughout the film, Luis uses she/her pronouns to self-describe. Moreover, the character’s use of make-up and feminine clothing suggest Luis might actually be better described as a transgender woman. That elusive question only adds a layer of interest to the character today. Indeed, it seems that the imaginary character of Marta represents different ideals to Valentin and Luis. Valentin sees her as an ideal mate. Luis sees her as an ideal self. No wonder the two prisoners fall in love.
Audiences today might wish Kiss of the Spider Woman had a more specific, modern take on Luis’ gender identity and sexuality. For our part, we like the vagueries. The character of Luis reminds gay and trans viewers of their common history as queer people. The film itself also begs questions about Valentin’s sexual fluidity; has he fallen in love with Luis, or just an idea the pair have created? If Hurt gets all the praise for his work in Kiss of the Spider Woman, Julia doesn’t get enough. Both actors give sensational performances here.
Kiss of the Spider Woman raises all these questions and more, as well as features two remarkable performances at its center. To understand its place in queer cinema history, and to understand what the world lost with the passing of Hurt and Julia, give it a watch. Prepare to get stuck in this spiderweb.
Streams on YouTube.
” Luis might actually be better described as a transgender woman.”
Ah, looking at with century movies through 21st century eyes.
If you’ve read Kiss of the Spider Woman, it’s clear that Luis is a supposed to be an extremely effeminate gay man who heavily identifies with female characters, icons and mythological figures like the eponymous Spider Woman. He/she is not “trans” as we know it, though non-binary would probably be more appropriate. Puig does defend homosexuality in the novel–and depicts it in all of his other works, which I recommend–but Luis is in jail for having had sex with an underage boy, which conflates homosexuality and pedophilia, which I find really awful.
Also: William Hurt was a great actor, but his ex Marlee Matlin claimed that he violently raped and beat her. He never denied it but instead said they had apologized to each other over this and other incidents.
Last point: “Vagueries” isn’t a word in English. Perhaps you mean either “vagueness” (or “ambiguity”) or “vagaries”? If you’re not sure about a word just run it through “OneLook” online; you get pretty much all the English language dictionaries that exist.
@ Cam / Kangol2 / whoever you are posting as today:
I just knew you’d elevate the nastiest thing you could find. But seriously, trying to cancel a dead person is morbid – but it is your brand.
RIP William Hurt.
@RonBobo, it should be clear to anyone reading that I am not Cam, do not write like him/them, and have a completely different perspective, but having said that, you really ought to look in the mirror. You get on here, on your high horse, and criticize others for namecalling, attacks, etc., and yet the minute you read anything you dislike, you engage in the very same thing.
Hypocrite, thy name is RonBobo!
If you read my comment you would see that I like Manuel Puig’s work (have you ever read it?), I have thoughts about the gender identity of the Luis character (have you ever watched the film?), I made a factual comment about William Hurt’s past relationship (clearly this enraged you), and I corrected a word error in the article. If you can’t deal with that, then don’t read my comments and in general, Gurl, BYE!
Furthermore, RonBobo, please learn to READ:
I wrote: “Also: William Hurt was a great actor, but his ex Marlee Matlin claimed that he violently raped and beat her. He never denied it but instead said they had apologized to each other over this and other incidents.”
If stating a known fact–that his ex said he raped her–is the “nastiest thing” I could say, then you are really out of your damned mind! Like I said, Gurl, BYE!
The only possible excuse for bringing up Hurt’s obvious emotional problems is to illustrate that the most talented people are often trainwrecks when it comes to their personal lives. Expecting artists to be conventionally moral and politically correct role models (and canceling them when they aren’t) is the downside of the MeToo movement. It’s sad to see it’s infected gay culture when we were once the go-to guys when it came to knowledge about the arts.
As to whether Hurt’s “Spiderwoman” character, Luis, was transgender, I’d agree that “nonbinary,” at least as I understand it, is closer. When I see nonbinary “influencers” like Jeffrey Marsh on Youtube, they remind me of extremely effeminate gay men like Luis that I knew in the past. These guys were extremely narcissistic, and dressed for attention attractive or not. Gender Ideology wasn’t around back then, so these “almost drag queens” didn’t claim to be actual women, but like Luis, they assembled a female personality stitched together out of old black-and-white movies and lived it.
Regardless, you couldn’t write this story today about a gender-nonconforming male imprisoned for sex with a minor and not expect getting the J. K. Rowling treatment.
I can always tell when some little plot of yours has failed or you are getting furious that your trolling under multiple screenames gets call out.
When that happens, you always try for a short time the tactic of trying to call others out as a troll because you keep getting exposed as one.
I love to see it, because it means that your attempts to amplify anti-LGBTQ hatred and bigotry have been failing.
Your failure is as delicious as your trolling is sad and weak.
Cam et all. It’s odd that you share the same IP Address with so many “room mates”. Each of you make the same grammatical errors. Each share the same opinions. Each tries to make enemies.
Grammarly scores Kangol2 and Cam at 82% match on grammar, spell checking and plagiarism.
I am not intending to start a fight here but merely pointing out a fact. If we were to adhere to the argument that only gay actors/actresses play gay roles, we would have been deprived of this brilliant performance by Hurt. Just saying.
I agree with you. An actors job is to become the character they are hired to play. It’s why they are called actors. They act like the person in the story. There are so many stories I would like to see, but lately they are being denied do to people protesting. I want to see the story, may the best actor act in them. If it doesn’t work then you can protest.
Absolutely. As is often and truly stated,gay men have been playing str8 for decades. A bit of turnabout should not be a problem for us.
@leo Yeah, but those gay men playing str8 for decades were most likely to be closet cases.
As reported by Queerty recently, Harry Hamlin still blames his taking a gay role in “Making Love” (1982) for ruining his career. But Hurt took this role only three years later, won Best Actor for it, and had many hit movies afterward.