Monday, January 10, 2011

Kiss of the Spider Woman

The New Year brings ‘Oscar Fever’ when film buffs anticipate which actors and films (of 2010) will be nominated. On Sunday, January 9, 2011, at the Film Series “Developing Passions,” cosponsored by The Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society, Inc and The Humanities Institute at USF, I had the opportunity to revisit the 1985 film Kiss of the Spider Woman, nominated for Best Picture and Best Director and bestowing the Oscar on William Hurt for Best Actor. Kiss of the Spider Woman is set in a prison cell in South America where two men, one arrested for homosexual acts (Luis Molina/William Hurt), the other (Valentin Arregui/Raul Julia) a political prisoner, are, as clinical psychologist David Baker, PhD notes, transformed by one another. To pass the time, Luis weaves tales from old films he recalls and embellishes, tales disdained by Valentin for their bourgeois love and fascist propaganda. But in every tale Valentin imagines his wealthy, former lover Marta (Sonia Braga) as the heroine, Leni or the Spider Woman. The two men, at first so different, eventually reach a meeting of minds.

Discussant Silvio Gaggi, PhD described the use of meta-theater to highlight the characters, movies embedded in the movie, a stratification of visual images like Warhol’s Marilyn: a series of lithographs from a drawing from a photo from a negative. He noted the changing interplay of the two characters: who is the escapist, who the realist? David Baker, PhD described how film can be used to illuminate the unconscious, and how Kiss of the Spider Woman so aptly parallels the psychoanalytic situation (two people in a room together; both become observers of their lives, seeing things via the other that they might never have otherwise seen, and both are changed and grow). In Kiss of the Spider Woman, both men must step out of themselves and, more importantly, be affected-in a two person psychological process- by the other, to be transformed. Baker pointed out that beauty stems from imagination, not from linear thinking or from action, and that a sense of beauty is required for transformation. Love, he said, is an act of imagination, and imagining [the forward edge] something more for a patient moves the psychoanalytic process along.

Kiss of the Spider Woman was directed by Hector Babenco and adapted from Manuel Puig’s novel of the same name by Leonard Schrader.

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