Tag Archive: Raul Julia


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In 1986, William Hurt (One True Thing) won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Luis Molina, a flamboyantly homosexual prisoner serving time in an Argentinian prison, in the film Kiss of the Spider Woman. Along with the novel by Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman became an important entry in the canon of LGBT cinema. Though there is no denying the bravura ferocity of William Hurt’s performance and commitment to his role, as viewed through a modern lens, this film’s characterization of homosexuality borders almost on camp caricature, and were the novel not written by a gay man, it would almost be offensive.

Imprisoned for having sexual relations with an underage prostitute, Luis Molina is toiling away his days in a horrifically managed prison overflowing with petty thieves and political prisoners of the oppressive Argentinian regime. Molina passes his time by recounting the details of his favorite movies to his roommate, Valentin Arregui (The Addams Family‘s Raul Julia), a hardened Marxist political prisoner. As Molina tells Valentin of a favorite German romance (that also happens to be a Nazi propaganda film), the pair become closer despite their differences although betrayal and lies threaten to undo the fabric of their new relationship.

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An evening of sleep removed from my viewing of Kiss of the Spider Woman and I still can’t decide whether or not William Hurt’s performance is brilliant or extraordinarily offensive to the modern LGBT community. It’s probably both. He loses himself in the role. Hurt is a famously intense character actor, and it shows in this performance. There isn’t a second where he isn’t Molina. But, the writing of Molina is so flamboyant and stereotypically “camp gay” that it’s hard for me to take him seriously. So, William Hurt becomes this wounded, sensitive, desperately lonely man, but the writing of his character often turns Molina more into a stereotype than a real man.

I have no complaints about the characterization of Valentin Arregui or the performance of Raul Julia. In fact, I was actually far more impressed with Julia’s subtle, restrained intensity as Valentin than I was with the over-the-top (though in line with the character) camp of William Hurt. Valentin is a man consumed by anger and his political passions. But, he is also a lover. He misses his girlfriends. He misses his freedoms, and he respects the openness with which Molina lives his life. And Raul Julia captures the slowly eroding layer of toughness and hatred that are all Valentin seems to be when the film opens as he becomes more sensitive in the shadow of Molina.

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Kiss of the Spider Woman can be heartrendingly intimate. Though it may not have the sheer power of Sunday Bloody Sunday or A Single Man, the film paints a detailed portrait of the lives and loves of its two heroes. And through the unique framing device of the film within the film, Kiss of the Spider Woman is allowed to weave a symbolic and allegorical web (pun possibly intended; I’m not sure) rife with the angst and longing both our heroes feel so deeply. The film accomplishes so much with the mostly two-star set up, that the moments where the film strays and introduces other characters actually living in Molina and Valentin’s real world (as opposed to the Nazi film characters) seem woefully deficient compared to the relationship of Molina and Valentin.

I’m going to keep this review really short (though I swear I enjoyed it quite a bit) because I have some other things that I need to write about today. I want to apply for a fellowship, and I’ve sort of realized that I haven’t worked on any of my screenplays for nearly two months now if not longer. It’s time to remedy that. If you enjoy intimate character studies and important films in the LGBT canon, Kiss of the Spider Woman is a must see. The ending drags on a little too long, and not every scene winds up winning (and Molina’s campiness may be a turn-off to some), but for the 1980s, this film was remarkably prescient and insightful.

Final Score: B+

For readers that aren’t familiar with me in person, I originally come from a small town called Philippi in West Virginia. Besides being home of one of the first (if not the first according to some historians) land battles (more like a skirmish) of the Civil War, one of our only other claims to fame is that we are the home town of Ted Cassidy, the actor who played Lurch on the original The Addams Family television program. Of course, The Addams Family franchise (originally based off of cartoons) got a modern face-lift in the early 90’s for two live action films. The first film ended up on my list for this blog because Anjelica Huston got a Golden Globe nomination for her portrayal of Addams family matriarch Morticia, and while it’s not one of the best films I’ve watched so far, it was a fun nostalgic trip back to my childhood because I’m fairly certain that I haven’t watched this movie since I was in elementary school (I turn 23 in 17 days to put this into perspective).

In The Addams Family movie, the creepy and spooky (but endlessly wealthy) Addams family live in their decrepit mansion. Gomez Addams (a delightfully over-the-top Raul Julia) adores his pale-skinned and nearly vampiric wife Morticia (Anjelica Huston) as well as his homicidal children Wednesday (a very young Christina Ricci) and Pugsley. When the family’s lawyer sells the family out to a conniving loan shark, the loan shark comes up with a plan to plant a fake Uncle Fester (Christopher Lloyd) in the household, as the real Fester has been missing for 25 years. Is this Fester look-alike, named Gordan, the real deal and if not, how far will he go to steal from these bizarre but otherwise genial inhabitants of a world far more surreal than our own.

I don’t know how to fill out this review. It’s essentially what you remember from the TV program although a little darker and more explicit perhaps. Pugsley and Wednesday repeatedly try and fail to kill one another. The scene at the school play where they enact Shakespeare and cover the audience in a Tarantino-esque geyser of fake blood was one of the film’s highlights. Raul Julia was brilliantly cast as Gomez. He looks like Clark Gable, swash-buckles like Errol Flynn, and chews the scenery until there’s nothing left. Anjelica Huston is one of the all-time greats for female actresses and she too inhabits Morticia well. I was actually sort of into her whole Elmyra, Mistress of the Dark thing she had going on this film and I’m not normally into the goth look at all. Christina Ricci was just a child when this movie was being made, but this is what made her mark and launched her to a very successful career as a child actress and she’s continuing to find work as an adult. Even as a kid, she had a very dry and deadpan sense of humor. Christopher Lloyd is a comedy legend, and while this wasn’t a Doc Brown caliber role, he made it work.

I enjoyed the movie. The way that it showed how their brand of strangeness and darkness would translate in a real world environment garnered some laughs during the final act even if the film often suffered from some pacing problems. Despite only being an hour and forty minutes long, it felt much longer. If you’re fans of great costume work and set direction, this film is a delight (and received an Oscar nod for Costume Design), and while Tim Burton wasn’t involved with the production of this film, it certainly feels like a film that could have fit in within the Tim Burton canon of movies like Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands (although obviously not as good or sharp as those films). If you were a fan of the cartoon or the TV series (or are just a fan of the weird and darkly stylistic Tim Burton films I mentioned), do yourself a favor and watch The Addams Family. It won’t change your life by any means, but it will be a fun and entertaining diversion for a slow afternoon.

Final Score: B