Review: ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ Collector’s Edition DVD set

As the first independent film to be nominated in all the major award categories at the Academy Awards you would imagine that Kiss of the Spider Woman would be a staple on film connoisseurs’ shelves. However, since its theatrical release in 1985 this film has yet to be available for home viewing. Luckily, you can finally toss away your faded VHS bootleg and clutch the long awaited two-disc DVD Collector’s Edition of this award-winning film.

The film, based on a novel by Manuel Puig, follows two men locked in a Latin American prison together. One has been incarcerated for political crimes and the other for a sex crime. The political prisoner, Valentin (Raul Julia), goes through a gamut of physical and mental tortures as he lives in frustration that his sole companion is an eccentric lovesick homosexual named Molina (William Hurt). To pass the time they recollect the glamorous movies Molina has seen and slowly establish a friendship that approaches the edge of romance. The ending seems to be a sticking point for some critics but I thought it was a truly fitting conclusion that brought the various story and character elements together wonderfully.

The story is unraveled in a very creative manner as the movies within the movie parallel the character development being portrayed with mastery by William Hurt (who won Best Actor Oscar in 1985) and Raul Julia. William Hurt’s character is one of the better constructed gay characters ever put on film and while his character was often flamboyant he was never a caricature of a gay man. Raul Julia once again makes me wish he hadn’t died so young, especially considering that his great career ended regrettably with his portrayal M. Bison in the live-action Street Fighter movie. The film also features the enchanting Sonia Braga who appears in all of Molina’s stories and also plays Valentin’s girlfriend whose life is in danger outside the prison.

The cinematography and direction excels in this film as the jail cell takes on more and more personality even when set against the fantastical décor of Molina’s movie fantasies. Director Hector Babenco makes good use of long takes to capitalize on the actors extensive rehearsing as scenes run long and deep. I found myself really enjoying the scenes outside of the jail cell which helps you appreciate why the characters are trying so hard to escape in their minds from the horrors of prison.

This is a true art house film with a lot of deep introspection and character study. I imagine it wouldn’t be for everyone but if you enjoyed a lot of the early 90’s indie hits like sex, lies, and videotape and The Crying Game you should investigate this film.

Packaging: I love the cover artwork and they include a nice slipcase. My only complaint is that the insert detailing the features on the back of the DVD is not attached.  When you remove the shrink wrap, the insert falls off and you have to keep it inside the DVD case.

Features: The extra in this set are top notch.  They clearly put a lot of production value into the featurettes. The first disc really only includes a trivia track which serves as an interesting alternative to an audio commentary, I haven’t decided yet if I like it or not. The second disc is chock full of features to choose from in addition to the obligatory photo gallery and press kit. Included is a feature on each iteration of Kiss of the Spider Woman, which includes the book, the Broadway musical and the film. I actually found the feature length documentary on the film almost as fascinating as the movie itself.  It details the development of many of the elements we seen every year in current Indie filmmaking, such as actors working for scale and finessing the buzz at festivals like Cannes. As a bonus, if the film went entirely over your head you can watch the feature on the book adaptation which is like an idiot’s guide to understanding the higher concepts of the film.

Product Details

Disc 1

  • Feature with optional Trivia Track in English or Spanish – 120 Min
  • Original Theatrical Trailer
  • Optional Dubbing or Subtitles in Spanish or French

Disc 2

  • Tangled Web: Making Kiss of the Spider Woman – 108 Min
  • Manuel Puig Mini-Documentary: The Submissive Woman’s Role – 9 Min
  • Spider Woman on Broadway – 11 Min
  • Slide Show Commentary: Transition from Novel to Film – 36 Min
  • Photo Gallery