Thursday, 22 May 2014

Chapter 7 - Kiss of the Spider Woman

We were scrabbling around for loose change when the collection came round in the school service, in church, this morning.  "There goes my last quid" said the friend next to me.  "That'll be the widow's mite" I quipped.  Widow.  Black widow.  Kiss of the Spider Woman.  Sideshow in a travelling circus?  Next blog theme...?

I am fascinated by the figure of the black widow or Spider Woman, daughters of Tolkien's Shelob, or Aragog in Harry Potter.   Descendents of the Medusa archetype, spin-offs you could say.   The serpent-headed lady whose gaze will turn you to stone, or the spider-lady who immobilises you in her web.  Same difference.  It strikes me that the process of blogging and tweeting is rather like throwing out a web, to see what catches.

Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman is stunning.  Banned in the 70s, released again in the 80s, I came across it in the 90s, and it doesn't age. Set against the back-drop of the Argentine military dictatorship it concerns the intimate relationship between Valentín, the self-declared macho Marxist and his gay cell-mate, Molina stuck in a prison in Buenos Aires.  They escape the relentless threat of torture hanging over them through talking.  Valentín discusses his past and his hopes for a better future, all power to the people, while Molina spins another tale. He recounts scenes from old films in such detail and so vividly  that slowly but surely, Valentín is drawn into his web of fantasy, reliving the glory days of bye-gone glamour.   Like journeying from Sing Sing to Shangri- La. It's a raw, tender and ultimately heart-breaking read.  

The novel opens with Molina's description of a scene from the 1940s film "Cat People".  We are invited to gaze at a beautiful girl, an artist, sketching a black panther at the zoo. There is obviously a connection between this beauty and the beast. The girl is, she believes, descended from a Serbian race of Cat People who transform into large cats when sexually aroused ...  Femme fatale. Film noir.  Classic.

As well as being made into a film, winning William Hurt an Oscar, Kiss of the Spider Woman was also a Broadway musical sensation, by the writers of Cabaret and Chicago, which conveniently dovetails with the singing bearded ladies from the previous chapter. Haven't listened to the soundtrack for years, but listening now to it on YouTube as I write, am reminded it has some killer tunes and lethal lyrics.  Blue bloods, Morphine Tango, Over the Wall ...

If all this talk of spiders freaks you out, I recommend Friendly Spider Programme at London Zoo.  Caitlin Moran was writing about it in The Times the other day, and a friend that has been on it as well says it works wonders.  I'm going to take the kids in the summer holidays.  And a sketchbook, of course.

(photo:  at Secret Cinema's screening of Casablanca)

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