Página 12, September 28, 2003

BÉSAME MUCHO

by Alan Pauls

English Translation by Elisa Carnelli

A traveler and a polyglot, the designer of the poster for Fellini’s  8½, the director of  Ciao Manhattan (underground classic on Edie Sedgwick, a major icon of the Warhol years) and the producer of Naked Tango (a trouble-ridden American recreation of the dissolute 1920’s in Buenos Aires), David Weisman is better known as the man who made Kiss of the Spider Woman possible, an Héctor Babenco film based on Manuel Puig’s novel and a multicultural experiment which paved the way for today’s “independent movies”. During his stay in Buenos Aires, where he interviewed friends and relatives of Puig’s for a documentary he is working on, Weisman recalled for RADAR his relationship with the Argentine writer, announced an unexpected scoop and thoroughly recreated the backstage of a mythical film which managed to flirt with catastrophe for two years, survive the unthinkable and even win an Academy Award.

 

They could have met in 1962 in Rome, where movies had taken them and where they both coincided – unknowingly - for a whole month. Manuel Puig was a thirty-year -old who by day languished as a student at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia and, by night, locked himself up in a rented room on Amerigo Vespucci Street and struggled with one of the many scripts he would leave unfinished, the story of a fascinating and neurotic woman who captivates a weak man and destroys him. Not far from there, David Weisman, a former arts student at the Syracuse University, was taking a test at the Cinecittá studios before a one-member jury – in fact, the only juror he was ready to render his soul to: Federico Fellini. The young Weisman had realized he had to go to Rome when, at the university theatre, he had seen the first shots of La dolce vita, a film that dazzled him and miraculously infused him with an instant mastery of Italian, not unlike the one he had over French thanks to Et Dieu créa la femme, the classic with Roger Vadim and Brigitte Bardot he had seen aboard the ship that took him from Canada to Denmark – at that time, the cheapest way for American students to get to Europe and one Weisman had managed to make more sophisticate by taking aboard the Triumph convertible – a replica of the one Marcello Mastroianni drives in La dolce vita – he had bought with his earnings as a cartoonist in Québec. And thus, in order to prove his graphic abilities, while Puig yawned at the Centro Sperimentale, Weisman had to sketch a portrait of Fellini right there, and put up with the fact that Fellini, indulging a habit of his youthful years, was himself caricaturing Weisman. Whether a duel or an exam, Weisman passed it and got his first job in the film industry: he had to design the poster for , the film Fellini had just finished shooting.


They did not meet on the following year either, when Weisman, an early but already incurable nomad, arrived in Buenos Aires, where he had relatives – in the 1920’s, a maternal uncle, Pinchos Borenstein, related to Tato Bores, had been a singer in the synagogue on Paso Street -, and wandered along Florida Street, where Pinchos had dropped dead in 1955, of a heart attack, while the Air Force bombed the Plaza de Mayo. Puig was not in Buenos Aires but in New York, working at the Air France counter.


But what neither the swinging Rome of ’62 nor the Buenos Aires of ’63 had succeeded in bringing about was accomplished 20 years later by the wild, monstrous Sao Pablo of September 1983. It was there, in the Maksoud Plaza Hotel suite he used as an office, that Héctor Babenco finally introduced Manuel Puig to David Weisman, and sealed an alliance which would give birth to a beautiful friendship and an atypical movie, alien to every production standard of the time, an undertaking that skirted catastrophe for two years, survived, succeeded, and is already a classic: Kiss of the Spider Woman.
Strictly speaking, when Weisman went into the Maksoud Plaza suite and found Puig (not Babenco) showing Sonia Braga how to play Leni, the singer in the nazi film included in Kiss… (“He was telling her to put her hands on her temples and think of a touch of liver”), the film was only in pre-production, although it had struggled for more than a year to be born and was so fraught with mishaps and setbacks that is seemed old. And Weisman, its producer, had endured them all.


Brazilian director Arnaldo Jabor had introduced him to Babenco at the beginning of 1982 in Los Angeles, where Babenco, while on promotion tour for the New York Critics’ Award winning film Pixote, was trying to sell some projects. One of them was an adventure movie set in the Amazon at the end of the 19th century, based on a novel by Marcio Souza. The other one was an adaptation of Puig’s novel Kiss of the Spider Woman, published in Spain in 1976 and translated into English in 1979. The trouble was, Babenco said, Puig refused to sell its screen rights. Weisman, who made up for Babenco’s poor English with an impeccable Portuguese learned from some Brazilian movie classic, had heard about Puig but had not read his novel. He listened most attentively to the “perfect summary” Babenco recited for him and, out of sheer malice, asked him which actors he imagined as the two characters Puig had decided to lock up in the same cell, Molina (the homosexual) and Valentín (the guerrilla). “Burt Lancaster and Richard Gere”, he said.


Those were the names Weisman, once he had repeated the synopsis of the novel, put on the table - “in part for the sake of bluffing like a car dealer” – at a meeting with George Burn and Ben Benjamin, two Hollywood agents who aspired to represent Babenco. “And Benjamin – a dignified, white-haired gentleman – says: ‘How interesting, I’m Burt Lancaster’s agent and I know Burt’s been looking for a part like this for years. Why don’t you send me the novel?’ Two days later, his secretary calls and asks me whether we can meet him and Lancaster on Saturday morning. Wow! We go. A euphoric Lancaster welcomes us and says: “This is a masterpiece,” as he sways the novel, whose pages he had profusely underlined”. 


With the approval of a heavyweight like Lancaster, thought Babenco, Puig would have to reconsider his position. Gere, who at the time was in the spotlight for American Gigolo, soon fell too. Weisman had organized a dinner party where Babenco was to meet Leonard Schrader, the scriptwriter he had chosen for the project. They were at the restaurant when Paul Schrader, Leonard’s brother and director of American Gigolo, showed up. He was at the restaurant next door having dinner with Gere. “It seems Gere found out we were all there and started yelling: ‘I wanna meet Babenco! I wanna meet Babenco!’ At that time, he had a Brazilian girlfriend, a painter called Silvia Martínez, and he had just arrived from Brazil, where he had met every filmmaker except Héctor. So Paul, who was completely drunk, tells Leonard to ask Babenco whether he would like to meet Richard Gere. And Babenco says:  ‘Don’t fool with me. Cut the crap.’ ‘No, it’s true: he’s here, in the restroom.’ Paul had hidden him there: he wanted to make sure Babenco was willing to meet him. So he sat at our table and, after a two-hour talk, Gere was on.”


Puig put aside his reticence and sold the screen rights for Kiss of the Spider Woman. Whether by chance or necessity – in any case, an unquestionable case of poetic justice -, Weisman paid for them with money drawn from the old chest of pop art, an artistic revolution Puig was among the first to transplant to the language of literature. In 1972, Weisman had co-directed with John Palmer, an Andy Warhol disciple, the film Ciao Manhattan, an à-clef chronicle on, and starred by, Edie Sedgwick, a 1960’s icon and high priestess of Warhol’s factory. The movie never amounted to more than a cult jewel of the New York underground (“Nobody had ever seen an underground movie, but everybody talked about them.”) till, ten years later, a biography by Jean Stein and George Plimpton rescued Sedgwick from oblivion and turned her into the woman of the year, “even more than in 1965, when Edie – Mary Magdalene – and Warhol – Saint Paul – had decreed the cult of celebrity was to replace religion and education.” Sedgwick’s resurrection prompted Weisman to brush up his old cult movie for re-release. It was on screen at the New York Quad Cinema for four months; its box-office income provided the money that would finally make real a project called Kiss of the Spider Woman. Weisman assigned one part of that money to buying an option on Puig’s novel and another to paying for the script Leonard Schrader had begun in 1982.


Alas, it was not to be the only one. Kiss… would not only be the first independent production to win an Academy Award but also one to be remembered in history as the movie with four simultaneous scripts. The first and “official” one was Schrader’s, a cerebral, meticulous and above all utterly slow (fourteen months) script, written as a four-handed piece in Weisman’s apartment: Schrader the Calvinist would think and then hand-write a few lines that Weisman subsequently typed. But every Saturday, when he rang the bell at Lancaster’s house with his skimpy bundle of sheets, the producer met with the same weird vision: an unrecognizable, enraged Lancaster who brandished his annotated copy of Kiss of the Spider Woman and yelled at him: “Schrader is no writer, he’s a typist!” or: “You’ve got nothing! No director, no scriptwriter, nothing at all. You’ve only got this (close-up of the novel): Puig, Puig, Puig!”  It was Lancaster, then, who undertook the writing of the second script, which he kept to himself till the very end, till it was too late. Meanwhile, a third one was being written at Babenco’s office in Sao Paulo by the filmmaker himself and Jorge Durán, his co-writer in Pixote: it was the back-up Babenco had secured in case Lancaster’s veto on Schrader went too far or the production Weisman was trying to set up in the States fell through. The fourth one, which occasionally fed Babenco’s, was that by Puig himself, who suspected all the others and worked on the dramatic version he had written in 1980.
“It was a real mess,” recalls Weisman. “Schrader had a contract but, without Lancaster, the movie didn’t have a chance. (Meanwhile, we had already lost Gere: he had just played an Argentine in The Honorary Consul, and the part of Valentín in Kiss… seemed somewhat redundant in his career.) And Babenco, for his part, thought that, if everything went under, he could always make the movie in Brazil with Lancaster or the cast that had performed in the play. At a certain point, Lancaster became so hostile that we had to hide Schrader inside the closet and pretend Babenco was doing the writing in Portuguese while I translated it into English.”


The pretense lasted till early 1983. But in April, it suddenly became unnecessary. “One day, the door bell rings. It’s a messenger carrying an envelope: Burt Lancaster’s script. Babenco was in Los Angeles, so I call Leonard and we have a meeting. I have a very strong vision of that evening: the three of us at Leonard’s house, I, seated on the floor, reading the script and translating it for Héctor. A few pages later, we all begin to laugh and laugh to the point we no longer know whether we are laughing or crying. The thing is we never finished reading it. I think it didn’t even come to Manuel’s hands. It was an impossible script. A joke. Lancaster had written La cage aux folles.”


Weisman claims that, strange though it may seem, Kiss of the Spider Woman was never seen as a gay movie. The Advocate, the gay community’s national house organ, reported on its release through an incisive review and a few related articles, including a long interview with Manuel Puig, but that was it. In the early 90’s, when it released a special issue on “The Gay in Hollywood” (homosexual issues and characters portrayed on screen throughout the history of filmmaking), Kiss of the Spider Woman was conspicuously absent of the 100 most memorable cases list. “Still”, says Weisman, “the Sunday in July 1985 on which it was released, on which audiences literally exploded, every newspaper in America bore the same front-page headline: “Rock Hudson is dying.” Hudson’s last role was that of the gay martyr, the same one Molina plays in the movie (although Puig had written his novel in the 1970’s, when AIDS wasn’t even a paranoid prophecy). That day at 11 in the morning, every East Side housewife seemed to have gathered there, in the long line before the theatre box office, with their Bloomingdale’s shopping bags and their folded newspapers under the arm, waiting for the movie to start, dreading the fate that awaited their gay sons. But who could connect Kiss of the Spider Woman with Rock Hudson’s agony? Only zeitgeist.”
Everything was falling apart. Babenco returned to Brazil in a fury, cursing the US for the year of his life he had lost.  At that point, the only thing that remained standing were the 118 pages of Schrader’s meticulous script (which Puig could not wait to take a hand in) and the excitement with which they had been read by Raúl Juliá, then more of a theater actor than a movie one and Babenco’s choice to replace Gere and, above all, being fed up with the Anglophone cacophony, to “have a Latino to talk to”. And it was this “Latin leg” of the project the one that – unexpectedly – gave it new life.
Corroborating the conspiracy theory that the sect which closes all deals in Hollywood is not that of producers but that of agents, in March – when Lancaster had not yet expounded his peculiar interpretation of Puig’s novel -, Juliá’s agent sent the script to his Armenian partner, Gene Parseghian, and infected him with his client’s enthusiasm. Parseghian read it, called Weisman and, admitting it was the best script he had read in the last ten years, offered one of his most distinguished clients: William Hurt. Weisman politely turned him down: Lancaster was still part of the project and Hurt, who with Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan’s opera prima, was Hollywood’s latest tough-sexy revelation, did not seem quite in sync with Molina’s delicate character. “But David,” had objected Babenco, “Hurt is a football player!”


But, with Lancaster out of the project, Weisman picked up the phone and found Parseghian’s offer was still standing. Hurt received the script in London, where he had just finished shooting Gorky Park. “When I interviewed him for the Kiss… DVD, Parseghian told me Hurt had called three days later and said he was ready to go down on his knees and beg for the part of Molina.” Weisman talked to Babenco: “I’ve got news for you,” he said. “Do you remember William Hurt?” “Stop it, David,” said Babenco. “I’ve heard that story.” “We’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s try,” replied Weisman. And on July 4, 1983, Hurt, Juliá, Weisman, Babenco and a legion of gray-suit lawyers got together in New York to sign the contracts. The stipulations were frankly unusual. Hurt and Juliá would be paid the minimum wage allowed by the actors’ guild: 1,080 dollars a week. And Hurt, the “consolation actor”, the “football player”, Burt Lancaster’s derisible ersatz, would turn out to be a key element in the movie’s success.
Kiss of the Spider Woman was the first big international production with the structure of a cooperative. Hurt, Juliá, Babenco and Weisman agreed to very low wages in exchange for a share in box-office income. A third of the budget (the American share) came from two friends of Weisman’s, Jane Holzer (Warhol’s Factory’s Baby Jane, who also did a cameo in Ciao Manhattan) and Michael Maiello. The Brazilian share, in cruzeiros – a currency which, in 1983, suffered the usual inflationary ups and downs of the time in South America -,  was contributed by a group of nine Sao Paulo investors gathered and legally organized by a lawyer called Altamiro Boscoli. Most of them were art collectors and friends of Babenco’s. “Some of them thought the project was an artistic undertaking which deserved support; others viewed it as a sort of financial experiment to determine whether it was practical to invest in cruzeiros, with local production costs, in exchange for stock that would afterwards be quoted in dollars. In other words: investing in Kiss… was a legal way of exporting money. The final cost of the film – including its many excesses – was $1.4 million, two or three times that of a standard Brazilian production of the time. Since the indie trend had just sprouted, box-office profits, though significant, did not fully reflect the movie’s real impact. Only seven years later, when independent moviemaking was beginning to take hold as an alternative to mainstream, a film like Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game tripled Babenco’s movie’s US box-office income: $17.5 million from July 1985 to March 1986, a week after the Oscars, when  - due to a lawsuit against the home video industry brought by exhibitors, who complained video recordings posed unfair competition to the big-screen – it was withdrawn from the 400 cinemas where it had been on. “The movie fell into a black hole,” recalls Weisman bitterly, “and was only screened again in 2001, at a special event held at the New York Lincoln Center.”

The shooting started in September 1983, in Sao Paulo, while the script still needed some changes. Some of them were necessary for strictly legal reasons: Universal vetoed the use of footage from The Panther Woman, the Jacques Tourneur classic with which Molina dazzles Valentín in their cell, and the movie-inside–the-movie effect had to be restricted to the nazi film. “Schrader went to Sao Paulo, but he was already burned out: he looked like a veteran who had been at war too long. All he could think of was to preserve his work, when the script needed a massive restructuring. At the same time, his brother Paul wanted him in Tokyo, where Mishima’s preproduction, a project they had been working on for years, was about to start. (Mishima shared with Kiss… one investor, Japanese Filmlink company, and they later coincided at the same edition of the Cannes Film Festival; but, while Schraders’s film was received as the ‘rich cousin from town’, ours was the ‘poor cousin from the countryside’.)”
So shortly afterwards, when Schrader’s departure for Tokyo was imminent, Puig, at his house in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro, saw his chance had come to jump in, and he did not waste it. He never visited the set, but he worked on the script throughout the whole process, from September to November, restoring part of the sense of humor, flexibility and flesh Schrader, the stern rationalist, had repressed. “Manuel rewrote and embroidered: he was fresh, full of energy and ideas, and had a charming wit. Aboard the air shuttle flying between Rio and Sao Paulo, he came two or three times a week and stayed in my room at the Maksoud Plaza, under a iron routine: he wrote, he swam, he had lunch, he had a nap and went back to writing. But all of us were staying at the same hotel, including Leonard, and when he left for Tokyo, two weeks after Manuel had started working on the script, it was clear he was very angry: he felt I had betrayed him, and I think he never forgave me.” Every morning, Weisman surprised Babenco with the fresh pages Puig had polished the day before. They usually took them to the set but often to Babenco’s apartment, sometimes at 6 in the morning, before Babenco was awake enough to read them. “When I interviewed him for the DVD, Babenco said he felt ‘under a Gestapo system, with Weisman and Puig seated on my living room couch before I had even had time for my first morning pee.’” Another victim of Puig’s and Weisman’s harassment was Hurt, who used to come to the set having thoroughly rehearsed his part and, a few minutes before the camera started rolling, discovered the scenes he had to play were completely different. “What’s this?” he yelled in a fury. “A movie or a soap opera?”


In Weisman’s view, the big time for Kiss of the Spider Woman began in May 1985, when Hurt got the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. “That fact was crucial for New York critics to judge his work favorably. For, until then, nobody knew for certain what the response would be. Hurt’s performance admitted no vague response: either you bought it or you hated it. And they bought it. The award caused the film’s debut to be brought back from November to July.”  The film was released on Friday July 26, at Cinema One on New York’s 3rd Avenue. “This was mid-1985: there was almost no SoHo, neither Miramax nor independent movies existed yet. And the film was a huge success. The first screening was at midday. The theater had 800 seats. If we were lucky, we would have some 100 people in it. OK: that Friday morning, at half past ten, the film was sold out. Don’t ask me why: it was zeitgeist. The mood of the time. There was something in the air. Shortly before, Time magazine had devoted its cover to the yuppie phenomenon, just as it had done in 1967 with the hippie movement. And the yuppies were people who wanted more: better food, not hamburgers; good wine, not Coca-Cola; and movies other than Rambo III and all that Hollywood shit. Indie movies, that’s what they wanted. ‘Cos independent movies are a yuppie invention. (Not cinephilia which, in my opinion, is eternal.) There was a yuppie market that sought the different, and Kiss of the Spider Woman was different. Unique. It was not an American film, it was not a foreign film: it was a hybrid, and it had no precedent. On its first week, it made 108,000 dollars, when the record at Cinema One was 91,000 in a Christmas week, with a commercial release such as On Golden Pond, with all the Fondas in the cast. On its second week, it made 98,000. It was the same thing everywhere: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles… Always in one theater.”

Fourteen seemed to be the nightmare number for Kiss of the Spider Woman. The script ordeal had lasted fourteen months, as much as the other Via Crucis which almost wasted everything and everyone: the editing process. The shooting in Sao Paulo had swallowed up virtually all the money. There was cash for two months; the rest depended on the feats Weisman’s tongue and credit cards could improvise. In addition, the stuff in the movie, though artistically stimulating, was frightfully fragile: “It was as delicate as a spider web: one wrong move and everything collapsed.” To make things worse, half way through editing, in August 1984, two concurrent blows shook the crew’s ravaged energies. The members of the New York Film Festival selection committee left the room en masse when only 17 of the film’s reels had been screened. At the time, the movie was two demanding hours and 43 minutes long with a provisional editing specially designed for the festival. A week later, Weisman, who was in Los Angeles, gets a call from Brazil informing him Babenco had just been diagnosed a lymphatic cancer. “Héctor is pure energy, a real force of nature, but that was more than anyone could endure. So the editing fell to me.” Weisman was not on his own. Leonard Schrader, who had just come back from the Mishima experience in Japan, joined him at the editing room. But as the producer would soon find out, not so much to cooperate but with the purpose of reinstating the logic of the original script Puig’s hand had “perverted.” “The final stage of postproduction was completely crazy: we had to do 75 per cent of the dubbing and the sound-mix as we were cutting out 40 minutes of the total footage. A recipe for disaster.”


But that which the French depict with a weather metaphor – après la pluie le beau temps -, Hollywood translates into the biblical language of apocalypse and salvation. As shown by the deluge of prizes Kiss of the Spider Woman was given in 1985, catastrophe is often the heroic and sacrificial measure of a feat. In addition to the Cannes award, William Hurt – now no longer a football player – got the Oscar for Best Actor, the Italian David of Donatello and the highest prize awarded by the British Film and TV Academy. And the movie also had two Oscar nominations (Babenco for Best Director, Schrader for Best Script) and four to the Golden Globe. Still, when Weisman goes back to 1985, what stands out in that luminous year is Manuel Puig’s presence in Los Angeles.
“Being in Hollywood was somehow Manuel’s lifetime dream, but he entertained no false hopes. He saw everything, like one of those Borgia Popes who could take in the whole chessboard with a single glance. We were a bit of a team, and always on the move. He ran the show, but he built an extremely elaborate façade to create the illusion I was the one who controlled the situation. We had meeting after meeting, and it was always Manuel who marked time. Manuel was, I believe, basically an entertainer. And there he was, in the world temple of entertainment, absolutely enchanting, charming, seducing everybody. We had dinner with Madonna at the Muse, his favorite restaurant at the time, and I still remember how Sean Penn remained silent till he rose and left, and he only came back four hours later to take her away, and how upset he was every time Madonna tried to extract yet another story from Manuel. Next day, we went to see Bette Midler, who welcomed us in her nightgown and slippers, with her rollers on. Manuel and Bette spent hours talking about hairdos in film classics. The following evening we were at Helena’s, Jack Nicholson’s club, and Warren Beatty left his starlet-packed table to sit at ours and have a chat with Manuel. In fact, being in Hollywood, more than a dream come true, was for him a golden opportunity. He had been writing Hollywood-style scripts since the mid-50’s, since the time of the Centro Sperimentale, and he had amassed a huge file of ideas and projects. Now, with Kiss…’s success – one that delighted him, even though the film had not ‘followed the road I’d have wished’, as he said -, he felt he’d have the chance to make them real. It’s a shame he left so quickly: in Hollywood, patience is crucial.”


In between the shooting of Kiss… in Sao Paulo, in 1983, and Puig’s unexpected death in mid-1990, the “team” developed three film projects: Seven Tropical Sins, Chica Boom and Madrid 37. None saw the light of day. Chica Boom, whose original idea had been Weisman’s, was a timeless comedy, “a very funny comedy, based on the premise that Carmen Miranda wasn’t Brazilian but a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, a well-known joke in the 40’s which Manuel loved. We sold this idea to United Artists, but I think they never did anything with it.” Madrid 37 was the script Puig was working on in July 1990, when he underwent the operation that cost him his life in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The film was to be directed by Milena Canonero, a distinguished costume designer who had also co-produced Naked Tango with Weisman.


“Milena and I had abundantly collaborated with Manuel over the phone, and we were supposed to spend the whole month of August together at Manuel’s new house in Cuernavaca, in order to finish the script. Not a single year goes by without Milena asking me mournfully: ‘Are you sure, David, there’s no way we can find the draft of Manuel’s script?’”


Maybe not, maybe the manuscript for Madrid 37 is lost forever. But, when Weisman left Buenos Aires in early September, his baggage contained a succulent batch of Puig’s notes and sketches, a contribution made by Carlos – the writer’s brother – to the documentary with which Weisman intends to recreate a sort of biography of a novel. Those documents are the first signs of life of Kiss of the Spider Woman: there are various 1973 interviews in which political prisoners released by Cámpora speak about their living conditions during confinement, there are cell diagrams and prison maps and even a first handwritten draft of the novel, sprinkled with corrections made by Puig. “This was for me a kind of archaeological discovery. We may now plot the evolution and the journey of Puig’s metaphor – the spider woman – along three decades and every artistic form: from the novel to the play, to the movie, to the Broadway musical… Few fictions have had so many incarnations. Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera come to mind. But Kiss… is the only ‘postmodern’ case. To make a documentary on Manuel without Manuel would be too much for me. I think telling his life through the prism of this single metaphor is a more fitting and manageable project.”


Strictly speaking, the documentary is a spin-off of Weisman’s research for the “Making of” chapter of the Kiss of the Spider Woman DVD edition, which will be released next year. In it, apart from personal stuff (video footage on Puig’s life in Rio in the mid-1980’s), Weisman interviewed key figures in the movie (Babenco, Hurt, Sonia Braga) and the Broadway musical version (director/producer Harold Prince, songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, scriptwriter Terrence McNally, actress Chita Rivera, etc.). From there, the network of contacts expanded to the whole planet: Mario Fenelli (Puig’s close friend at the time of the Centro Sperimentale) at 78 in Rome; Guillermo Cabrera Infante in London; Pepe Martin (the first actor to play Molina on stage) in Madrid; Italo Manzi (like Puig, a frenzied collector of film oldies) in Paris…


“In Buenos Aires, I interviewed many people: his brother Carlos, of course, and friends of Manuel’s, acquaintances, people who were close to him. I could meet Male, his mother, who’s 97, and I visited the apartment on Charcas Street where Manuel lived and wrote. One day, as I was recording an interview with Carlos, the telephone rang. I stopped speaking and Carlos looked at me and said that was the same phone where Manuel had received the death threat by the Triple A which prompted him to leave Argentina.”


It was December 1974, and it was Carlos who got the message: Puig had traveled to Mexico a year before, pushed by a hostile political atmosphere and above all by the censoring of his last novel, The Buenos Aires Affair, a flammable cocktail of sex and politics narrating – with the meticulousness language of a bureaucrat – the story of Gladys and Leo, the story of a neurotic and fascinating woman who captivates a weak man and destroys him. The story Puig was trying to write in Rome in 1962, when chance decided he was not to meet Weisman, and whose screen rights Weisman has just bought in Buenos Aires.