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Hurt joins the Greats

by  Iain Johnstone

In his absorbing memoirs, blessings in disguise, Sir Alec Gunniess mentions that Alan Bennett once said to him: "I hate Great Acting." Guinness's approbation of the remark is indicated by the eagerness with which he supplies a definition: "the self-importance, the authoritative central stage position, the meaningless pregnant pause, the beautiful gesture which is quite out of character, the vocal pyrotechnics, the suppression of fellow actors into dummies ... A perfect play or screenplay is in no need of such excesses, but sometimes Great Acting, like one-man cavalry, can ride to the rescue of an otherwise solid work and turn into something memorable and inspired. This is the case in Kiss of the Spider Woman ... it is one of those rare movies that doesn't fade from the memory when the images fade from the screen ... Scenes are sensitively captured in what would be a considered and thoughtful prison drama but is turned into a hypnotic work by - sorry Sir Alec - great acting. Hurt forces his self-important character into such an authoritative central position the he renders the details of the plot almost secondary. His pregnant pauses are meaningful, his beautiful gestures entirely relevant, his vocal mastery bewitching and his fellow actors become, if not dummies, virtually dumb struck by one of the great virtuoso performances of the screen.