From screen to page: Manuel Puig and the rewriting of Hollywood cinema

Date of Completion

January 1996


Literature, Comparative|Literature, Latin American|Cinema




The name of Manuel Puig is, by now, virtually synonymous with the cinematic novel in Latin America: by incorporating film-derived discourse, his narratives frequently enact the way his characters appropriate language and behavior from motion pictures. Less attention has been paid, though, to the original films re-narrated in Puig's work. The present study, by comparing his prose "adaptations" to the motion pictures themselves, seeks to explore in greater detail the significance that cinematic re-narration has for his novels. Without taking into account the original films, it might be assumed that Puig's versions are somehow miraculously non-mediated representations of "objective" cinematic experience. The prose re-creation of a motion picture, however, implicitly asks readers to consider the film being cited; such a comparison, in turn, helps shed light on how Puig's cinematic rewriting shapes the meaning of his larger narrative.^ The study focuses on two novels crystallizing his different approaches to rewriting cinema: La traicion de Rita Hayworth, in which film is re-narrated through the voice of a character (a strategy later adopted in El beso de la mujer arana), and The Buenos Aires Affair, in which transcribed motion picture sequences are presented by the implied author as chapter epigraphs. While each novel dramatizes the recourse to film by alienated characters, cinematic rewriting in Puig's earlier novel is character: Toto, in particular, incorporates cinema as an ongoing--and highly inventive--inner narrative, and it is thus not surprising that he gravitates to motion pictures featuring characters also drawn to the seduction of imagery or role playing.^ In The Buenos Aires Affair, the epigraphic depiction of films serves as an ironic backdrop, a cinematic mirror for characters who often seem to play-act their way through life. The novel itself is so bewitched by Hollywood mystique that it acquires a chic title (coined by one of the characters) and "screens" star-studded sequences drenched in glamour. Removed from their native medium and often radically transformed, these film clips in prose seem exaggerated and even parodic, creating a distancing effect which envelops the larger narrative as well. ^