Wednesday, March 9, 2016
March 9, 2016: Puerto Rican Posts: Raúl Juliá
[On March 9th, Raúl Juliá would have turned 76. To honor one of the most famous and talented Puerto Rican artists, this week’s series will feature a handful of Boricua blogs, leading up to a special weekend post on Puerto Rican statehood!]
AmericanStudying three iconic performances from the legendary actor.
1) Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985): Juliá had been appearing in films for nearly fifteen years by the time he was cast as Brazilian political prisoner Valentin Arregui in Héctor Babenco’s much-acclaimed drama (based on Manuel Puig’s 1976 novel). Although it was his co-star William Hurt who took home the Academy Award for Best Actor, Hurt was already well known by the time, so I would still argue that Juliá’s was the truly breakthrough performance. Partly that’s because of the complex love story, and culminating sex scene, between the two men, one that is particularly striking for Juliá’s character since (unlike Hurt’s) he does not begin the film as gay. But it’s also due to the layered humanity that Juliá brings to the role, turning what could be a stereotypical image of far leftist political radicalism into one of the more memorable characters in 1980s films.
2) Romero (1989): Four years later, Juliá returned to Latin American political films in a parallel yet also very different role: Óscar Romero, the El Salvadoran Archbishop who spearheaded years of peaceful political protests against the country’s military dictatorship before his tragic 1980 murder. Romero is far more blunt in its politics than was Kiss, and far less interesting or successful as a film as a result; but in part because of that straightforwardness, Juliá’s Oscar Romero became one of the strongest and most inspiring Latin American characters featured in American films (and one directed by Australian filmmaker John Duigan, no less). Although the film does not focus much at all on the long and dark relationship between the US and the Salvadoran government, if it inspired any American viewer to learn more about Romero (as well as those who murdered him), such historical knowledge and shifts in perspective would likely have come with the territory.
3) The Addams Family (1991): And then there’s Gomez Addams, the role that unquestionably brought Juliá to the broadest popular audience (and that he would reprise two years later in Addams Family Values). As that latter clip illustrates, even in the midst of these deeply silly movies—and I’m not even going to try to make the case that they’re much more than that, although they do at least celebrate weirdness in the same ways the original TV show did—Juliá found a way to bring his talent and fire to the project. When he died only a year after Values, at the tragically young age of 54, he left behind a wealth of such compelling performances, and a career as one of the greatest Puerto Rican artists.
Next Puerto Rican post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other PR connections you’d highlight?