Friday, June 21, 2019

Glen or Glenda

Glen or Glenda
Edward D. Wood Jr.

Here it is, the legendary Ed Wood’s big feature-length debut. Wood takes on cross-dressing, a topic very personal to himself, and presents it with an earnestness and a call for sympathy that could have been revelatory in the post-World War II rise of stringent gender roles. Alas, the film was shoveled out along with a flood of cheap productions for the teen market and went largely ignored for decades. Compounding the problem is that whatever good Ed Wood was looking to accomplish is lost under a mass of stock footage, a montage of kinky imagery inserted by another director, and a whole last minute second story-line meant to include gender confirmation surgery.

Wood’s goals are muddled, but this mess does have the added benefit of creating an unhinged fever dream of a movie that begins as a  pseudo-documentary look at how Glen (Ed Wood) copes with his desire to appear feminine. This is interrupted by a series of vignettes featuring Bela Lugosi, the Devil, and some S&M before swerving back just into time to not only close out Glen’s story but introduce Alan, an intersex person who pursues surgery. If Glen or Glenda had just ended up being a dry yet honest attempt to discuss gender non-conformity, it would probably just be regarded as a minor curiosity, but circumstances conspired to transform it into a proto-camp classic.

"I'm  huge! I'm Bela LuGROWsi, get it? Huh? Do you get it?"
This is the first time I’ve rewatched the film since I, myself, came out as non-binary gendered and I found myself surprised at how hard the opening scene actually affected me. In it, the police arrive to find a person named Patrick/Patricia dead from completing suicide. They have left behind a note asking to be buried in the clothes they weren’t allowed to wear in public. It’s a harrowing reminder of the high rate of suicide among transgender people and one people were aware of even in 1953.

There are some big missteps (aside from the stilted acting and general production you get in an Ed Wood production), the film takes great pains to separate crossdressing from homosexual behavior, which makes sense since one does not necessarily equate the other, but in doing so it paints homosexual men as aggressive creeps. The second problem comes at the end when Glen is told he can cure his desires by transferring his “female character of Glenda” to his wife, it is a load of nonsense and it feels mandated by the producers. Even Ed Wood doesn’t believe its real and basically says so in the scene.

"How's Annie?"
Glen or Glenda is a big earnest hot mess of a film, and it is all the better for it. We not only get an attempt to broach a subject beyond the pale in 1953 (heck still controversial now in some places), but we also get to peek into an artist who reveals a lot about himself despite interference from producers. If you have any doubts go back and watch the scene were Glen reveals the truth to his wife, Barbara (Delores Fuller), it’s a touching moment that is simultaneously deftly handled and filled with delightfully loopy moments which make Ed Wood Jr. the cult icon he is today.

No comments:

Post a Comment