Friday, October 28, 2011

Glenn or Glenda? and Dressed to Kill

A Transgender Halloween
Cross-dressing director Ed Wood Jr. in 1953 gave us the ground breaking transgender movie “Glen or Glenda?”, a product of a feverish brain filled with conflict, guilt and self-doubt. G or G is worth a look since it was from a time when Christine Jorgenson’s sex change was commanding tabloid attention but Hollywood largely avoided the topic. This an independent exploitation throw away movie.
Then comes the intrepid Wood with all his transvestite baggage weighing heavy on his addled mind. So what we get are huge contradictions. A man can be more comfortable in a wig, woman’s clothes and pumps but can remain a manly man. We are reminded with stock war footage of Wood’s World War 2 service.
Wood actually uses the word “transgender” which I am sure was not part of the lexicon in 1953. Wood’s portrayal of gay life is homophobic, funny and disturbing: Two men meet in limbo and one offers to light the other’s cigarette while touching him on the hand suggestively and they exchange glances. One man recoils in horror.
Wood lets us know that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. Interspersed is Bela Lugosi in a set that could be the devil’s living room, repeating the line “pull the strings”. The narrator gives us a picture of Wood troubled by a remote father within possibly a traditional religious environment. So we get images of the devil fighting for his soul. Societal behavior codes requiring conformity are driving Wood crazy and result in heavy drinking which took his life. I think Wood needed to tell this story and we are somewhat richer for his effort.
Brian dePalma’s 1980 slasher thrilled “Dressed to Kill” is the tale of a conflicted homicidal transgender lady aroused by a sexy Angie Dickinson. What’s a girl to do? See these movies in tandem for a a fun filled transgender Halloween.

1 comment:

Dave Zarkin said...

I watched Glen or Glenda in a college course dubbed The Cult Film. Dressed to Kill I watched a couple of months ago. It has to be one of the campiest big budget Hollywood films ever. I loved the photography in the museum tease scene. One of the problems with the film is that the blond murderer is obviously a man. I like Michael Caine and his Englishness certainly added to the campiness, but he was miscast. They should have necessarily cast a smaller man, one with a slight frame. That would have elevated the suspense, especially if his size would have been matched up to other actors in the film. Moreover, the actor ought to have been daintier and more feminine. I know: DUDLEY MOORE. Don't you think? He could have played it, no problem. People forget that Moore was a talented TV comedian, composer and musician. -- college film scholar guy