Saturday, 9 April 2016

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS: GLEN OR GLENDA

L.J. SPENCE'S STARTING POINTS

68. GLEN OR GLENDA (1953, dir. Edward J. Wood Jr.)

09/04/2016


Snips and snails and puppy dog tails...

Next Tuesday, it will be a year since I began to be public about being transgender. It has been the longest, and best, year of my life so far, and the next will only be better still.

This reminded me of what was, until "Manos: The Hands of Fate" was rediscovered, the worst film of all time. "Glen or Glenda" sees Ed Wood, as writer, director and lead actor, making an earnest, but bizarrely explained, plea for understanding of transvestites, in a film half-disguised as an exploitation of the recent story of Christine Jorgensen, a soldier that underwent sex reassignment surgery in Europe. As told in the Tim Burton / Johnny Depp biopic "Ed Wood" (1992), the film producer George Weiss simply wanted to exploit the story, but Wood used his own transvestism to persuade Weiss he was the best qualified to make the film.

What we get is, from someone that later directed films with names like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" and "Bride of the Monster," a schizophrenic and confusing mix of melodrama and the supernatural, made in just four days, that is mostly about transvestism, with a transgender story stuck on the end. A dream sequence in which Glen has to decide to tell his fiancée about "Glenda" features both clamouring hands and a literal Devil. Some bondage scenes, unwittingly making their own commentary on gender roles, were added by the producer, mostly to pad out the running time to just over an hour.

"Glen or Glenda" comes from a man whose wish to tell a story is blighted by his actual ability, but succeeding in grabbing your attention, as portrayed by Depp in the biopic. But, when taken seriously, the film succeeds in attempting to discuss a complicated issue, even if it then talks about how tight hats make men bald, providing a motive for making women's clothing fit better for women, or something like that.

What this film says turns out to be amazing. Bela Lugosi, as "The Scientist," a character overlooking events that seemingly has no reason to be there, let alone be played by a fading, typecast Dracula, starts talking like the voice in my head:

"Man's constant groping of things unknown, drawing from the endless reaches of time, brings to light many startling things. Startling because they seem new...sudden...but most are not new to the signs of the ages. A life...is begun! People...all going somewhere. All with their own thoughts, their own ideas. All with their own personalities. One is wrong because he does right...one is right because he does wrong. Pull the strings! Dance to that, which one is created for. A new day is begun. A new life is begun. A life...is ended."

Just like Glen has to cut through prejudice, you have to give "Glen or Glenda" the proper attention to see past the surface, and find something unexpectedly brilliant and brave. Just as Glen's sister said his brother's transvestism is hard to believe but, her co-worker tells her that it may just be hard for you to accept - it doesn't mean you choose not to understand.

This film needs to be shown to the people that now feel the need to make their opinions known about the subject of transgender, most recently, in the UK at least, academic and literary types like Germaine Greer, Iain McEwan and Fay Weldon. Please look up what these people said at your leisure, and laugh at the volume of their ignorance, and their attempts to clarify what they tried to mean. For the record, the United States, and its basket case of civil rights history, is a whole other tawdry story. 

Speaking as the subject, I don't get why some people insist we know their views on everything. No-one needs to know my view on abortion, because (a) it's none of my business, (b) the issue does not directly affect me, and (c) it's none of my business. However, I would only become involved if those it does affect are disenfranchised by people with no business being anywhere near the issue.

For the good of everyone, let's simply agree with Glen's fiancée, because it is the most human thing to say - "I don't fully understand this, but maybe together we can work it out."





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