Monday, 16 July 2018

Glen Or Glenda (4 Stars)

This film was made in 1953 and was later called one of the worst films ever made. After its first theatrical release it disappeared until it was restored and released on videotape in 1982. Why did the studios bother releasing it for the home video market if it was so bad? Maybe the subject matter is a reason. It was a revolutionary film for the time when it was made, discussing subjects that weren't considered appropriate for public debate until 50 years later.

The film opens with a narrator, an unnamed scientist who looks like someone from a 1930's horror film. His appearance is hardly surprising because it's Bela Lugosi doing what he does best. He's more than a scientist, he's an omniscient being who can relax in his armchair and watch the struggles of the human race. He observes a police officer, Inspector Warren, investigate the suicide of a man dressed in women's clothing. Puzzled by this he visits a psychiatrist, Dr. Alton, to ask him why a man would dress this way. From this point on Dr. Alton takes over as the film's main narrator, relating two stories to explain the subject.

The first story is about a man called Glen who likes to put on women's clothing. As Dr. Alton stresses repeatedly, Glen isn't a homosexual and he has no wish to become a woman. He merely likes to look like a woman. This activity makes him a transvestite, a common word today, but it was a new concept to Inspector Warren. Glen has been engaged for a year and wants to marry soon, but he's afraid of the consequences if he tells his fiancee about his fetish.

The second story is about an air force pilot called Alan who likes to wear women's underwear beneath his normal clothes.

The psychiatrist explains to the inspector that these two cases look the same, but there are different reasons behind the transvestism and the men have to be treated differently. Glen was never loved by his parents, so he wears women's clothing for comfort. He can only give up this fetish if he finds a new loving relationship.

Alan is a pseudo-hermaphrodite. A full hermaphrodite is a person born with the genitalia of both man and woman. A pseudo-hermaphrodite is also a person who has both genitalia, but one of them is underdeveloped and can't be seen. In cases like this the person has to decide which gender he wants to be, and the unwanted genitalia can be removed by an operation.

Although sex change operations are mentioned in the film – and on the film poster! – neither of these cases involves a sex change. Glen is a man who has a clothing fetish that has nothing to do with his sexuality. Alan is a man who has two sexes in his body, and he has to choose which one he prefers.

I admit, the film is disjointed. The mysterious scientist sporadically appears during the film, detracting from the informational value. There's also an extended dream sequence which involves whipping, stripping and other activities. If I wanted to be kind I'd claim that this is to show that transvestism is just one of many fetishes, all of which should be tolerated. In actual fact George Weiss, who financed the film, insisted on inserting these unrelated scenes to make the film more exciting.

The story of Glen, which takes up most of the film's running time, is self-exploration by the writer and director Ed Wood. He enjoyed wearing women's clothing, but had only done so in the privacy of his own home. After writing "Glen or Glenda" he found the courage to appear in women's clothing in public. This subject is dealt with in the biographical film "Ed Wood".

We can be thankful for "Ed Wood", the film made in 1994. Even though it had been available for 12 years nobody paid attention to "Glen or Glenda". I'd never even heard of it before I saw "Ed Wood". People only knew Ed Wood's more famous film, "Plan 9 from Outer Space". After 1994 there was more general interest in "Glen or Glenda", and several critics have reevaluated it. It would be wrong to call it a masterpiece, but it's certainly not one of the worst films ever made. It has a bizarre aesthetic quality. I recommend watching it in a pitch black room with a glass of beer at your side.

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