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Glen or Glenda?
Glen or Glenda, aka I Changed My Sex (1953), is the earliest of the four films presented on DVD by Wade Williams and Image Entertainment. This is to some observers Wood’s masterpiece, eclipsing even the prodigious achievement of Plan 9 from Outer Space in sheer brazen weirdness. It begins as a cheapie problem drama a la Kroger Babb (Mom and Dad), but instead of the birth of a baby, we see here the birth of "the third sex." Wood’s own transvestitism was the spur for this plea for tolerance of drag queens and transsexuals, and he plays the lead, heterosexual drag queen, Glen, under the pseudonym Daniel Davis. The film is a heady mix of philosophical commentary, religious allegory, social critique, exploitation melodrama, and softcore porn.

Bela Lugosi, almost at the end of his life, plays a bitchy old "science god" (Wood’s term), "the puppetmaster," who "pulls the strings" – i.e., controls the world and its denizens while discussing them directly with the viewer. Wood visualizes this conceit with avant garde panache, often splitting the screen so Lugosi is at the top half of the screen leering wickedly and screeching with annoyance about "people! all going somewhere!", while stock footage shots of crowded streets and highways occupy the lower half of the screen. Lugosi speaks for Wood when he says, "Man’s constant probing of things unknown, drawing from the endless reaches of time, brings to life many startling things." He also delivers cryptic messages about gender directly to the audience: "Snips and snails and puppy dog's tails and ... brassieres?" A question so many of us have asked ourselves.

Again in the Kroger Babb mode, the film presents all manner of outrageous and sexy images, carefully surrounding them with the respectable scientific and medical commentary necessary to get the film released. Thus we see drag queens prancing up and down the street ogling bra shop windows, or enjoying a quiet moment at home dressed in angora, while a doctor (Timothy Farrell) pompously explains the "truth" about transvestites and transsexuals ("A transvestite is not a homosexual!" he says.) The medical information seems reasonably current for the time, but other images in the film soon eclipse it. There’s the famous scene where Glen confesses his problem to his girlfriend (Dolores Fuller) and, in a stiff, almost ritualized way, she hands him her angora sweater. Strangest of all are the bondage sequences, which have the erotic, incoherent feel of old porn loops. Here the Wood demimonde emerges in full flower, with scantily clad beauties tying each other up, accusing "normals" (parents, priests) attacking poor Glen/Ed, and "the devil" presiding over it all. Wood’s loose structure allows for all kinds of unpredictable fun, including broad humor (a drag queen milkman) and campy dialogue ("Little Miss Female, you should be proud!"). Contrary to the notorious Babb approach of explicit titillation, however, Wood doesn’t show a transsexual operation, only the accouterments. Still, the film is a startling document for its time, and still offers extraordinary avant-garde pleasures.


Go to:
Glen or Glenda?
Jail Bait
Bride of the Monster
Plan 9 From Outer Space