Glen or Glenda

You'd think the label "worst director of all time" would be, well, hard to live up to. It's a form of overly high expectations, after all, what if people come to your films expecting terrible and getting merely mediocre?

Don't worry though, "Glen or Glenda" is anything but merely mediocre. The reason it is this terrible, and fascinating, is because it's so incredibly earnest, so filled with ideas and good intentions, so convinced of its own importance. It's a movie that has no lesser goal than to spread understanding and acceptance of transvestism (a term which is defined, in almost the same terms, twice, as if to pound it in our head, or maybe Wood had simply forgotten he'd already done it).

But what a strange movie this is. It's hard even to talk of "scenes". Glen himself gets some lines with his Barbara, but as Glenda he is mostly just followed through the street by a voice-over. There are multiple framing devices: a doctor who tells the story of Glen "and all the other Glens" to a concerned policeman, but also strange bits with Bela Lugosi as some puppeteer going nefariously on and on about "pulling the string" and "puppy dog tails and fat big snails". There's even a scene of him in a lab, but what he's mixing we don't know. It produces a lot of smoke though.

There are weird dream sequences too, and then, there's his love of stock footage. When we see Bela, for example, it's framed by shots of lightning. The story of Alan - also told by the doctor- is mostly narrated over war footage. A shot of a highway, cars streaming through, comes back over and over again with only a mere excuse for it the first time.

It's a totally bizarre film, and while it can be applauded for at least trying to make transvestism normal, it spoils that by being thoroughly homophobic. It confirms that Wood might, indeed, be the worst director of all time, but also a director with so much ambition and so many ideas that it's amazing none of them turn out to be good.

So do yourself a favor. Don't go see the merely mediocre "I know who killed me" or anything like that this weekend. Treat yourself to something truly terrible instead.


cjKennedy said...

You might have seen it already, but if you haven't I'd encourage you to check out Tim Burton's Ed Wood. I generally don't care for so called biopics. At best they give me information about a personality I didn't know, but they rarely move me beyond my attachment to the subject. A handful of great ones on the other hand use their subjects to get at something bigger, deeper and more powerful. In my opinion Ed Wood does exactly that.

The movie doesn't hesitate to poke a little fun at Mr. Wood, he is a comic character after all, but it also identifies in him exactly what you saw in the awful Glen or Glenda: the earnestness, the bounty of good ideas and intentions, the conviction.

You really end up rooting for Ed and his band of misfits. In a bizarre way the story is actually inspiring to anyone with a creative urge or dreams of doing something really big. In his own way and in his own world, Ed Wood dreamed and created. We laugh at them now, but for better or for worse his creations have lived on and, as the narrator from The Big Lebowski says: "I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that."

Hedwig said...

Hey! I did see Ed Wood, several times in fact, and I totally agree with you that it's an amazing film that really shows that biopics don't have to follow the same boring template. I doubt I would even have bothered with Glen or Glenda. In fact, Ed Wood gives a really good impression of what the film is like, I supposed my surprise stemmed from the expectation that Tim Burton had exaggerated somewhat.

I'm struggling with making a top 50 right now. Ed Wood? Definitely on it. Glen or Glenda? Probably not.