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Ed Wood was one of the greatest moviemakers in film history. Could he
direct? Not really. Were his movies technical masterpieces? Could his
actors act? Did he have huge budgets? No. We're here fifty years later,
talking about him, because he created worlds on film nobody had ever
seen before or since. His characters talked like nobody we've ever
heard before (though there are strong echoes in the works of Hartley
and Lynch). And unlike every Hollywood movie ever made, Ed ripped open
his heart and poured it out on the screen. Never more so than in "Glen
Or Glenda," his original avant-garde masterpiece.
Avant-garde? You heard me. What is the definition of avant-garde film? Some attributes are unconventional narrative, unique visual style, radical rejection of artistic or social norms, an often willful disregard for reality. Gloria Floren said "Avant-garde films are often iconoclastic, mocking conventional morality and traditional values; the filmmaker's intense interest in eccentricities and extremes may shock viewers. Indeed, the avant-garde film maker's purpose may be to wake or shake up the audience from the stupor of ordinary consciousness or the doldrums of conventional perspective."
Imagine if people viewed "Un Chien Andalou" or "Meshes Of The Afternoon" or "Eraserhead" with fratboy derision instead of holy reverence. They'd be viewed as unwatchable nonsense too. Everybody'd have a good snark watching for continuity errors and bad camera moves. Does "Glen or Glenda" rise to the level of those classics? Time will tell, but try this experiment: watch it as if it were, and see. The results may surprise you.
Here are some hints. Lugosi is not a mad scientist--he's God, looking down upon twisted human morality and "pulling the strings". The "green eyed monster" that "eats little boys"? Envy. Envy of women and in this case, their clothes. That envy has "eaten" vast amounts of Glen's life, it's been a torture to him. There are numerous references to that torture and misery. There's also an entire section devoted to judgment--human judgment versus that reserved to God.
The "nonsensical" stock footage of buffaloes and the army? It signifies the rush of adrenaline, fear and anxiety as "Glen" tries to confront his identity and "come out" to his girlfriend. Far from random, it's actually used with ingenuity and skill.
The symbology of scenes in which "Glen" battles his female self and resists the devil should be obvious. But then again, a generous viewing of "Glen or Glenda," rather than a beer-fueled "let's watch a crap movie" viewing, would reveal a great deal. Even the campy scene at the end, when Dolores Fuller relents and gives Glen her sweater, comes with the always-missed segment where God absolves Glen of his misery. There are a dozen moments like this. Sure, there are a dozen technical flubs and random nonsense too, but all good art is organic. There's a guy wearing a Timex in "Ben-Hur," for god's sake.
The "narrator" seems comical and dated to us, but in 1953 he was standard-issue, and the lines we now take as campy were then revolutionary, almost treasonous. A plea for tolerance for sexual and gender differences? Condemning the police for arresting gays and transvestites just for existing? During the McCarthy era, when all homosexuals were presumed to be communists? A film like that is bound to make some enemies. Especially a film that featured, not actors playing "deviants," but the deviants themselves, in their own words.
It's telling that the extreme-religious-conservative Medved brothers were the ones who named Ed Wood "worst director of all time." They must have thought they were really sticking it to Ed Wood for making all those subversively weird films involving crossdressing and homosexuals and society's outcasts. Thankfully, irony remains the most powerful force in the universe, and their mean-spirited declaration made Ed Wood a household name. Whether they admit it or not, a lot of this movie's detractors are laughing at the subject, not the movie. Many others are baffled by the unconventional narrative. Just because you don't get something, doesn't mean there is nothing to get.
It's easy to give any movie the MST3K treatment, especially ones that veer into uncomfortable or seemingly absurd territory. If you're looking for the worst movie ever made, go watch "Armageddon" or "Crossroads." If you're looking for THE pioneering moment in GLBT film history, the greatest and most underrated American DIY avante-garde feature of its time, or an experience that just might change the way you view movies and the world at large, start right here.
GLEN OR GLENDA is uniquely bad. Suffice it to say, one has to witness it in order to really believe it. There's almost no point of writing a sensible review of this "movie" because it's beyond wonky. It's so bad that it's almost pure genius. Bunuel couldn't have created a more surreal film than Ed Wood's treatise on the merits of cross-dressing. The "movie" is 70% stock footage or stuff that has nothing to do with the main "story." A huge chunk of the amazing dream sequence is just a nudie cutie. The "acting" is abysmal. Dolores Fuller wins the award for worst actress of all time. The dialogue is so hilarious that it's endlessly quotable. But the whole thing is oddly frank and earnest and because of this, this kooky disaster of a movie actually has a heart, which is more than you can say about most movies out there. I love it. There's almost nothing like it.
Ed Wood. The so-called "worst director of all time". Sorry, there are
of other directors who could take that title because Ed Wood is not that
of a director nor a bad person. Ed made movies to make movies, not to make
buck. And that's why his films are sort of poignant in their
"Glen or Glenda?" is a statement, not a film. It is a statement about transvestism, the truth behind it, and gives several (for the most part, factual) cases of transvestites and transsexuals. Wood is world-reknowned for being a transvestite with a fetish for angora sweaters. And here, he is brave enough to cast himself in an autobiographical role (Glen) and let the world know (yet, he hides under the pseudonym of Daniel Davis).
"Glen or Glenda?" is a bad movie lover's dream. Hilarious dialogue, no coherent plotline, and many memorable sequences of transvestites and their hardships. The narrator does a splendid job of camping things up while explaining how a transvestite is not a homosexual, how it is more healthy to wear womens' clothing, and the tragic results of misunderstood transvestites. Plus, you get Bela Lugosi as God (he's nice and campy), several out-of-place striptease and cheesecake scenes (pretty graphic for 1953), and Dolores Fuller (Wood's real-life girlfriend) as Glen's fiancee.
Too many people rated this movie with a 1. But "Glen or Glenda?" is not as bad as "Orgy of the Dead" or other later Ed Wood classics. In fact, "Glen or Glenda?" is arguably Wood's greatest achievement. Check it out, I strongly recommend it.
I am a huge fan of Ed, after seeing "Ed Wood", and I have since bought
the book "Nightmare of Ecstacy". Also, I bought all of the films that
he had made that I could get my hands on.
Like it or not, "Glen Or Glenda" was a landmark film!
This particular film was made WAY AHEAD of it's time!! While I was first watching Tim Burton's fantastic film, recreating the making of "Glen Or Glenda", I noticed that there were things in it that seemed rather familiar to me, even after 30+ years have passed, and that is what partly interested me in looking into both the book, and Ed Wood's films. What I discovered was, I had seen this film when I was in GRADE SCHOOL!!
After viewing the REAL "Glen OR Glenda" film, I realized that I had had seen this exact same film before, although heavily edited!
It was shown as a part of our sex-ed class!! I can hardly believe it that they showed us this back then, but they did. No
thanks to the school I went to, and the horribly incompetent teachers, but they did show it!
Now, fast forward to today, the reason for all of the extra scenes near the end of the film, such as the 'Devil' sequences, and the rest of the rather abstract looking scenes, were not originally part of the screenplay. Those scenes (baffling and dumbfounding), were NOT part of the film as Ed had written. His script left the running time short of what George Weiss had told him he wanted, a 7 reel, 16MM film, which was what he needed to sell it. A 16MM reel runs about 10 minutes, and George needed a 70 minute film (at least), because he pre-sold it in several states as a "Feature", before he actually found out what it really was. He wasn't too pleased with what Ed had made, but he was able to distribute it to his clients, after all of the extraneous material was added at the end. George did eventually make his money back, and he and Ed worked on a couple of other projects, unlike what is shown in the "Ed Wood" film.
Even today, though, I think that this film was made way before it's time, and Ed Wood should deserve some credit for trying to bring a sense of understanding to what was then a totally misunderstood way of life for a select few.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Say what you will about Ed Wood, he was definitely an auteur. His
films, bad as they are, have a definite style all their own. While I
was watching "Glen Or Glenda", I was consumed with how jaw-droppingly
bad the movie was. The funny thing is, I was also entertained by it,
and so was everyone else in the theater when I saw it (yes, I caught
this movie on the big screen at a revival).
I started thinking about how Ed Wood so desperately wanted to make a movie that he fashioned this film out of anything he could, stretching the script far beyond its own capacity and inserting bizarre fantasy sequences to pad out the running time, which would have been about 20 minutes tops had he cut the crap.
Basically the film is an autobiographical plea for acceptance of transvestism, with Wood himself in the starring role. There is no real story, but rather a series of vignettes in which Wood appears in and out of drag, comes clean to his girlfriend about why her angora sweaters are all stretched out. In seemingly unrelated footage, Bela Lugosi camps it up on a haunted house set, and I'm fairly certain he's supposed to be playing God.
Wow. There are no words for what a mess the movie turned out to be...so much so that it becomes fascinating. In my opinion, the worst crime a movie can commit is being completely boring, and in that regard "Glen or Glenda" is not guilty. Incompetent on every other level imaginable, the film truly must be seen to be believed.
Ever since Tim Burton's wonderful 'Ed Wood' raised Ed Wood Jr's profile and made his seriously bent movies movies better known than they have ever been, some cult movie fans have gotten their noses out of joint. Wood's reputation as the worst director ever pushes some buffs buttons as it marginalizes already marginalized film makers like Ray Dennis Steckler, Ted V. Mikels, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Al Adamson and other "so bad it's good" directors. I leave more knowledgeable fans than me to argue over who REALLY is the worst, but there's no denying that Wood's movies are quite unlike anything made before or since. 'Glen Or Glenda' is his best movie, or if the term "best" misleads, his Ed Woodest. I've lost track of how many times I've seen it over the years but it never loses its power to amuse and astound. Every single time I watch it I am flabbergasted! It literally has to be seen to be believed. Wood plays the title character, a man wrestling with his transvestitism. His girlfriend is played by Dolores Fuller, the cop by Lyle Talbot, the psychiatrist by Timothy Farrell, all three familiar faces from other Wood classics like 'Plan Nine From Outer Space' and 'Jail Bait'. But the real reason to watch this is the utterly bizarre performance from horror legend Bela Lugosi, credited on the version I watched as "scientist", and on the IMDb as "The Spirit", who may or may not be God. His rantings of "Pull the strings! Pull the strings!" and nonsensical stuff about "Green dragons" and "puppy dog tails" will stay in your head for YEARS, if not for the rest of your life! Wood intercuts this with nutty stock footage like buffalo stampedes, and one of the most wacked out nightmare sequences ever seen, which includes lots of chubby gals in states of undress, some S and M, and and an appearance by Satan. Believe the hype - everything you've heard about this one is true! Fifty years on it's STILL one of the weirdest movies ever made. If you haven't seen 'Glen Or Glenda' you just don't know what you're missing!
The 1950s: a rigid and conforming time period in American history, a
time when homophobia ran rampant and "diverse lifestyles" simply were
not tolerated or glorified, came the 1953 transvestite drama 'Glen or
Glenda'. 'Glen or Glenda' was Edward D. Wood's feature-length
directorial debut and is considered by many to be one of the most
obscure films of all time. Ed Wood's first "big picture" was quite a
special one for him, the main reason being that it told a story very
dear to him. Ed Wood was in many senses, the character of Glen/Glenda.
The fact is, Ed Wood did find comfort in women's clothing and he did
favor angora sweaters to the traditional shirt and tie which defined
the era. These factors contribute to the film making, the effort, and
ultimately the passion behind the film. Ed Wood was making a picture
with a subject matter very dear to him and it comes through in this
fine piece of work. Glen or Glenda is now considered to be a cult
classic, but at the time it explored previously uncharted territory
(not that this was a "smash-hit" when it came out in 1953 either).
However, this is certainly not to say that the film is irrelevant to
today's social standards, regulations, and expectations, on the
contrary it proves to be quite pertinent to life in the 21st century.
'Glen or Glenda' opens with a character simply cast as 'Scientist' (Bela Lugosi) prophetically speaking of the society in which we live and its and loathing of the seemingly abnormal or unknown. He speaks of society's outcasts, the troubled world in which they live, and the problems they face in their day to day lives. The story ensues as the police arrive at the scene of a recent suicide. The victim was a well-known transvestite, cast out by society and all others around him. Among the police is Inspector Warren (Lyle Talbot). Troubled by this seemingly strange case, he seeks help in Dr. Alton (Timothy Farrell), a respected psychoanalysis who has encountered various transvestites in his line of work. He begins to tell Inspector Warren of a patient he once dealt with named Glen. Glen was engaged to be married to Barbara (Dolores Fuller), but had been hiding a dark secret from his fiancée; Glen (or Glenda?) was secretly a transvestite. Alton continues to tell Inspector Warren of the internal struggle within Glen: whether to tell Barbara of his secret lifestyle or to keep it to himself or to entirely stop wearing the clothes which make him feel so much like himself?
Although the subject matter, upon first glance, may seem to some a tongue in cheek jab at the transvestites and other "oddballs" of the world, it was not intended that way - nor does it come across as such after viewing the film. 'Glen or Glenda' is a startlingly solid effort at a fresh (and controversial) subject of the 1950s. Not only was the film fresh and innovative, but it prospered on a technical level as well. With excellent cinematography and pristine, appropriate lighting, the film is technically quite good. Dolores Fuller's acting is well-below average, but the other characters offer decent performances (Ed Wood's acting is curiously above average (seeing how he had little to no professional acting experience). Bela Lugosi's performance is, as always, a strong one with memorable dialogue. Although Lugosi is technically listed as a 'Scientist' in the film, symbolically he represents God. He is the one who pulls the strings; he is the one who has become filled with contempt for the human race and its judgmental nature. The symbolism within 'Glen or Glenda' is often overlooked and classified as "inept dialogue", but to an acute observer, it is astoundingly developed. The "green-eyed monster", mentioned by Bela Lugosi's character, can be interpreted as Glen's envy of women and their clothing. The seemingly random stock footage of the Buffalo represents the rush that Glen feels when symbolically transformed into Glenda. When realized, 'Glen or Glenda' is full of metaphoric meaning and symbolism, as well as a fresh plot, rife with unique social commentary.
'Glen or Glenda' is a film which does not dance around the subject matter. It recognizes an important (at least to director Ed Wood) and controversial social issue and discusses it in full, leaving nothing left unspoken. The film proves itself to be enjoyable and entertaining to watch throughout, with some memorable performances (for better or for worse...) and an interesting plot. With such originality and such passion, Glen or Glenda is a film which should be respected and treasured, rather than criticized for its below-average acting, seemingly strange dialogue, and obscure premise, for its pure outspoken zealousness in the 1950s, a period when transvestism and homosexuality were blatantly not openly accepted. Is this to say that these lifestyles are accepted today? Shall we consult Pat Robertson or perhaps George W. Bush on this matter? The film is just as relevant today as it was in 1953 when it was first released. Glen or Glenda proves to be entertaining and intriguing, full of obscure characters and a fresh subject matter: a film far ahead of it's time.
I don't know where this movie falls in the development of camp, but it sure
is a milestone along the way to Pink Flamingos and other masterpieces of bad
"All those people, all going somewhere!" Ok, so the dialogue is laughable, the editing could have been done better than a 6 year old, and there is really no development. But this is entertainment and a pretty brave statement in favor of those who've been bending gender for centuries. I value Ed Wood for giving a voice, albeit a fractured one, to those thousands of men who have feared their feminine side, and those who, like the young fellow in the film who killed himself, have been silenced by prejudice, fear, and hatred.
Watch it with a friend, preferably one who wears angora.
Like in "plan nine outer space" ,Ed Wood tries to put a message across
in his film.In his sci-fi flick,he made his E.T. blame the human race
for their self-destruction :it was not unlike Robert Wise's "the day
the earth stood still" and not more naive than the latter.The main
difference lies in the fact that Wood had a shoestring budget with his
cardboard flying saucers and his shower curtain in the "plane"
"Glen or Glenda" is anything but stupid.Just tell me the name of a director (in the USA or elsewhere) who dared to treat such a taboo subject: the transvestites -not necessarily homosexual- and even the transsexuals.His film ,with voice over galore,although dated today of course was a plea for tolerance.The fact that Ed Wood himself used to dress himself as a woman (see Tim Burton's eponymous movie) is proof positive that he knows what he is taking about.
Bela Lugosi's part,on the other hand,gets in the way.Is he a scientist? a puppeteer who plays with humans? or "simply" God Himself?(do not laugh at him!when Agnes Varda ,an intellectual director of the notorious French Nouvelle Vague , films such drivel ("les Creatures",1966) ,the highbrows praise her to the skies )
Despite ludicrous special effects ,terrible acting and poor lines,Ed Wood's film is anything but derivative.
If you haven't seen any of Ed Wood's other movies, this one is a completely bewildering experience. If you have seen any of Ed Wood's movies, this is still completely bewildering. Wood saw newsreels about Christine Jorgenson (the subject of the first sex-change operation), realized that he had a few things in common with Jorgenson, and made this... um... documentary about it. Lugosi plays, as always, a mad scientist, whose storyline barely ties in with the rest of the movie. Wood himself pseudonymously plays Glen, who enjoys dressing up in angora sweaters. Two policemen investigate Glen's apparent suicide, and... well, the plot sort of lost me between Lugosi's bizarre rants, the stock footage of buffalo herds and the elementary-school-filmstrip-quality acting. It really doesn't make any sense, but it is entertaining by virtue of its profound awfulness.
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