To Grope the Unknown

It was a stupider time.

What separates Yakmala films from the merely bad is one simple thing: passion. It is not enough that a film be merely bad; it must be a misguided attempt to bare at least a portion of the soul and find it hilarious. Sometimes we fail in that regard. Sometimes we find things like Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda.

Tagline: The strange case of a “man” who changed his SEX!

More Accurate Tagline: The ordinary case of a man who changed his CLOTHES!

Guilty Party: Ed Wood is the godfather of so-bad-it’s-good cinema. Originally hired to make a Christine Jorgensen biopic, Wood, a transvestite, decided that he’d rather make a movie close to his heart. As luck would have it, his heart is retarded. He turned in a short, inept film about transvestitism, and under pressure from producer George Weiss, added an incompetent coda about transgenderism. Still unwatchable, Weiss spliced in what was at the time porn. Since this was before boobs were invented, it did not improve the finished product.

Synopsis: After the suicide of a young transvestite, investigating officer Inspector Warren goes to local gender expert Dr. Alton in an attempt to understand. After some aggressive musing by both men, the doctor decides to tell two stories (only one briefly started before the visit, so I don’t really know what happened there) to help explain what happened.

The first is the story of Glen, a transvestite that the narrator relentlessly points out is all man, baby. He’s “engaged to be married” to a young woman named Barbara, who appears to have suffered extreme brain damage at some point in her life. He thinks he should maybe tell her at some point, but spends the time agonizing, like Hamlet if Hamlet sucked. Glen’s indecision eventually turns into an extended nightmare sequence taking roughly a week and a half. Glen wakes up and tells Barbara all about it, while she practices her poker face. She finally decides she’s cool with it, handing over her angora sweater.

You’ll look fat in it anyway.

Dr. Alton then tells the much shorter tale of Alan, a pseudohermaphrodite and war hero who decides to get a sex change. And she does. Whatever the opposite of riveting is, that’s what this is. With an increased understanding of gender nonconformity, Inspector Warren can… I don’t even know what he’s trying to do here.

Life-Changing Subtext: Women’s clothing is naturally superior to men’s. We should all wear it.

Defining Quote: The Scientist: “Man’s constant groping of things unknown…” Ah, the awkward groping of the undiscovered. I think that was Starfleet’s original motto.

Standout Performance: Bela Lugosi as the Scientist. Lugosi’s character is ostensibly positioned as the narrator, although he never once remarks on the plot. Mostly he just yammers on about a dragon on his doorstep and occasionally screams “pull the string!” over footage of buffalo. He’s like someone’s drunk, foreign grandpa at Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, in a story about sex changes and transvestitism, Lugosi sits in a room decorated with bones. Is he supposed to be a serial killer? A skeleton collector? It’s unclear.

Shown here demonstrating proper string pulling technique.

What’s Wrong: Think of any scene in any movie you liked. Got it in your head? Did it feature a character doing or saying something? I’m guessing yes. The vast majority of Glen or Glenda consists of medium shots of characters while a narrator talks about what they did, plan to do, or just rambles incoherently about the benefits of cross dressing.

Now you’re probably thinking that my last two paragraphs contradict one another, since Lugosi is the narrator and never addresses the plot, and I just said the narrator relays the plot. Well, that’s because Dr. Alton is the actual narrator. Two narrators. Only one of whom seems to be aware of the film he’s in. The movie has two narrators, but you know what it could really use? A narrative.

Flash of Competence: This is barely a movie. It’s a PSA, a relentless lecture on why transvestites and transgendered people should be accepted. Though meandering and ridiculous, the message itself is a worthy one.

Best Scenes: The Scientist is an utterly baffling character who seems to exist only to complain about his dragon problem. In an early scene, it’s implied that he creates Glen out of nothing. Or else he’s just mixing a potion, which he does in a medium shot that never cuts away. There is security footage with more dynamic storytelling. Though he’s pleased with the beaker of smoke, he gets upset later on, his mannerisms reminding me of Mr. Miyagi when he gets worked up.

Ed Wood is a bit defensive about his proclivities. The bulk of the running time is spent explaining that there’s nothing weird about dressing up in women’s clothing. He points out that men’s hats cause baldness, which… isn’t right at all. Then things get racist. The film cuts to some “natives” doing a dance, and points out that it’s the men who are the fancy ones and the women who are drab. So women and men should switch clothing? I’m lost.

Transcendent Moment: Glen suffers a dream sequence after collapsing on the floor in full drag. Unlike most of the film, this could be interpreted as unironically good, since Wood’s style of storytelling — “bad” — actually employs the lack of concern with linear narrative and sane geography into something that feels a bit like a dream.

It opens with standard movie dream imagery, although Wood dilutes his metaphor when Glenda is unable to rescue Barbara from under a tree branch, but Glen is. Suddenly Satan shows up. Maybe Pazuzu, maybe Captain Howdy, but clearly a demon of some kind. He doesn’t do much more than leer at the proceedings.

And then we get to the porn interlude. To pad out the length, the producer George Weiss, inserted some scenes of what passed for porn back then. Which is just sad, because there are Amish home videos with more skin. These are intercut with shots of Glen and the Scientist looking surprised. As though they don’t understand how these women somehow hijacked their film.

Who put these hoes in my room?

Ed Wood was really trying his hardest to make an earnest plea for tolerance. Instead, he made a classic of camp cinema. Maybe this is a glass half full thought, but don’t drag queens love camp?

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About Justin

Author, mammal. www.captainsupermarket.com
This entry was posted in Projected Pixels and Emulsion, Yakmala! and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to To Grope the Unknown

  1. the Haus always wins says:

    “Groping the unknown” is my new favorite phrase

  2. Clint says:

    And it *is* a motto that seems more suited to James T. Kirk.

  3. Pingback: A Bad Movie Roundup | The Satellite Show

  4. Pingback: A Bad Movie Roundup | The Satellite Show

  5. Pingback: A Bad Movie Roundup | The Satellite Show

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