Glen or Glenda
|Glen or Glenda|
|Directed by||Ed Wood|
|Produced by||George Weiss|
|Written by||Ed Wood|
|Narrated by||Timothy Farrell|
|Starring||Ed Wood (as Daniel Davis)
|Music by||William Lava (uncredited)|
|Cinematography||William C. Thompson|
|Editing by||Bud Schelling|
|Distributed by||Columbia Classics|
|Running time||65 minutes
71 minutes (1982 reissue)
Glen or Glenda is a 1953 exploitation film written, directed by, and starring Ed Wood, and featuring Bela Lugosi and Wood's then-girlfriend Dolores Fuller. The title was originally I Changed My Sex! and is often given as Glen or Glenda? but the question mark is not present in the film itself. A new musical score for the film was composed in 2010 by Michael Penny.
The film is a docudrama about cross-dressing and transsexuality, and is semi-autobiographical in nature. Wood himself was a cross-dresser, and the film is a plea for tolerance. It is widely considered one of the worst films ever. However, it has become a cult film due to its low-budget production values and idiosyncratic style.
The first part of the film begins with a narrator called The Scientist making cryptic comments about humanity. The film proper opens with Inspector Warren finding the corpse of a male transvestite named Patrick/Patricia, who has committed suicide. Wanting to know more about cross-dressing, Warren seeks out Dr. Alton, who narrates for him the story of Glen/Glenda. However, at several points Alton appears to address the viewer rather than Inspector Warren, and the unclear role of the Scientist as narrator makes things even more confusing. Glen is shown studying women's clothes in a shop window. Dr. Alton points out that men's clothes are dull and restrictive, whereas women can adorn themselves with attractive clothing. Glen reads about sex change operations in a newspaper, then meets with Barbara, his girlfriend, who asks if Glen's secret problem is another woman. The film then cuts to the infamous shot of the Scientist shouting "Pull the string!" as bison stampede onscreen. It is not clear what this is meant to mean; perhaps that Glen should act as puppeteer, controlling his own life instead of letting others dictate it. Another transvestite friend of his, John, tells Glen how cross-dressing ended his marriage. A bizarre dream sequence, containing some BDSM vignettes full of flagellation and bondage, reminiscent of the fetish films of Irving Klaw, follows. Glen then decides to tell Barbara the truth. She offers her an angora sweater as a sign of acceptance.
- Timothy Farrell as Narrator / Dr. Alton
- Ed Wood (credited as "Daniel Davis") as Glen/Glenda
- Dolores Fuller as Barbara
- Bela Lugosi as The Scientist
- Lyle Talbot as Inspector Warren
- "Tommy" Haynes as Alan/Anne
- Charles Crafts as Johnny
- Connie Brooks as Banker / Reporter / Pickup artist / Bearded drag
Shot in four days, the film was loosely inspired by the sex reassignment surgery of Christine Jorgensen, which made national headlines in the U.S. in 1952. George Weiss, a Hollywood producer of low-budget films, commissioned a movie to exploit it. Originally Weiss made Jorgensen several offers to appear in the film, but these were turned down. Wood convinced Weiss that his own transvestism made him the perfect director despite his modest resume. Wood was given the job, but instead made a movie about transvestism.
Wood persuaded Lugosi, at the time poor and drug-addicted, to appear in the movie. Lugosi's scenes were shot at the Jack Miles Studios in Los Angeles. He was reportedly paid $5000 for the role, although some stories state the actual amount was only $1000.Lugosi is credited as "The Scientist", a character whose purpose is unclear. He acts as a sort of narrator but gives no narration relevant to the plot; that job is reserved for the film's primary narrator, Timothy Farrell.
This was the only film Wood directed but did not also produce. Wood himself played the eponymous character, but under the pseudonym "Daniel Davis". His girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, played Glen's girlfriend. Wood later returned to Glen or Glenda in his pulp novel Killer in Drag (1963). The plot features a transvestite called Glen whose alter-ego is called Glenda. He is executed in the sequel Death of a Transvestite (1967) after a struggle for the right to go to the electric chair dressed as Glenda.
The film has deleted scenes. In the theatrical trailer, included in laserdisc and DVD editions, the scene in which Fuller hands over her angora sweater, is a different take than the one in the release version — in the trailer, she tosses it to Wood in a huff, while the release version shows her handing it over more acceptingly. There is also a shot of Wood in drag, mouthing the word "Cut!"
The second part of the film, titled Alan or Anne, is much shorter, and was made to meet the distributor's demand for a sex change film. Alan is a pseudo-hermaphrodite who fights in the World War II wearing women's underwear. After his return, Alan undergoes surgery to become a woman.
Domestically, the film was limited in release, having been pre-sold to some theaters (under alternative titles such including I Led Two Lives, He or She? and I Changed My Sex. Internationally, the film was also limited, and in France and Belgium, the title was translated as Louis ou Louise and in Argentina as Yo Cambié Mi Sexo; the film had a brief screening in the Republic of China.
In 1980, Wood was posthumously given the accolade of 'Worst Director of All Time' at the Golden Turkey Awards, and revival of interest in his work followed. This led to Glen or Glenda being reissued in 1982. This cut included six minutes of additional footage. One of the restored scenes features Glen rejecting a pass made to him by a gay man. At this point, the film was reviewed seriously, and reclaimed as a radical work, by Steve Jenkins in the Monthly Film Bulletin.
In 1994, Tim Burton chronicled the troubled production of Glen or Glenda in Ed Wood. The film includes recreations of several key scenes, most notably Lugosi's ponderous narration and Glen's plea for his girlfriend's understanding at the end of the film.
See also 
- Transgender in film and television
- Cross-dressing in film and television
- List of films considered the worst
- Edward D. Wood, Jr. filmography
- The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1996), documentary film directed by Brett Thompson
- Rudolph Grey, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) ISBN 978-0-922915-24-8
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