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Film / Glen or Glenda

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"Pull the string! PULL THE STRING!"

"It's about this guy, he's crazy about this girl, but he likes to wear dresses. Should he tell her? Should he not tell her? He's torn, Georgie. This is drama!"
Ed Wood explaining his overhaul of producer George Weiss' sex change exploitation script, Ed Wood

Glen or Glenda (title changed from I Changed My Sex!) is a 1953 exploitation film written by, directed by and starring Ed Wood. It features Bela Lugosi and Wood's then-girlfriend, Dolores Fuller.

The movie consists of two parts, the first following a narrator called The Scientist, played by Bela Lugosi, making cryptic comments about humanity. At the beginning of the film proper, Inspector Warren finds 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 (played by Wood).

The second part is shorter, following Alan, an intersex person who fights in the Second World War wearing women's underwear. After her return, she becomes the woman she always was, through surgery. The third part bridges the two stories by returning to Glen/Glenda as he learns the story of Alan/Anne and other human gender and sex variations from Dr. Alton (whom Alan/Anne also visited), before seemingly managing to "cure" his transvestism.

The film makes by far the most extensive use of stock footage of any of Wood's films - roughly a third of its total running time - with many scenes being written as a means to shoehorn in said footage.

David Lynch has cited this film as one of his personal favourites, and a huge source of inspiration, and many modern audiences find that, while it's undeniably pretty weird, it's not as glaringly incompetent compared to a lot of Wood's other work.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • An Aesop:
    • Crossdressers are often perfectly nice people who deserve to be treated with respect, not looked down upon or laughed at.
    • It is better to stay true to who you truly are inside rather than to live a lie.
  • Arc Words: "Snails and puppy dog tails" and variations. To a lesser extent, the entire speech about the Big Green Dragon. It only makes slightly more sense in context.
  • Audience Surrogate: Inspector Warren, who exists purely to give Dr. Alton somebody to educate about crossdressing/transgender issues.
    • The Scientist becomes a semi-unintentional example during Glen's dream, where he alternately reacts to the ramdomly appearing sultry women with confusion, disgust and arousal, much like the audience might do.
  • Author Appeal: Ed Wood was famous for being a transvestite and he plays one in his film—which is very up on women's clothing. In fact, the film was going to be entirely about the gender confirmation surgery story, but Wood insisted on giving the lion's share of screen time to his own personal experiences.
  • Author Tract: The film is essentially Ed Wood's apology for crossdressers like himself; he even played the crossdressing title character under a pseudonym.
  • B-Movie: Very much so.
  • Bookends: The movie begins and ends with a scene of Bela Lugosi sitting in a chair, talking directly to the audience. The first scene begins with the camera moving away from Lugosi, and the last scene begins with it moving towards him again. A literal example, since he is actually reading a book in both scenes.
  • Breather Episode: This may have been the purpose of the shot in Glen's dream of a woman combing her hair, which comes inbetween a Les Yay-filled kidnapping and a demonic rape scene. Even the Scientist seems to calm down when it appears.
  • But Not Too Gay: This might be why it was decided to make Anne a "pseudohermaphrodite" (intersex person), as this makes her transition seem less like her changing her sex and more like her choosing one.
  • Casting Gag/As Himself: The opening text claims that this is the case.
    Many of the smaller parts are portrayed by persons who actually are, in real life, the character they portray on the screen.
  • Clothes Make the Superman: In Glen's dream, he actually seems to get physically stronger when wearing men's clothing.
  • Clueless Aesop: There is nothing wrong with crossdressing, but Glen should stop it anyway, except it doesn't matter as long as his girlfriend loves him, though him quitting it is still treated like a happy ending. What?! Dr. Alton's statement that every case requires a different solution only goes so far in trying to explain the message.
  • Creepy Children Singing: In his dream, Glen hears a little girl's voice (implied to belong to his younger sister) mocking him for being a boy.
  • Crossdresser: Glen, Alan, and a couple of secondary characters.
  • Cure Your Crossdressers: According to this movie, transvestism is something that can be cured.
  • Department of Redundancy Department:
    • "Glen is not a homosexual. Glen is a transvestite, but he is not a homosexual."
    • "I guess I've seen everything there is for a policeman to see, and yet I wonder if we ever stop learning. Learning about what we see".
    • While the screen is showing the headline "World Shocked By Sex Change", Dr. Alton's voice-over asks, "Why is the modern world shocked by this headline?" So apparently, the world was shocked to hear that it was shocked.
    • The line "Glen is engaged to be married to Barbara, a lovely intelligent girl." is spoken twice by Dr. Alton, while talking to the same character. You'd think it would be enough to say it once.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Literary. Nobody seems to notice that Satan is standing in full view at Glen and Barbara's wedding. Justified as this is part of a nightmare.
  • Divine Date: One of the girls in Glen's dream tries to hit on the Scientist, who is implied to be God. He isn't interested.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: While disembodied, gossipy voices talk about the "scandal" of a man dressing like a woman (or getting sex-reassignment surgery), we see a film of a steel mill in which molten metal is extruded into bars and then chopped off.
  • Double Standard: For a movie with such a sensitive treatment of transvestism, it still manages to be completely sexist. After Alan gets surgery and becomes Anne, she must now learn how to act like a "proper woman," and certainly can't do any of the soldier/professional things she used to do as a man.
    • Values Dissonance: This was the early fifties. Although compared to something like Boys Beware (which also, coincidentally, features Timothy Farrell as narrator), this movie actually doesn't age too badly.
    • Also, it is said that she was drafted, so it's debatable if she even wanted to be in the military in the first place. Dr. Alton also claims that she willingly trained to be more "traditionally feminine."
    • Dr. Alton also implies that Anne has more of a right to transition than Glen has, as she is already visibly part woman due to her intersex condition.
  • Dramatic Pause: Bela Lugosi... often talks like this... in this movie.
  • Dream Sequence: A good quarter of the movie is taken up by a long dream sequence by Glen featuring Surreal Horror, Satan, and women in lingerie.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Early on in the film, we are shown a newspaper with a headline about somebody's gender confirmation surgery. Later in the movie, we learn that this person is Anne, the protagonist of Dr. Alton's second story.
  • Eye Take: The scientist does this in Glen's dream when a demon suddenly appears and has sex with a woman on a couch. You really can't blame him.
  • Fanservice: Basically the only purpose of Glen's erotic dream.
    • Barbara also gives Glen her angora sweater as a sign of acceptance. That is, the sweater she is currently wearing, leaving her standing with her back towards the camera in only her bra.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: Both the Scientist and Dr. Alton are guilty of this.
  • Freudian Excuse: The Devil is played by the same actor who plays Glen's father.
  • Gayngst-Induced Suicide: The film opens with a transvestite called Patrick/Patricia having killed herself with the suicide note explaining that she had been arrested for public crossdressing four times and that being constantly persecuted was too exhausting, believing that she would be happier and freer in death.
  • Genre-Busting: The movie keeps changing between an education film about gender dysphoria and intersex conditions, a relationship drama based around a Coming-Out Story, a Surreal Horror film, and an erotic movie with a Random Events Plot. The change between these genres can be rather sudden, leading to massive cases of Mood Whiplash.
  • God and Satan Are Both Jerks: Downplayed. God is a bit grumpy, as well as a Trickster Mentor, but he is generally on the protagonists' side and is much better than Satan, who just bullies people For the Evulz.
  • G-Rated Drug: Well, the movie wasn't actually G-rated, but the addicting nature of crossdressing is treated very much like a drug addiction. Dr. Alton even seems to forget that he isn't actually talking about drugs at one point.
    Dr. Alton: "Once the source of supply is found it can be stopped, unless the patient refuses to cut off that source of supply."
  • Halloween Episode: A flashback scene reveals that a younger Glen wore his sister's dress for a Halloween party. He won first prize.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Ironically enough, one completely unrelated to any LGBT themes. Glen's sister says that she doesn't want any of her boyfriends finding out about Glen's crossdressing. She probably means "boyfriends" as in "male friends," but her wording can get the impression that she Really Gets Around.
  • Hollywood Natives: Played straight. A stock-footage tribe of these Noble Savages in masks and grass skirts is presented as an example of the "state of nature" in which the male is expected to adorn himself, in opposition to present-day Western society where male clothing is rough in texture, and drab.
  • Hope Spot: In Glen's dream, there is a moment where Satan teleports away, all the people who harassed him disappear, and Barbara enters the room ready to embrace him, having accepted his feminine side completely. Nope! Turns out she is Satan in disguise. His entourage returns and they continue to mock Glen even more.
  • Interactive Narrator: Dr. Alton, sort of. He primarily exists as a character in the film, but he also seems to adress the audience at various points.
    • The Scientist is also one, as he is telling the story to the viewers, but also meets both Glen and Anne, reacts to the girls in Glen's dream, (One of them even seems to hit on him.) and even addresses the Big Green Dragon, a character who only seems to exist as a metaphor in the Scientist's own ramblings.
  • King of All Cosmos: God is portrayed as a Mad Scientist dressed in a suit who creates people in test tubes, speaks mostly in bizarre metaphors, and is a bit of a Dirty Old Man.
  • Mickey Mousing: While a woman has another woman Bound and Gagged in Glen's dream, there are a couple of notes which are synched perfectly to the former woman looking back and forth to see if the coast is clear.
  • Mind Screw: Just what the hell is going on in that hallucination/dream scene? Or any of Lugosi's rambling monologues for that matter?
    • A scene where some characters claim that gender dysphoria is unnatural is also quite strange, as it consists entirely of closeups of their eyes and ears.
    • This movie is said to have at least partially inspired David Lynch's Eraserhead.
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • Right from the beginning of the film, this trope is in full force. The opening caption promises among other things that "this is a picture of stark realism"... and then cuts to Lugosi seated in a haunted house going on the first of many nonsensical monologues.
    • The most famous of the film's many examples has to be when Glen and Barbara are having a serious, frank discussion about their relationship, with Barbara concerned to the point where she thinks Glen might be cheating. Smash cut to a herd of buffalo stampeding, with a superimposed Lugosi bellowing "PULL THE STRING! PULL THE STRING!"
  • Mr. Exposition: Dr. Alton, the resident gender expert, and the movie's main narrator.
  • Nested Story: Dr. Alton is telling the story of Glen — which Glen presumably told him personally — to Inspector Warren, but Dr. Alton is himself a character in a story told to the audience by the Scientist. Glen is at one point also told a story by a friend of his who was divorced by his wife when she found out that he was crossdressing, giving us four layers of narration in total.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • Both the poster (pictured above) and the original trailer basically claims that Glen gets gender confirmation surgery at some point. He doesn't. There is a transgender character in the film, but she is a completely different person named Alan/Anne (who isn't mentioned at all in either.)
    • The Two-Faced, half-man half-woman on the poster seems more like a portrayal of gender dysphoria in general than a portrait of any actual character from the film. Their female half mostly resembles Barbara, who isn't transgender, they are more well-built than either Glen/Glenda or Alan/Anne were, and they are blonde, whereas both of the protagonists have dark hair (though Glen wears a blonde wig when dressed as Glenda.)
    • The tagline "STRANGE LOVES... of those who live and love but can never marry!" is an outright lie. Anne is never given any kind of love interest, and nothing is stopping Glen and Barbara from getting married. He is just worried that she will leave him when she finds out about his crossdressing, as this had happened to a friend of his (who had already gotten married to his girlfriend at that point.) Barbara doesn't leave him. The movie actually ends with their wedding.
  • Older Than They Think: Discussed In-Universe by the Scientist in the opening:
    The Scientist: "Man's constant probing of things unknown, drawing from the endless reaches of time, brings to light many startling things. Startling? Because they seem new? Sudden! But most are not new, but the signs of the ages!"
  • Once More, with Clarity: In the beginning of Alan/Anne's story, we are shown footage of a woman. The context doesn't make it entirely clear who this is, and it seems like it might be Alan's mother. It's only at the end that it is clarified that this is in fact Anne after her gender confirmation surgery.
  • Public Domain Feature Films: As with the rest of Wood's movies, this film's copyright has long expired.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: The opening theme, which was also used in Lassie.
  • Queer People Are Funny: Defied. At one point, footage of a bearded man in a dress is shown. Dr. Alton is clearly expecting the audience to laugh, and calls them out for doing so.
  • The Remake: A porn remake in 1994 (the same year Ed Wood came out).
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: When Barbara realises that Glen is hiding something from her, she figures that it might be another woman. She is technically correct, but Glen isn't cheating on her. He is the other woman.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The movie came out only one year after Christine Jorgensen's gender confirmation surgery, which had given her a front page news story in the New York Daily News.
  • Shameless Self-Promotion: Dr. Alton says "Glen/Glenda should consult a competent psychiatrist" while showing us footage of... Dr. Alton.
  • Shout-Out: The Scientist's "Big Green Dragon" speech is actually based on a much older song called The Green-''eyed'' Dragon. Knowing this doesn't make its placement in the film any less bewildering.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The music in the erotic part of Glen's dream. Especially the part where a lady randomly decides to kidnap another woman, which is set to a calm, soothing score. It then becomes a different form of the same trope as the music becomes more lighthearted and jovial while the latter woman is Bound and Gagged.
  • Stock Footage: Used a lot, with varying degrees of success.
  • Take Our Word for It: "Would you be surprised to know that this rough, tough individual is wearing pink, satin undies under his rough exterior clothing? He is."
  • Tempting Fate: "Nothing could be as bad as all that. I love you, and you love me, and nothing on Earth can change that."
  • Trans Equals Gay: Averted. Glen is a transvestite, and he is not a homosexual.
  • Understanding Girlfriend: Barbara becomes this by the end, where she says that she will always love Glen, no matter what.
  • The Un-Favourite: Glenn's mother used to favour his sister Sheila over him. The psychiatrist believes that Glenn started wearing Sheila's dresses to attract the attention and affection of his mother.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The whole point of the film is basically to show that crossdressers can be wholesome.