GLEN OR GLENDA: NAIVE SURREALISM’S ARK OF THE COVENANT

“Female has the fluff and finery, as specified by those who design and sell. Little Miss Female, you should feel quite proud of the situation! You of course realize it’s predominantly men who design your clothes, your jewelry, your makeup, your hair styling, your perfume!” – Ed Wood narration from Glen or Glenda.

Ed Wood is certainly the auteur saint of naive surrealism. Everything he touched had his indelible stamp of personality all over it. More accurately, everything he touched oozed with Woodianisms.

However, his zany enthusiasm was short-lived. Night of the Ghouls is a depressing example of a very fatigued Ed Wood. Even before that, both Jail Bait and Bride of the Monster seem sub-standard Wood, even if they do bear his mark and are manna for his enthusiasts.

Still from Glen or Glenda (1953)If  Ed was sadly showing early hints of what was to inevitably come in those two films, then he was at his inspired, bouncing off the wall zenith in both Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

It was stick-forever-up-his-ass film critic Michael Medved who unintentionally rose Ed and his magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space from the shallow grave of obscurity into cult nirvana when he awarded Ed and his film as the worst film and director of all time.

Despite Medved’s smarmy condescension, he should be forever thanked for posthumously catapulting Ed into the spotlight.  Medved’s sole purpose for living was to play John the Baptist announcing Ed’s coming. All the crimes and misdemeanors of criticism that came after are (reluctantly) excused in light of this important moment in history (alas, Leonard Maltin has had no such redeeming moment for his crimes).

Still, Medved was slightly off. It’s Glen or Glenda, Ed’s directorial debut,that deserves the accolades, a mountain of raining ticker tape to propel this little tranny misfit into well deserved fame and fortune. There is much appreciated surreal irony in Medved’s accidental canonization of Saint Ed. It seems equally apt that ‘s very good, intentional homage, Ed Wood, lost every invested dime. If Burton’s film had been a box office hit, the cult of Ed Wood would have gone the way of all orthodox religions. Thank Ed, this was not to be.

For hardcore surrealists, it’s those unintentionally surreal gold nuggets that are the most valued, and Ed’s almost indescribable Glen or Glenda is the ark of the covenant for naive surrealism.  There are  several other choice gems: Ed’s own Plan 9 From Outer Space, Phil Tucker’s Robot Monster, the movies Live a Little, Love a Little ( with the groan-inducing Edge of Reality surreal dream sequence) and Easy Come, Easy Go (frogman Elvis doing yoga-is-as-yoga-does with Elsa Lanchester), Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and a legion of not-so-deserving camp classics, including Manos: Hands of Fate, which is indeed awful, but incredibly dull and does not deserve to be placed in the same category.

There is little point in attempting to describe Ed’s autobiographical opus, ‘s hammy, inexplicable presence, or the pretentious narrative pleas for acceptance.

Glen or Glenda is the  perfect, surreal toast to the Halloween season.

4 thoughts on “GLEN OR GLENDA: NAIVE SURREALISM’S ARK OF THE COVENANT”

  1. First time viewers who haven’t read a plot description for Glen or Glenda really have no idea what they are in for. The entire movie is deranged and intoxicatingly incoherent, but the dream sequence… David Lynch only wishes he could shoot a scene that weird. Expect to read more on this classic in these pages in the future.

  2. 366

    You said, “David Lynch only wishes he could shoot a scene that weird.” I’d place David’s magnum opus “Eraser Head” a little beyond Glen or Glenda, not to mention the difficulty that David had to go though just to finish it! I met David in Hollywood in 1977* just before the opening and he detailed it, quite a trip indeed!

    Still they both pale in comparison to Mr. Eaker’s, “Jesus and her Gospel of Yes” don’t you think? An acid trip if I’ve ever been on one… and I have!

    Ernest
    * See “Uncle Ernie’s Hollywood Daze”

    1. Ernie:

      I exaggerated a bit for rhetorical purposes in my comparison of Wood and Lynch. Still, I think Lynch might envy the ease and speed with which Wood created the weird effect in that dream sequence from Glen or Glenda, whereas Lynch had to slave for years to get Eraserhead (which I adore) just right. As Alfred said, “For hardcore surrealists, it’s those unintentionally surreal gold nuggets that are the most valued.”

  3. I entirely agree that this is Ed Wood’s masterpiece; Tim Burton thought about changing the order of events so that in his biopic, “Plan Nine From Outer Space” came came first, and this was Ed’s crowning achievement, because really it should have been. It’s deeply flawed of course, but it wasn’t all Ed’s fault. The clunky intercut narration was obviously required by the studio to give it pseudo-documentary status – helpful in some of the stricter Southern states with material this controversial – and the 15-minute epilogue was also stuck on to allow the use of existing posters with the title given as “I Changed My Sex”.

    But the main story is Ed Wood at his finest, and it comes across that he really, truly means it, even if his inner conflict is expressed by random stock footage, the Devil whipping a slightly past-it burlesque dancer, and Bela Lugosi as – well, who, exactly – Fate? – God?? – that guy he played in “White Zombie”??? – spouting absolute nonsense that has no bearing on anything whatsoever! That and the problem that when Glen’s in drag he loses his manly strength and thus hypothetically wouldn’t be able to save his girlfriend if a tree fell on her in the living-room.

    That being said, Wood himself is a surprisingly competent actor (alas,the same cannot be said for Dolores Fuller), and for its time, his heartfelt argument that laughing at, let alone persecuting men who want to wear dresses is a much more shameful thing to do than wearing drag in the first place is surprisingly daring. Listen carefully to the dialogue in the last scenes of the main story: Wood is keeping the censors happy by explaining that Glen’s unspeakable perversion can probably be cured, but at the same time he makes it clear that it will be perfectly OK for all concerned if it isn’t.

    Oh, and if you see this on DVD, pay close attention to the theatrical trailer. The iconic scene in which Glen’s fiancée peels off her angora sweater and half-reluctantly hands it to Glen as a sign that she accepts what he is appears in a totally different form in the trailer – she just throws it at him in disgust. I think this proves conclusively that contrary to the way he’s portrayed in Tim Burton’s movie, Ed Wood, at least when he was making this film, was prepared to think very carefully about major scenes and re-shoot them if necessary. Maybe Tim Burton confused him with William “One-Shot” Beaudine, the notorious director of “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” and “Billy The Kid Versus Dracula”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.