Tag Archives: Naive Surrealism

170. GLEN OR GLENDA (1953)

“Some argue that this kind of thing puts Ed Wood into the company of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí.

Should we buy this argument? Pull the string!”–IMDB Glen or Glenda FAQ

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Ed Wood, Jr. (as Daniel Davis), Dolores Fuller, Timothy Farrell,

PLOT: A transvestite is found dead, a suicide. Seeking to understand more about this phenomenon, a police inspector visits a psychiatrist who explains transvestism to him using the example of Glen, a heterosexual man who is tormented by the question of whether he should reveal his passion for cross-dressing to his fiancée. Meanwhile, a sinister, omniscient “scientist” (played by Bela Lugosi) occasionally appears to cryptically comment on the action (“pull the string!”)

Still from Glen or Glenda? (1953)
BACKGROUND:

  • Producer George Weiss wanted to make a film to exploit the then-current case of Christine Jorgensen (born George William Jorgensen), one of the first men to have successful sex-reassignment surgery. According to legend, Ed Wood convinced Weiss that he was the right man to direct the picture because he was a transvestite in his private life and understood gender confusion. The resulting film, shot in just four days, ended up being more about transvestism than sex-change surgery.
  • Against Wood’s wishes, Weiss inserted bondage-themed imagery into the dream sequence to give the film a dash more sex.
  • Wood himself plays the transvestite Glen (and Glenda) under the pseudonym Daniel Davis.
  • In his own life, Wood did not take the advice he gave his character in Glen or Glenda to honestly discuss his desire to wear women’s clothes with his betrothed. Wood’s first wife had their marriage annulled in 1955, after Ed surprised her by wearing ladies’ undergarments to their honeymoon.
  • This is the first of three collaborations between Wood and then down-on-his-luck and opiate-addicted Bela Lugosi. Three of Lugosi’s final four credits were Wood films.
  • Some reviews of Glen or Glenda refer to Lugosi’s character as “the Spirit” rather than “the Scientist”; were there two separate sets of credits, each with a different name for the character?
  • Wood’s 1963 novel “Killer in Drag” features a transvestite character named Glen whose alter-ego is named Glenda.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Such a wealth of possibilities! What about the hairy Satan who inexplicably shows up at Glen and Barbara’s dream wedding? And who can forget Bela Lugosi, yelling nonsense at the viewer while his angry face is superimposed over a herd of stampeding buffalo? The iconic image, however, is Wood’s intended emotional climax: in a ridiculously touching gesture of unconditional acceptance, Glen’s girlfriend Barbara strips off her angora sweater and hands it to the wide-eyed transvestite.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A narratively-knotted 1950s pro-transvestite pseudo-documentary, told in naively earnest rhetoric via a wandering structure that includes flashbacks inside of flashbacks, would have made for a worthwhile oddity in itself. But throw in Bela Lugosi as a one-man Greek chorus reciting fractured fairy tales, and include a fourteen-minute dream sequence mixing Freudian symbolism, bargain-basement Expressionism, bondage, and a guest appearance by the Devil and you achieve incomparable weirdness, the way only Ed Wood could serve it up—on a bed of angora.


Clip from Glen or Glenda

COMMENTS: Ed Wood had a secret, and it’s not just that he liked the feel of silk panties under his rough trousers. Transvestism, in a way, was the Continue reading 170. GLEN OR GLENDA (1953)

CAPSULE: THE ACT OF KILLING (2012)

Must See

DIRECTED BY: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn, Anonymous

FEATURING: Anwar Congo, Herman Koto, Adi Zulkadry

PLOT: A Western documentarian encourages leaders of Indonesian death squads, now grandfathers and respected elders of paramilitary groups, to make a movie proudly re-enacting the massacres they committed as young gangsters, on condition that he can film them behind-the-scenes as they work.

Still from The Act of Killing (2012)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Though gut-wrenching, the movie itself is not really weird—although the outtakes of the film the gangsters produce (particularly the musical numbers) reveal something authentically surreal (in a heartbreakingly ironic mode).

COMMENTS: The Act of Killing may be the most moral prank ever pulled. Retired Indonesian gangsters responsible for killing thousands of alleged Communists and ethnic Chinese, especially those who failed to come up with protection money, believe they will be creating an epic film to celebrate their heroically homicidal contributions to the current dictatorship; instead, they are the unwitting stars of a psychodrama that is one of the most frightening and nuanced testaments to the banality of evil ever made. Asked to recreate their greatest massacres, the men come up with amateur productions that would be hilarious, if the real life backstory wasn’t so monumentally tragic. Pink-clad dancing girls (“eye candy,” explains one director) emerge swaying from the mouth of a giant concrete goldfish. In a sagebrush-inspired scene, a woman is gang raped—but she’s played by the heaviest of the killers, in drag. In front of a waterfall, ghosts of the dead hang medals around their executioners’ necks, while “Born Free” plays. Insulated in a cocoon of propaganda that treats them as national heroes, it never occurs to these retired killers to feel shame, and their lack of comprehension of the way outsiders view them manifests itself in bizarrely unselfconscious narratives. The Act of Killing could be seen as a psychological survey of the various ways killers cope with the dried blood on their hands. Some of the gangsters, such as the buffoonish Herman (who is oddly eager to dress up like  for the camera—there is a strange undercurrent of homoeroticism running through all of the gangsters’ friendships), come off as completely clueless. Others, like the bloodcurdling Adi, embrace their evil, arguing that the winners make the rules. He takes pride in his ability to own his own cruelty, seeing it as a sign of mental strength. Then, there is Anwar. Anwar has nightmares about the innocent people he’s killed, but he complains of them in the matter-of-fact way a fishing buddy might complain he has a touch of arthritis in his knee. As the movie goes on, it focuses its lens more and more on Anwar, on his smile that curiously fades as he watches the daily rushes; he seems to be the only one of the major players with the capacity to feel remorse. Is it possible to feel sympathy for someone who bluntly admits he’s strangled more than 1,000 people? Or, is Anwar’s budding conscience just another act for the camera—has he intuited what his director needs from him? Regardless, Anwar is the greatest and most complex character you’ll see on screen this year—his naïve dialogue would be almost impossible for a writer to convincingly script, his curiously opaque facial reactions almost impossible for an actor to convincingly perform. The Act of Killing far transcends a simple political event, however tragic, and becomes a movie about the intersections of human perception and reality: about our blind spots, about how we create and recreate our identities, about the strategies we adopt to justify the unthinkable. It’s movies inside of movies, arising from guilty subconsciouses. Kill a man and you go to prison. Kill a thousand men, and you celebrate the feat by making a movie where dancing girls in pink chiffon strut out of a giant goldfish’s mouth.

The Act of Killing also contains some of the most chillingly bizarre credits you’ll ever see: about three fourths of the entries read “Anonymous.” Two of the greatest living documentarians, and , were so impressed by an early cut of The Act of Killing that they signed on as executive producers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

 “…we spend the next two hours in the company of laughing, joking mass-murderers, blithely revisiting their blood-drenched past in a manner that is at once insanely surreal and distressingly domestic… even in his most hallucinogenic moments, Alejandro Jodorowsky himself could not have dreamed up images to match such eeriness.”–Mark Kermode, The Observer (contemporaneous)

SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

Some may count the 1980s as the last great decade of pop culture. I disagree. The first half of the 80s was undoubtedly influential, but it was a continuation of the individuality of the previous decade. Around the halfway mark, the 80s gave way to the lack of personality blandness that saturated the 1990s (and beyond, to today). Rather, the 1970s was the last decade of pop heaven, and Saturday Morning With Sid and Marty Kroft serves well as the Calgon to take us away to that Neverland time capsule.

This Rhino DVD collection of pilot episodes will probably be best enjoyed with a bowl of Quisp cereal and some full blown Vitamin D milk. None of that wimpy 2 % or skim crap (you might also enjoy a bowl of Quake, if you can find it). Now, slip into a plaid robe, a pair of fuzzy house slippers, kick all those boring hyper-realists out of the house. Then, turn on the TV and hit play. DO NOT fall into the temptation of using the remote control (yes, it’s a DVD, but let’s try to get as close to the genuine experience as we can). Throw the pillows on the shag rug carpet and let the cartoons begin.

The pilots assembled here make for a grand psychedelic starter kit, but some are surprisingly subdued; the series would reach higher planes of inspired lunacy later. No matter. Sid and Marty Krofft stuck to their idiosyncratic formula, which was characterized by prepubescent heroes and heroines, puppet comedy relief, knee-tapping kitsch songs and (badly) canned laughs from the laugh track. It is extremely doubtful that the Krofft Brothers were insightful or perceptive enough to realize just how surreal their macrocosm was. Yes, for me, Sid and Marty Krofft are big bold, dopey examples of . It is no accident that the 1970s animated programs of Sid and Marty Krofft proved to be among the all-important aesthetic diving boards for many later and contemporary surrealists artists, such as Paul Ruebens, , and many more.

Still from H.R. PufnstufThe Krofft Brothers’ first three series shared much in common, and only a single season was filmed for each (although reruns kept them in syndication for an additional year or more). H.R. Pufnstuff is the first and most famous. The pilot premiered in 1969 and began as a series heavily influenced by The Wizard of Oz (1939) with a dash of “The Magic Flute.” The Oz theme of a child being transported to an otherworldly dimension would serve as the primary ingredient in the Krofft recipe.

Jimmy (Jack Wild) and his magic flute, Freddy, are shipwrecked on Living Island. Little do they Continue reading SATURDAY MORNING WITH SID AND MARTY KROFFT

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO EDWARD D. WOOD, JR!

*This is the first testament in our Ed Wood Gospel. The second, New Testament, will cover Wood’s late films, including his collaborations with A.C. Stephens.

This month, Ed Wood‘s Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) sees its Blu-ray release; posthumously, Ed is thoroughly enjoying his last laugh. He can thank those smug, condescending, hopelessly unimaginative thugs posing as establishment critics, the Medveds, for resurrecting him from the dead and catapulting him into a cult Valhalla. As everyone knows by now, the Medveds infamously awarded Wood the honor of  “Worst Director of All Time” in their infamous Golden Turkey Awards. Today, of course, we know that award could go to someone far more deserving, such as Mel Gibson, Tony Scott, or Mark Steven Johnson. Why pick on the genuine tranny auteur of outsider art?  But, thank , the Medveds saw fit to bestow their award on Ed! There is a sense of divine justice after all, because we have rightly canonized him.

Still from Plan 9 from Outer Space (colorized)Plan 9 was already colorized for DVD a few years ago, and there wasn’t a single complaint about a legendary film being subjected to this much-maligned process. Probably because we all realized Ed simply would have loved the extra attention it gave his magnum opus. According to his biographer, Ed Wood said that while Glen or Glenda? (1953) was his most personal film, Plan 9 was his proudest accomplishment!

Wood’s appeal and fame continues unabated. Yes, he was a trash filmmaker, but he was a trash filmmaker delightfully of his time, simultaneously encased in and fighting against the naiveté of the 1950s. Naturally, that phenomenon is something that cannot be repeated, despite the countless attempts to do so by Continue reading THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO EDWARD D. WOOD, JR!

FEAR CHAMBER (1968)

*This is the first part of “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack,” a series examining Karloff’s final films.

A lot of people have expressed the wish that horror icon  could have ended his career with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968).  But Karloff, on his last leg, pushed himself through six more movies, four of which were the Mexican films for producer  and director Juan Ibinez.  This last six pack of films is, by consensus, godawful.  Why did Karloff do it?  According to his biographers, the actor said that he wanted to “die with his boots on.”  And he nearly did just that.

This series is not going to be a revisionist look at those six films.  They are awful within the accepted meaning of the word.  Several of them, however, are downright bizarre products of their time, which now might be looked at as examples of .  The films are: House of Evil (1968), Fear Chamber (1968), Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968), Cauldron of Blood (1970), Isle of the Snake People (1971), and Alien Terror (1971).

Still from Fear Chamber (1968)Fear Chamber ranks as one of the weirdest of the lot, and that is saying much.  It begins with pseudo-torture of scantily clad women.  The scene is soaked in garish sixties colors and a “bleepy” soundtrack.  The various female victims are tormented by a goateed chap, wearing turban, sunglasses (in an underground cavern), white gloves, and black turtleneck.  With “all the macabre horror of  Edgar Allan Poe” these poor sixties chicks are subjected to hot coals and boiling cauldrons.

The scene shifts to the crevice of a volcano where two scientists are “worried about strange Continue reading FEAR CHAMBER (1968)

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.

ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏

Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema will not appear this week.  In it’s place is Alfred’s list of his top 10 weird films in the genre he calls “naive surrealism.”

For 366 Weird Movies, the following is a list of “all the way under the radar” Weird Movies.

These are the films that would fall under the category of being either “Naturally Weird” or “Naive Surrealism.”  For instance, no film of David Lynch’s makes the list, mainly because Lynch is too self consciously aware and too clever to be called natural or naive.  Nothing against Lynch’s films, which are some of the most delightfully weird films ever made (well the earlier ones, at least).  The same could be said for the undeniably great Luis Buñuel, Ken Russell, David Cronenberg, Jan Svankmajer, and Guy Maddin, to name a few.  In the same vein, overtly “Experimental Films” (ie: Maya Deren, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Daina Krummins) are excluded, regardless of the temptation.

* Also excluded is Donnie Darko which is good, but annoyingly overrated and oh so “trendy weird on the sleeve.”  The same goes for Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” which is not good at all and was 1980’s “trendy weird” (besides, that band really lost it’s genuine, honest to goodness weirdness with the departure of Syd Barrett).

  1. Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda. Cinema’s most celebrated outsider artist; Ed Wood.  Wood defines the meaning of “natural auteur.”  One always recognizes an Ed Wood film, even when accidentally stumbling upon it.  Wood stamped his honest, eccentric personality onto everything he touched and this is what separates him from the rest of the Z grade amateurs of his time.  Indeed, Wood is far preferable to both his peers and the mere “assignment” directors.  Anything from Wood’s oeuvre could fit, but it is Glen or Glenda, rather than Plan 9 from Outer Space, that is Wood’s most zany, personal unintentional masterpiece.
  2. Tod Browning‘s The Unknown & Freaks.  Browning, could hardly be called naive, but his attraction to the outcast and misfit was sincere as he had spent many years making his living in the carnival circuit.  Browning knew and spoke the freak language, which is what made his bonding collaboration with Lon Chaney possibly the most unique Director/Actor collaboration in film history.  Both The Unknown and Freaks were among Browning’s most personal films (a third would be 1927’s The Show with John Gilbert), but The Unknown (his greatest achievement) slightly trumps Freaks with a genuinely startling plot development that is absurd, dramatic and without drawing attention to itself.  The accomplished acting of Chaney certainly helped Browning pull this off (and, no question, Chaney’s acting ranks with Chaplin and Coogan as the greatest of the silent era).  Lesser artists would have done this with bells and horns, but with Chaney and Browning, it goes way under the skin.  Browning certainly knew Freaks was going to generate reactions, but was undoubtedly taken back and unprepared for the level of intense negativity unleashed, which destroyed his career.  Tragedy aside, the ensuing drama perfectly capped his legend.
  3. Charlie Bower’s Egged On. Not enough is known of Charlie Bowers to determine whether or not his surrealistic, independent shorts were intentionally surreal or knowingly experimental.  It is known Bowers was (and remains) the perennial outsider, unfortunately inept in areas of self-promotion, marketing and perseverance.  His best films were the ones that mixed live action with animation and included his character, even if that character lacked the charismatic personality of Keaton, Chaplin, etc.  His later, strictly animated films that did not include the live action mix and character lack the overall unique whimsical quality of the earlier shorts (although some of that eccentric whimsy is present). A Wild Roomer, He Done His Best, Now You Tell One, and It’s a Bird are some of the most idiosyncratic shorts of any era (and evoke a spirit similar to the much later Dr. Seuss).   Andre Breton understandably adored him.  Egged On has to be seen to be believed and involves a basket of eggs which hatch, giving birth to a litter of miniature Model T Fords!  It is almost heartbreaking that only 15 of his films survive, but one has to be forever grateful that those 15 were finally discovered and restored.
  4. Jack Hill’s Spider BabySpider Baby has earned it’s cult status.  Nothing else Hill did (which is very little) has quite this flavor.  It’s not a surrealist film, as some have claimed, but it is an enjoyably demented one of a kind.  Lon Chaney, Jr. actually gives a good performance (reportedly he laid off the liquor as he liked the script) and the rest of the cast match him.  This low budget film seems very much like a happy accident.  It sat collecting dust for four years, was horribly distributed under numerous titles, but eventually found it’s cult audience, which is a lucky thing.
  5. John Parker’s Dementia: Daughter of Horror.  Speaking of mini budget obscurities: nothing is really known of director Parker, if he did any other films, if this a pseudonym, etc.  For several years this was believed to be a non-existent film, then a copy turned up.  Good thing, this gem of a film (which has no dialogue) is a bridge between z grade horror and arthouse; outsider art meets surrealism head on.  It first made the circuits as Dementia and later under the different title Daughter of Horror.  Both versions exist now (Daughter has narration by Ed McMahon). Continue reading ALFRED EAKER’S 10 WEIRD MOVIES LIST: NAIVE SURREALISM‏