director Ed Wood, Jr.
Glen or Glenda is really Ed Wood, Jr.’s trash masterpiece.
Wood molds an Exploitation piece about the first well-known sex reassignment surgery into a very personal plea for tolerance for transvestism, and by proxy, other aspects of the non-cisgender spectrum. Coming in 1953, its message, while unbelievably clumsy and lodged in the limited language of the time, still seems an attempt at progressiveness. It’s entirely understandable to find it not just tin-eared but offensive.
Wood has a way with dialogue, uniquely Woodian, uniquely awful. And his staging of scenes is often so patently amateurish it seems like parody.
And yet, there are mesmerizing aspect of the film as well. And the discordance of elements, Bela Lugosi’s every moment for instance, breaks into accidental Surrealism, to boot.
It’s the personal angle that elevates the work above Wood’s typical genre work. A passion drives Glen or Glenda, even at its most ridiculous, imbuing it with an intensity not seen in Wood’s other films.