GENDER SHIFT

l was fortunate to direct what l would call a theatre production of “moments” from a new DRACULA play in studio staging a few years ago. I cast Van Helsing as a female which l had heard was done somewhere else. l actually did this because no suitable males auditioned for the role. That opened up interesting moments in the central relationship between Mina, Van Helsing and Harker.
Film as an art form of story telling is supposed to reflect our age and time in society. I would suggest that it has not kept pace with the many differences in sexual orientation we have on the planet. When there has been examples of a gender shift or a blurring it seems to be treated as a deception or a large joke on the audience or central character. Skilled directors particularly in precode Hollywood made inside jokes to poke fun of society conventions.
James Whale did just that in casting female Elspeth Dudgeon as the male head of the Femm family in THE OLD DARK HOUSE in 1932. It has been debated that BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN is one huge send up of marriage by Whale and brilliant actor Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Pretorius.
Mainstream cinema seems to take delight in deception of gender in such pictures as Billy Wilder’s 1959 picture SOME LIKE IT HOT , TOOTSIE (1982), THE CRYING GAME (1982), M BUTTERFLY and MRS DOUBTFIRE both from 1993. Most with exception of THE CRYING GAME are “straight” man donning female clothes as a option for deception for romantic ends.
Female garb and mannerisms are in play in THE TENNANT (1976) and PSYCHO (1960) with purpose to do evil.
Ed Wood in GLEN OR GLENDA(1953) tried and people consider it a trash look the cross dressing lifestyle with a sympathetic almost clinical training film look.

Tod Browning made FREAKS in 1932 which turned gender, gender bending and the altering of the human form to new heights or lows depending on your point of view. FREAKS did allow for conventional romantic dialogue for the time and situations occurring in the lives of people that simply looked different. The great tradition of the Carnival freak show came into play with of the bearded lady and the half man/ half woman that was ever present in that form of entertainment. When we de-construct or blur our sexual orientation we become “not human “to some people because it is an altering a common human characteristic.

Movies from the “Pulp” novels and adventure stories of the past. The worlds with those are compact with clearly defined roles. Is it a world that is to be be saved or restored and blown up again in the case of sequels.
However if you put a gender neutral or openly different character in a position of causing the same resolution would it have different effect on the audience. The film world which is codified good versus evil has changed. A need would be acceptance of a different orientation even if two people stood side by side with smoking guns. I would suggest that studios would have to gamble on the response which they may not want to do with huge budgets at stake.

In conclusion the monster will always burn in windmill, Cody Jarrett will be blown up on the refinery and Brookfield farm will be saved no matter what that world is. Television has taken over the more controversial subject matter perhaps because it has less to lose. A gay or straight man or woman or child can kill a zombie, save people, pilot a starship why not show them. It is much easier to kill, maim and torture in various ways then to show different ways to love and be loved.

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BIG SCREEN BENEDICTION

TCM Classic film festival for 2013 announced their full program today. Found some interesting morsals among the always interesting program. Having the good fortune have attended this festival in 2011 I looked knowingly at the midnight screenings. TCM this year will be running a 35 mm print of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS. ‘Who would want to see PLAN 9 on the big screen in all its wonderful mistake filled fun…the answer is me and perhaps others. What a way to enjoy film the way that it was meant to be seen on the screen with these two little misty gems each different.
We all know of the communal aspect of film going, the shared experience with other as the screen darkens. No matter what film you go to see there is that sense of anticipation in the few seconds between ‘feature attraction’ appearing on screen and the actual start. It doesn’t get diminished even with the silly advertising and the interviews with musicians and actors saying all the right things about there next film that you don’t really care about. When you attend a film at TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL or any other festival I would imagine is wonderfully different experience
You are there with people who really want to see whatever picture you are at as opposed to people who just want to “go to a flick”. Two different audiences with two different needs. My first experience at the Classic film festival was a 8 am screening of a James Cagney picture TAXI made in 1932. There we were well fed at that hour with coffees in hand with many others in the dark. The audience applaud when the “Stars” like Cagney, Clara Bow even Mickey Mouse all make the first entrance. End credits are read from beginning to end without the usual standing in the aisles as one wants to see the names of the people some long dead or forgotten that entertained you and countless others before.
Had the good fortune to attend a screening of the picture HOOP LA starring Clara Bow made in 1933. The guest who’s name I have forgotten stood up before the audience and did an intro to the film saying that the last shot is so very important in that it was Clara Bow’s last appearance in a sound film. Her frenetic style of movement did not lend itself to the primitive sound technology of the time. Bow’s career slowly faded away as she gave up acting to live on a ranch. When her image filled the screen it was amazing in its effect. Total hush punctuated with polite applause and almost a collective sigh from the audience as if to say ‘Goodbye Clara” one more time.
Not to say this doesn’t happen any place else or you have to good to a festival of this nature to have this effect. It was just so different to be startling.
I would and will go back to TCM CLASSIC FESTIVAL in a flash.