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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