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January 20, 2006

Let Me Die a Woman


Doris Wishman - 1978
Synapse Films Region 0 DVD

There is a rather humorous anecdote told by the singularly named Leslie, pictured above, the star of Let Me Die a Woman. Leslie was to have been paid following the completion and sale of the film. Doris Wishman kept putting her off, never paying the promised amount or following through on any of the other promises made. Leslie feels she got the last laugh by running up a bill for as much as she could get away with during a promotional appearance, and learning that Doris was herself cheated by the distributor who eventually bought the film. If there is a conclusion here, it is that virtually everyone gets exploited making exploitation films.

I've seen a couple of "roughies" that Wishman made in the mid-Sixties, and excerpts from her nudie films on the television show Reel Wild Cinema. Wishman has been the subject of serious critical evaluation. I'm not ready to jump on that particular bandwagon. If anything, Wishman may be something of a negative example of gender equality.

This film's obvious precedent is Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda. Wood's film features himself as the title character, the beloved and befuddled Bela Lugosi, shots of stampeding buffalos, some unintended laughs as well as wistfulness, knowing that a supremely naive filmmaker exposed a part of his life that most would keep hidden. The best features of Wishman's film are that in color, it is prettier than her earlier black and white films. Leslie is certainly more attractive that Ed Wood in his angora sweater splendor. But Wishman has made a film that is even less cohesive that Wood's autobiographical piece.

Cobbled together over a span of seven years, the film is perhaps mostly of interest to those interested in Wishman, or in seeing a fairly well preserved "gindhouse" film. Even Wishman archivist Michael Bowen has stated he isn't sure who the audience for this film was suppose to be. One could describe it as an outdated psuedo-documentary on transgenderism. Some of the footage can be described as educational, as well as truly clinical, explaining to process of male to female surgery as well as including actual footage of an operation. But the film is a hodgepodge, padded with footage of pre-Deep Throat star Harry Reems with an unidentified woman, and a scene of Seventies porn star Vanessa Del Rio. Leslie is mostly seen in as above, discussing herself, while those transexuals who permitted themselved to be photographed nude are subjected to Wishman's lingering "money shots" of breasts and genitalia. In her commentary, Leslie notes that had she known about the pornographic content, she would never have participated in this film. That Wishman released the film without her name on the credits suggests that she may have wanted this "lost" film to stay that way.

Posted by peter at January 20, 2006 06:20 PM