Sometimes when our ship is floating over, say, Uranus, I begin thinking about what might have been. I ask questions to myself like “What if I grew up in the 70’s and wanted to have a sex-change operation? Could I afford it? Or would I have to lop my dick off with a rusty shoehorn?” Thankfully, on one of our many scavenging missions, I was able to unearth a dandy little flick that answered all questions concerning the ups and downs of transsexual life during the decade that brought us afros, hairy bushes, and bell-bottomed pants. This little sex education oddity goes by the name of Let Me Die a Woman!
Directed by prolific “nudie” filmmaker Doris Wishman (does her surname reveal a hidden meaning? Did Doris secretly “wish” to be a “man?” Is this why she made this horrific film?); Let Me Die a Woman is a curious exploitation film that is part documentary, part re-enactment, and all visual Ipecac. Mixing bizarre sex scenes (featuring pre and post-op transsexuals) with talking head interviews (primarily with a post-op “woman” named Leslie) and graphic, cringe-inducing surgery footage, Let Me Die a Woman begs the question, “Who the fuck is this movie made for?” Men interested in becoming women? Women interested in becoming men? Confused hermaphrodites? Me?
Hosted and narrated by the lethargic, questionably drunk, and cue-card-reading Dr. Leo Wollman (who disarmingly reminded me of Mr. Roper from the TV show Three’s Company), Let Me Die a Woman plods along with lengthy stretches of naïve and laughable psychobabble; punctuated by moments of gratuitous nudity. But not the “good” kind of nudity. Oh no. Oh God no. Maybe this life-affirming quote from our nearly narcoleptic narrator, Dr. Leo, will shed some light on the film’s search for probing, existential answers:
“…the male transsexual feels that he is emotionally a female and is physically trapped in a male body. His one and all consuming thought and desire is to get rid of his hated penis and testicles and somehow achieve womanhood by getting a vagina.”
Wow. This movie like a mirror. A mirror reflecting my own inner psyche!
Now, I do not mean to belittle the plight of transgendered folks (whether they manifest socially, economically, or mentally), but the film goes out of the way to avoid any serious analysis. Instead, it parades its subjects out like freak show attractions; and then seeks to titillate (or disgust) with sensationalistic sex scenes. Sex scenes with all kinds of body parts flappin’ in the wind. A few body parts too many, if you ask me.
So, with every semi-coherent point made by the half-inebriated Dr. Leo, or every heartfelt revelation made by the post-op transsexual Leslie, we are also subjected to scenes where the Doctor (with his retractable pen in hand), points to numerous anatomical nooks n’ crannies on various nude people. Like the man taking hormones who is now sprouting boobs and whose dangling crank is repeatedly pushed to and fro by the Doctor’s pen; or the woman who is taking male hormones and has hairy legs; or the post-op transsexual woman who demonstrates how to dilate her man-made vagina by shoving a monstrous, shiny, bowling-pin-like contraption up inside her. All in glorious close-up!
Then there are the re-enactments and dramatizations that feature men with bad haircuts and kick-ass sideburns. Nude men with bad haircuts and kick-ass sideburns. In the first re-enactment, one of these hairy men picks up a lovely “woman” in a park and goes back to her place. After a nice dry-humping session (apparently, the “woman” leaves her panties on during sex), the man gives her some money (she’s a prostitute who only lets guys dry hump her?) and exits her home. Then, with the camera leering on her panties, she, in slow-motion, peels them off to reveal…wait for it…a penis! And, just in case you missed the subtlety in this scene, it is shown again! Only this time it’s accompanied by thunderous drums on the soundtrack! Then the man/woman (to be referred to from now on as “Shim”), takes a shower and soaps up…everywhere. Strangely, I detected the Jaws theme playing as “Shim” washed “shimself.” I am not joking. I smell a lawsuit…
My favorite re-enactment though involves a confused fella who has decided to hack his genitals off because he cannot afford the operation. Seems completely sane and rational to me. And how does he go about accomplishing this task? He plops his dick on a cutting board and, with hammer in hand, strikes down on his manmeat with a chisel. Ouch!
Unfortunately, Let Me Die a Woman does not end here. For all those sadomasochists out there, the film not only shows a real-life surgical procedure where a man’s manhood is removed (thankfully, the surgeon’s hands obscure a good portion of this); the good Dr. Leo also pokes and prods a post-op transsexual’s reconstructed vagina. And this too is presented in glorious close-up! He even lubes a gloved finger and crams it inside the “hole.” Sweet bastard, if only today’s 3-D technology was available in the 70’s! I nearly retched during this scene, since the new vagina looks like a smiling chimpanzee…or a battered catcher’s mitt, I can’t quite decide which one. Regardless, when I close my eyes at night I can still see it.
While these sequences are gut-churning (even Dr. Leo’s explanation and drawn diagrams detailing the penis-removal-and-vagina-construction made me turn green); perhaps the most disturbing part of this movie is the “acting.” Dr. Leo Wollman sleepwalks through the whole debacle, his eyes continually moving back and forth as he reads cue cards. Then there are the supporting players, like the post-op transsexual “Debbie,” who has apparently taken acting lessons from the Doctor. She…talks…like…this. Tons of bad dubbing and awkward cutaways don’t help matters either. But the jazzy, feel-good soundtrack sure makes my toes tap!
Before I shove a clothes hanger up my nose and give myself a lobotomy to forget this mess of a film, I am going to list some other high points:
-The Doctor has a weird, baby skeleton encased in glass on top of his desk. Creepy!
-The Doctor shows us various dildoes. One dildo is shaped like a gun with a dick attached to the barrel. According to the Doctor, there is a soapy fluid in the gun that unloads a “hot fluid emission.” Ewwww!
-The Doctor has a group of transvestites and transsexuals visit his office for some sort of therapy session. These are the worst looking transvestites I have ever seen and the most frightening assemblage of lost souls I have ever come across. There is a dude named “Steve” who is an auto mechanic wearing loud eye-shadow and a lame red wig. I think I saw “Steve” once at a family reunion.
-The Doctor, after flipping and poking genitals throughout the film with his trusty retractable pen, actually puts the pen back into his pocket! Ewwww!
-The Doctor relates a story about a post-op transsexual who wanted to “test out her new vagina” soon after her operation. We get to see how “well” this test goes. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it involves blood and a white bed sheet.
-Sometimes the camera moves while people are talking, as if the camera operator has fallen asleep.
-There is a sex scene between a man and a former man. The man has the sweetest mustache I have ever seen this side of John Oates.
-Anywho, I have already spent more time writing this review than was spent making the damn movie, so, in the immortal words of Dr. Leo Wollman, I leave you with this:
“We all know what sex we are…we are male, or female. But perhaps it’s not so obvious.”
Not so obvious indeed.