On the heels of the DVD release of Monika Treut’s defiantly intimate documentary about San Francisco’s vibrant transgender community, Gendernauts (1999), comes the DVD debut of Doris Wishman’s defiantly exploitative pseudo-documentary, Let Me Die a Woman (1978). Distributed by First Run Features, Gendernauts takes us to the clinics, cabarets, dinner parties and city streets where definitions of gender and identity are challenged on every level, from the chemical to the cultural. Treut revels in a fascinating panoply of personalities in transition — male-to-female, female-to-male, some holding at various points in between — that ultimately leaves you with the impression of just how impoverished the idea of two genders really is. Wishman’s Let Me Die a Woman, on the other hand, revels simply in impoverishment. At first, Wishman’s extensive, illuminating interview with Leslie — a post-op transsexual — leads one to naively think that the legendary cult filmmaker (Deadly Weapons, The Amazing Transplant) might be on the up and up. Then come the waves of softcore “re-enacts” of transsexual “encounters,” graphic surgery footage and the shameless spectacle of medical doctor Leo Wollman conducting an “educational” lecture, using a pointer stick to identify the genitalia of several far-too-cooperative New York transsexuals. In short, it’s a classic grindhouse come-on. According to the liner notes by Wishman authority Michael Bowen, the film bombed on its initial release in adult theaters that had long since switched over to hardcore fare. Not even a brief cameo by Harry Reems of Deep Throat fame could salvage it. A car crash of intentions, Let Me Die a Woman might still be appropriated by a community looking for any early screen images of itself, but even more effectively, it reminds us just how far the transgender community has come in taking up the reins of artistic self-representation.
Other recommended new releases: Afro Promo (DVD), Corpse Bride (VHS-DVD), Dune: Extended Edition (DVD), Lust for Life (DVD).
Also released this week:
VHS-DVD: In Her Shoes, The Legend of Zorro.
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