Let Me Die a Woman

A great deal has been said unofficially in the past about this obscure and highly dubious American film, released uncut by our friends Derann Film Services in Dudley, West Midlands, in 1981. In mainstream, “civilised” circles it is virtually unknown and mentioned in very few reference books indeed (any?), but in the UK it has gained a certain notoriety among collectors of obscure (and obscene) videos. The reason for this is partly the film’s uniquely bizarre subject matter but mainly the graphic nature of what it depicts and, more precisely, how it depicts it. Whether we should be grateful that Derann gave us an uncut version of this repulsive film really depends on the strength of your stomach. Those who are likely to be easily offended by close encounters and intimate meetings with abnormal sexual organs and practices should steer well clear. (Personally I love that stuff…)

The copyright date at the end of the film indicates a 1978 production, but it’s difficult to tell, even on an original. The film looks and sounds a fair bit older, but this could simply be due to the use of library pictures/music in some cases. For those who are not “familiar with the text”, it’s a cheesy, sleazy documentary on transsexualism primarily consisting of a straight explanatory monologue from a Leo Wollman M.D. sat in his office/surgery, various — usually contrived and staged – interviews with transsexuals, and hest of all (?) gratuitously explicit footage of naked transsexuals, their “bits” and other stuff. It’s the other stuff that has generally earned the documentary its questionable reputation.

It’s bad enough being confronted with numerous freaky transsexuals in a variety of frank, naked close-ups – this is generally unsettling as it utterly challenges your established notions of sexuality, homan or otherwise; all past experience and accepted truths are suddenly undemiined. But then, if that’s not enough, we are treated to all kinds of other disturbing delights. Most notoriously of all, we are given a reconstruction of an incident where a male lopped off his tackle with a hammer and chisel, because he was dissatisfied with the presence of his male sexual organ and couldn’t afford a proper operation.

This is an extremely “nice” scene indeed and if you’ve got a willy yourself (which you’re happy with), it’s a real leg-crosser. Later there is likewise a reconstruction of an incident where a recently transformed woman (i.e., ex-man . . . it’s all very confusing) uses her vagina for sex too soon after the operation and consequently bleeds over her bed-sheets—a reconstructed scene which could probably have been left to the imagination (like most of the rest). There’s real footage of an actual surgical operation to “convert” a penis into a vagina and a prolonged extreme close-up examination of the finished product (you’ll be blowing chunks at this point) into which Dr. Leo inserts various things. And that’s not to mention numerous transsexuals exposing their naughty bits and jumping in and out of bed.

The above description might give a person the impression that a lot of the explicit unpleasant material is really quite gratuitous and unnecessary, used for sensational ends and that the film is nothing less than the most unadulterated, unapologetic piece of exploitation ever made. Exactly. Spot on. Hit the nail on the head there. This is really the film’s main source of amusement, I believe, which few critics in the past have highlighted. At first it’s naturally the visual repulsiveness of the proceedings that strike you. However, when you step back and take a look at this terrible production, it’s in fact the documentary’s sheer exploitative glory that is most “stunning”. There seems to be nothing which the viewer will be spared the privilege(?) of seeing, and the total ineptitude of the production more then equals its immortality – the production values leaves a lot to be desired, to say the least. As Martyn Carre so aptly puts it in Samhain (27) our informative Dr. Leo Wollman hardly emits professional credibility by the gallon: “An apparent expert on transsexualism, but whose often hungover, shifty appearance lends credence more to the idea of a back-street abortionist”, a very appropriate description.

Early on in the movie, the camera pans over his medical certificates etc. on the wall of his office, so we presume he is actually a qualified expert he is supposed to be. However, even if he is, what the fuck kind of doctor is he, appearing in sleaze like this?! Any medical expert willing to appear in a film that stoops to such depths, I personally wouldn’t even consult about the ‘flu’ let alone let him chop my cock off. His frequent explanations on the subject of transsexualism from his desk in his office must be seen to be believed (as must most of the film). His delivery of the material is worse than Terry Christian on acid, as he stumbles his way through sentence after sentence printed on card after card, clearly position to the side of or below the camera. His eyes are rarely looking into the camera as he speaks (obviously they’re focused on his cards by the side) and it’s quite good fun watching his eyes go back and forth as he reads his stuff – no efficient auto-cue here.

Some of the interviews featured are wonderfully rehearsed and you can virtually sense how hard the interviewees are trying to recall what they were supposed to be saying, especially one woman towards the end, who tries ever so hard to be convincing but is constantly seen looking over at the cards, presumably being waved about frantically on the other side of the room. The absence of an official directorial credit on the film is perfectly apparent [Ed: It was actually Doris Wishman] , but the real Oscar for the production must go to a Mr. Juan Fernandez, a supposed “director of photography” (ha!) for what is surely the most dull and inept photography ever recorded, especially in Doc Leo’s scenes of explanation. These are all incredibly static, but what is even worse is when of Juan decides to provide his own brand of variation, like a really adventurous pan down to Leo’s nameplate which jars badly with the monologue, and best of all a complete change of room and angle—which results in Leo delivering his explanations from a desk in the far corner of a room, photographed on a slant. Nice one, Juan.

The film also has a great deal of filling; in fact, most of the film could perhaps be regarded as filling; although as I say it’s entertaining for being completely bad. A typical highlight is when Leo of course has to be shown going from his office desk to his surgery, donning his white coat, etc. without saying a word, for about half a minute. Likewise the interview with the main transsexual woman is extremely overlong—the bitch rabbits on endlessly. Finally, to top it all, throughout the film there is a lot of unnecessary and inappropriate background music, which really sounds out of place.

At the end of the day, probably the most entertaining stuff in the film is its offensive footage and this is truly the film’s “raison d’etre”, like most Shockumentaries. However, if you’re into incredibly bad films like me, then you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this production which is one of the most classic examples of all-out exploitation (definitely not) available today.