I’ve danced around the subject a few times already, but I haven’t directly dealt with Edward D. Wood Jr. in this column yet. Frankly, to do so seems rather superfluous. If you’re reading these words, you are in all likelihood intimately familiar with the great man’s work. So I’m not going to do any kind of survey or intro here. Instead, this is something of a plea.
Cult film fans have long been used to having to view their faves under conditions that are often less than ideal. Ten or fifteen years ago, befo…e the full onslaught of the DVD, and when most people didn’t own laser disc players, awful bootleg VHS was often the only alternative. Fortunately, this was never the case with Wood. There were plenty of legit releases of his work, especially those that had fallen into the public domain.
Ah yes, the public domain. For every class act like Sinister Cinema, there was an outfit like Madacy, whose EP offerings seemed designed to break the hearts of buyers. When DVD came in, rescuing collectors from the nightmares of tracking problems and disintegrating tapes, Madacy still managed to release discs where they appeared to have gone out of their way to find the worst prints available and have them transferred by technicians so inept, they probably didn’t have opposable thumbs. But at least with the public domain there are options. If one outfit has a crap copy of something, somebody else probably has a good one.
The case of Glen or Glenda?, which I want to consider here, is somewhat different. Wood’s most personal, most flabbergastingly surreal work – a jaw-dropping patchwork of horror, exploitation, stock footage and would-be art all wrapped up as a desperate plea for tolerance of transvestism – has long since been exclusively in the hands of Wade Williams. His print was first released on VHS by Rhino, and subsequently turned up DVD from Image. Now, Image is generally pretty reliable when it comes to presenting cult films. There have been a few unfortunate exceptions, though, and, tragically, this is one of them.
If you still have your VHS edition of the film, treasure it. The DVD is a horrible disappointment. The Rhino release was not without its splices, but they were generally few and far between. The print used for the DVD, though, is a mess. The splices have multiplied, and are now swallowing up some of the priceless dialogue. Most criminal, though, is the absence of an entire scene (the one wherein we learn, doubled over with laughter, of the difference between “the Transvestite” and “the Homosexual” as if we were watching some bizarre wildlife documentary). It is saddening to see a film look so much worse in its migration to the newer medium.
So this is my plea. We NEED a new edition of Glen or Glenda? on DVD. This is one of the most important cult movies ever. It needs to be preserved, and properly. And it needs to be seen. Properly.