Wednesday, May 8, 2013

#996. Let Me Die a Woman (1977)

Directed By: Doris Wishman

Starring: Leslie, Deborah Harten, Lisa Carmelle

Tag line: "All True! All Real! See A Man Become A Woman Before Your Eyes!"

Trivia:  The film was rejected for UK cinema and only received a certificate in 1982 after extensive cuts of over 10 minutes

Disguised as a serious documentary about transsexuals, director Doris Wishman’s Let Me Die a Woman is, in reality, a straight-up exploitation flick, featuring (among other things) lots of full-frontal nudity and actual footage of a sex-change operation.

The movie begins innocently enough, showing a woman, credited only as “Leslie”, rising out of bed in the morning, getting dressed, and putting on her makeup. Once she’s prepared herself for the day, Leslie turns to the camera, smiles, and says, “Last year, I was a man”. Excerpts from an interview conducted with Leslie, who had undergone a sex-change operation, are interspersed throughout the film, with her discussing both her early life as a man, and current life as a woman. Let Me Die a Woman even has a very professional-sounding narrator, who, right after the opening credits, says “Imagine what it’s like to be a woman trapped in the body of a man, or a man trapped in the body of a woman”. We’re then introduced to Dr. Leo Wollman, a “man uniquely qualified to help us understand this phenomenon” (when he first appears on-screen, poor Dr. Wollman is clearly reading off of cue cards). Discussing the physical process of a sex change, Dr. Wollman overstates the point when he says “We’ve taken a voyage into a world that is more mysterious, more profoundly disturbing than outer space”. At this early stage, Let Me Die a Woman has all the makings of a true documentary (albeit an inept one).

Then, out of the blue, the scene changes, and we’re in New York’s Central Park, watching as a pretty young prostitute approaches a man sitting on a bench. She brings him back to her apartment, and the two have sex. When the man leaves, the woman stands and removes her panties, revealing she has a penis. We even follow her into the shower, where the camera, paying very close attention to the genitals, watches as she lathers up. From this point on, Let Me Die a Woman isn’t so much a documentary as it is a movie designed to shock and titillate.

Let Me Die a Woman has a lot in common with the so-called “educational” pictures of the ‘30s and ‘40s (Reefer Madness, She Shoulda Said No) which, posing as cautionary tales, featured content that, under normal circumstances, would have never made it past the censors. Like these movies, Let Me Die a Woman fails as a social commentary, providing no real insight into the psyche of the transsexual or presenting anything new regarding the injustices they sometimes face. In short, if it’s actual information you’re after, then I advise you to look elsewhere. But if simulated sex and a man trying to remove his own penis with a chisel and hammer are your thing, then Let Me Die a Woman is the film for you!

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