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Synapse Films presents
"Last year, I was a man."
DVD ReviewIf you believe that movies deserve equality when it comes to video releases, then you should appreciate labels like Synapse. These folks and other boutique labels like them gather some truly demented films, lavish attention upon them, and present them to the world. If you don't appreciate such dedication, you're reading the wrong review. Anyway. Synapse's latest addition to their catalog of the oddball and sick is Doris Wishman's spurious documentary about transsexualism, Let Me Die a Woman. Wishman is unique in as much as she was a woman working in a male-dominated field (exploitation films), but judging solely from this film, she appears to be completely untalented as a director, beyond a grasp of what will shock and potentially offend. The film retains a weird vibe that makes it an interesting piece to watch, but there is otherwise little here to recommend this sometimes creepy, always absurd film.
Compiled, according to research by Wishman scholar Michael Bowen, over a period of several years, Let Me Die a Woman begins with a woman (Leslie) starting her day after rising from bed. We see her strip off her nightclothes, get dressed, and put on makeup, all while suave library music plays. Finally, she looks straight into the camera and tells us, "Last year, I was a man." (Shocking!) From Leslie, we meet Dr. Leo Wollman, an actual doctor who specialized in transsexual cases, or as he puts it, gender dyphoria. Wollman has no camera presence, clearly and steadily reading his lines off of cue cards while he sits stiffly at his desk. Wollman, from the sound of it, awkwardly looped his lines afterward. His appearance and his office (or the sets) also change back and forth during the film, as several years elapsed between the start and finish of filming.
But really, the bits with Leslie and Wollman are the dullest, at least in terms of what many will be coming to the film to see. Leslie's interview segments provide a foundation for the film, even if it is at odds with the rest of what's on tap. So what is on tap for the voyeur? Well, we are informed that we'll be seeing "real sex acts" (no, we won't) with transsexuals and partners, but it amounts to lame soft-core footage, with a focus on the genitals of the transsexuals, just to emphasize what you're watching. It isn't remotely sexy. At least one sex scene includes an actress, unbeknownst to her, billed as a post-op transsexual, acting with porno star Harry Reems, pre-Deep Throat. That scene is hilariously meant to take place in Morocco (once a haven for cheap sex-change operations, and here represented by an anonymous white hotel room), where the post-op "Rhoda" wants to test-drive her new equipment, to predictable consequences.
The film's most repulsive moments come late in the proceedings; in the first, Wishman inserted stock footage of a sex change operation (at least I assume that's what it is). In the second, Wollman shows us the post-op genitals (which look like someone took a Garden Weasel to them) of a man to woman transsexual, and uses a metal probe and his fingers to demonstrate what has been done and where the openings are (urrrgh). The friends to whom I showed this segment (you see what kind of a friend I am) responded with howls and screams of "AAAA!!" "GET THAT OUT OF THERE!!!" and so on. The film also includes restored footage of a notorious scene (a re-enactment, of course) in which one confused individual decides to sever his (her?) own penis—with a hammer and paint scraping chisel. In perhaps the film's most outrageously comedic moment, Wishman sets up this shot with—get ready—a drumroll. So much for sensitivity. The scene is so obviously phony that it doesn't resonate nearly as much as the moments I cited above.
While this review has been generally negative, this disc is recommended, if solely for those this release is targeted to. If you're an exploitation fan, or love the bizarre and the outright goofy, this is right up your alley. If you need a movie to appall your friends and neighbors, or for a bad movie night, this should do the trick. If you're a Wishman fan, it's a no-brainer. Anyone else should approach with caution, since while this is a respectful DVD, the film itself has little respect for either its audience or its subjects.
Rating for Style: D+
Rating for Substance: D+
Image Transfer Review: The film was shot over several years, and consequently image quality varies from scene to scene, with a variety of print flaws present. The transfer, anamorphically enhanced in a 1.78:1 ratio, looks as good as we could reasonably expect it to look.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The average sound quality of the original materials is duplicated quite satisfactorily, and nothing is especially obscured by the low-rent soundtrack, presented here in Dolby 2.0 mono. The library music Wishman used almost sounds better when it's heard in a cheapie context like this.
Audio Transfer Grade: A-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Scholar Michael Bowen and Leslie
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsPure lunacy in so many ways, this won't be to all tastes, needless to say, but it will no doubt amuse those in the right frame of mind for it. Synapse's presentation of the film is better than it probably deserves and lives up to their previous high standards.
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