“We all know what sex we are. It is so obvious that it can be seen by the naked eye and we know it in the deepest part of ourselves. We are male or female. But perhaps it’s not so obvious. Imagine if you can what it’s like to be a woman – imprisoned in the body of a man. Or a man trapped in the body of a woman. Not male, not female, not homosexual. Recently the world was shocked by the discovery of this third sex – the transsexual.”
Review Date: January 20, 2006
Released by: Synapse Films
Release date: 1/31/2006
Region 0, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
Meet Dr. Leo Wollman, a gynecologist with a peculiar interest in sex change operations. Wollman has a big heart and a particular sympathy for the plight of transsexuals who face a society that is fundamentally hostile to such sexual deviancy. Using real examples from his practice, the good doctor describes for us various cases he has dealt with or has learned about involving transsexualism, including the sad case of a man who committed suicide to get out of a planned marriage to a straight woman. Using some of his patients for actual human displays, he shows us the process in which the penis is surgically removed, breasts are artificially created and a general feminine appearance is given to men who seek to liberate their inner female.
We are also introduced to Leslie, a Hispanic woman who grew up as an unhappy male before undergoing a sex change operation. She describes in detail the pain and discomfort of being different and her confusion as to what was wrong with her, and her eventual discovery into the potential for sex change surgery to give her a new life. Together the two paint a vivid portrayal of both life as a transsexual and the procedure in which someone changes their sex.
In my time as a reviewer at HorrorDVDs.com, I have received in excess of fifty screener discs from over a dozen different companies. Out of this number I have found plenty of movies that I didn’t like, and some of them have had parts which were uncomfortable to sit through. But never, ever, have I received a movie that matched the sheer unpleasantness of Let Me Die a Woman
. Whether it be a man chopping off his own manhood with a chisel, actual footage from a real sex change operation, or the story of a newly made woman who tries to get it on too soon after the operation, there is simply no way to describe how uncomfortable this movie is probably going to make the average viewer. In fact, when Synapse announced this release Don May himself made mention of the fact that the telecine colorist got sick while working on the transfer. For this reason alone I hesitate to recommend the film to anyone, and anyone who does choose to buy or rent it should think long and hard as to whether or not their own personal constitution can handle it.
The film is gratuitously explicit and revolting. More so than that, it is exploitive of transsexuals, the very people whose side it ostensibly takes. The social alienation and mental anguish of transsexuals is well documented. Let Me Die a Woman
acknowledges this – and in fact, makes a huge issue over it – but its tacky, sleazy approach does nothing to help. Whether or not director Doris Wishman really thought she was making a serious documentary is unknown. But judging from her extensive filmography of exploitation cinema, I suspect she knew that she was in the gutter (for an excellent and real
documentary on transsexualism, check out Kate Davis’ Southern Comfort
). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Leo Wollman. Apparently Wishman paid him to be in the film, and then later gave him a cut in the profits. If he realized just what a fool he was making of himself by appearing in a production like this, the realization must have come after his scenes were already shot, as he seems to take his duty as narrator and host of the film with great seriousness and professionalism. Wollman was a fairly respectable physician and researcher (Google his name and you will find numerous hits involving his work) and to have appeared in a film of this type should be considered a stain on his record.
Even aside from the revoltingness and sleaze of the movie, from a filmmaking standpoint the production is atrocious. Nine out of ten times you can tell that Wollman is reading his lines off a cue card, both from his eye movement and his dull, drone-like manner of speaking. He probably wrote his own material and his stilted language (not to mention the fact that he repeatedly refers to a guy with heavy jowls and streaks of gray in his hair as a “young man”!) is reminiscent of a politician who isn’t good with public speaking. The editing is choppy, the cinematography is flat and uninspired, the stock library music (much of which has an eerie familiarity to it, and which has certainly appeared in some horror movies) gets irritating and the staged re-enactments are lifeless. Wollman’s scientific lectures on the difference between homosexuality and transsexualism and other topics feel too much like a high school health class lecture. The only parts that ring true are the interview segments with Leslie, who provides convincing testimony on what it was like for her growing up and knowing that she was different. But even so she fails to provide the film with the emotional focal point that it desperately needs.
So what is the point of it all? As far as I can tell there really isn’t any point. Let Me Die a Woman
is just a senseless, pointless pseudo-documentary that does a disservice to its topic in its greedy pursuit of grindhouse profits.
Let Me Die a Woman
is given a widescreen presentation letterboxed at 1.78:1 and enhanced for 16x9 displays. The film itself looks like exactly what it is – a cheap and badly shot little picture. The transfer also looks like exactly what it is – beat-up film elements given the digital red carpet treatment. Most of the time colors look damn nice and there’s a pleasing level of clarity (particularly in the scenes with Dr. Wollman), though other times the footage has a very grungy, grainy look to it. Some of the time the image looks very clean, while at other times there are plenty of nicks and scratches on display to remind us that someone wasn’t properly taking care of the film elements. Considering just how cobbled together the movie is (though finished in 1978, apparently Wishman began working on it in the early 1970’s) it isn’t terribly surprising that most of it doesn’t match.
The Dolby 2.0 Mono track suffers from a number of problems. Though the music comes through clear, the original sound recording is pretty iffy. Much of the dialogue was post-dubbed, while the voice recording for Leslie’s interview – which was definitely shot with synched sound – has a raspy, hissy quality to it. There is also a thin layer of background noise noticeable on many occasions. The overall sound quality of the feature is certainly bearable but the elements it was taken from were clearly in below average condition.
Synapse gives us a commentary track with Doris Wishman biographer Michael Bowen and leading lady Leslie (no other name is ever given to identify her). This proves to be yet another of those commentary tracks which turn out to be a lot more entertaining than the actual movie. Initially Bowen has to prompt Leslie into speaking, but soon they get a nice conversation started. Apparently Leslie filmed her parts in isolation of everything else and had nothing to do with the rest of the film, though she knew Dr. Wollman and then got to know Wishman herself. The two discuss her work on the film, her relationship with Wishman and Wollman, and they also cover general issues relating to transsexualism during the 1970’s. They are able to laugh at some of the less grotesque sights on display, and Leslie makes some well placed jabs at Wishman’s notoriously delusional personality.
Next up we have an alternate opening credit sequence under a different title. When the footage was discovered amongst Wishman’s personal effects after her death in 2002 it didn’t have any soundtrack, and so Michael Bowen provides commentary for it. This is one of his main pieces of evidence for concluding that Wishman began work on the film in the early 1970’s, as it contains a copyright logo stating 1971.
Next up we have a theatrical trailer, three short promo spots, a radio spot, and lengthy liner notes from Bowen where he continues to trace the film’s convoluted production and distribution history.
Let Me Die a Woman
just isn’t a movie that I can recommend. It’s both shoddy and disgusting. And this is a real pity, because Synapse put several years of work into this release. It sounds acceptable, looks better, and has a few valuable extra features to sweeten the deal. But the movie itself is fundamentally unappealing and the disc itself is priced higher than Synapse’s other recent releases. If you’re the sort of person who seeks to be grossed-out for the sake of being grossed-out, then this is however a perfect package for you.
Movie – D-
Image Quality – B
Sound – C
Supplements – B
- Running Time – 1 hour 18 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 2.0 Mono
- Commentary track with star Leslie and Doris Wishman biographer Michael Bowen
- Alternate opening credits sequence with Michael Bowen commentary
- Promo spots
- Radio spot
- Liner notes