Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

          The individual born George William Jorgensen Jr. achieved international notoriety in 1951, when headlines revealed surgery had transformed George into Christine Jorgensen. Yet while Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda (1953) echoes Jorgensen’s circumstances, it took almost 20 years for Hollywood to tackle the tale properly. Seen today, The Christine Jorgensen story is almost impossibly square, with contrived story elements and hokey narrative flourishes. The movie is respectful inasmuch as Christine is the brave heroine, but questionable otherwise. Still, even a somewhat serious exploration of the trans experience was groundbreaking for a major-studio release in 1970.
          The movie’s early scenes concern 7-year-old George in 1933, and director Irving Rapper stacks on the signifiers. George is fascinated with dolls. He doesn’t like football because it’s “too rough.” He puts on his sister’s clothes and uses his mother’s makeup. All the while, Dear Old Dad tries to get George to man up, while Long-Suffering Mom wonders how George will ever be happy. Especially with simplistic narration by the post-surgical Christine leading the way, the childhood scenes are schematic in the extreme. Things take a turn for the histrionic once the film introduces grown-up George (played by newcomer John Hansen). During his time in the Army, he’s pilloried for being effeminate, and a hooker taunts him when he refuses her advances. Becoming a fashion photographer, George suffers further abuse, and he violently repels a rape attempt by a male boss. Eventually, George learns of a doctor in Copenhagen who can help.
          Preceding the surgery scene is a blunt vignette of the doctor explaining what will happen, complete with charts, and a comically overwrought dream sequence that, the voiceover explains, illustrates how George must die so someone new can be born. Once Christine emerges, she’s so ultra-feminine that she frets about everything and gets embroiled in a Douglas Sirk-style love story. (This romance, between Christine and the journalist tasked with writing her love story, never happened in real life.) Pushing everything along is a ridiculous musical score that would have worked better for a 1940s horror movie, because in The Christine Jorgensen Story, emotions run the gamut from the operatic to the even more operatic.
          Hansen’s cornball performance sets the tone. In the pre-surgery scenes, he’s an emotional wreck whenever he isn’t a mincing shutterbug, and in the post-surgery scenes, he’s an emotional wreck whenever he isn’t a world-weary recluse. The movie accurately identifies a random distribution of hormones as the reason for Christine’s challenges, so The Christine Jorgensen Story gets points for correctly stating that nothing was ever wrong with Christine. Nonetheless, The Christine Jorgensen Story shares problems with the more recent The Danish Girl (2015). Like that film, The Christine Jorgensen Story treats its protagonist as some delicate flower too good for the world around her.

The Christine Jorgensen Story: FUNKY


greg6363 said...

Look closely at the bottom right-hand corner of the one-sheet. As you can see, Transamerica instructed the UA brass to remove any reference to the parent company when marketing this film.

Necco said...

Rapper directed some early classics..."One Foot in Heaven," was nominated for Best Picture. And many of his earlier films resulted in acting nominations. However, he ended with this clunker, and "Born Again."

This film is a howler. As a man, he's effeminate, but as a woman, he's masculine (actually looks like a female football player). I'm gay, and have watched it with gay friends. It's not quite "cult," but it's up there.