August 13, 2011

Queer Review: The Christine Jorgensen Story (1970)

The Christine Jorgensen Story
Director: Irving Rapper
Writers: Ellis St. Joseph and Robert E. Kent. Based upon the autobiography of Christine Jorgensen.
Cast: John Hansen, Joan Tompkins, Quinn K. Redeker, John Himes, Ellen Clark, Will Kuluva, Oscar Beregi Jr., Trent Lehman

From one angle, The Christine Jorgensen Story can be considered an interesting look at 1970's attitudes towards transsexual individuals. However, the dated and clinical approach towards the lead character makes for poor cinema.

Ever since George Jorgensen Jr. (Trent Lehman at age 7 and John Hanson as an adult) was a young child, he felt he was different from the other boys, as rather then playing football, he would rather play hopscotch with the girls or try on his sisters dress and put on his mothers lipstick. By the time Jorgensen is an adult, he finds himself increasingly confused regarding his identity. After a lot of research, Jorgensen finds himself heading to Denmark to have genital reconstructive surgery performed under the auspices of Dr. Victor Dahlman (Oscar Beregi Jr.).

The Queering
The Christine Jorgensen Story is riddled with problems from historical inaccuracies to the cold, clinical approach taken in presenting Christine Jorgensen herself. The biggest issue though, is the way the Jorgensen surgical transition is presented as a moment of unadulterated terror, complete with red circles of DOOM. Compare that scene with the transition scene in 20 Centimeters which was a glorious celebration of unbridled joy. Clearly, cinema has come a long way since 1970.

Regarding the historical missteps, there's a few specifics that I wish to point out. For starters, Christine Jorgensen was not the first person to undergo a sex change operation, although she was the first to have hormone treatment used a supplement to the process. Also there was no real life individual quite like Tom Crawford, the handsome reporter who woos Christine during the final act.

Stylisticly speaking, this movie is clearly dated. I am honestly not even sure what the filmmakers were trying to attempt or message they were trying to convey. Were they trying to educate the public? I imagine the limited discussion on hormones would have actually been counter-productive for the time period in that regard, although the frank discussion on the necessary surgery does include the necessary information, even if it was hardly comprehensive. Furthermore, the way that Christine is presented as a wimp barely able to handle the rigours of the army and in constant need of the aid of men, such as Tom Crawford for writing her story, did not strike me as the best method for generating empathy.

The advertising, including posters and the trailer, hyped the sensationalistic nature of the story. The tagline blaring across most of them asks "Did the surgeon's knife make me a woman or a freak?" All of this causes Christine Jorgensen the person, to be lost behind a wall of hyperbolic shtick. Those who wish to know more about the real Christine Jorgensen should look elsewhere as she is nowhere to be found here.

Only for those with an interest in the history of queer cinema or the portrayals of transsexual/transgender individuals on film.

The Rating

Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.