29 September 2009


Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Script by Michael Ferris & John Brancato based on a graphic novel by Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele
88 minutes 2009
Bruce Willis plays Tom Greer
Radha Mitchell plays Jennifer Peters
James Cromwell plays Cantor
Ving Rhames plays the Prophet
Country of finance: US
Nationality of director: US
Location of story: Boston
Filming location: Boston and other towns in Massachusetts.

Did you watch the Matrix films and wonder why no-one had an other-gender body inside the Matrix?  This film does not leave that aspect unexplored.

Instead of a virtual reality Matrix, most people in this film have a surrogate that is a younger, better looking version of themselves.  They send the surrogate out to work and play, and they themselves stay at home in a high-tech chair that allows them to see, hear and feel whatever happened to the surrogate.

A young woman in a skimpy dress is murdered at the beginning of the film.  The surrogate cops, Greer and Peters chase up her operator, and find an overweight middle-aged man.  An attractive young black man is shown by his ID card to be really a middle-aged white man.

Peters’ surrogate is at first operated by the real Jennifer Peters.  Later the real one is killed, and the Peters surrogate is being operated by the bad guy.   Greer has to get himself inside the Peters surrogate so that he can save the world.

To put it simply:  The Bruce Willis character save the world while in this body. 

In conclusion: a middlebrow sex-transfer fantasy for those who do fantasize other-gender bodies, but never actually do it in reality.    This aspect is generally not being mentioned in the reviews.

19 September 2009

In Einem Jahr mit 13 Monden

Directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Script by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
129 minutes 1978
English title: In a Year with 13 Moons
    Volker Spengler plays Erwin/Elvira Weisshaupt
    Gottfried John plays Anton Saitz
    Ingrid Caven plays Die rote Zora
    Elisabeth Trissenaar plays Irene Weisshaupt
    Eva Mattes plays Marie-Ann Weisshaupt        
    Lilo Pempeit plays Schwester Gudrun
Country of finance: West Germany
Nationality of director: West German
Location of story: Frankfurt
Filming location: Frankfurt   


The Little Mermaid, in Hans Andersen’s 1836 short story of the same name, falls in love with a prince of the land.  Knowing that being a mermaid, with a tail instead of legs, she cannot win his love, she changes her tail for human legs.  However, she is still a foundling, an outsider and a servant.  He still does not love her.

In In a Year with 13 Moons, Erwin Weisshaupt thinks that he is in love with Anton Saitz, not exactly a prince, but as a businessman close enough for Erwin, the butcher’s assistant.  An off-hand comment by Anton: ‘Too bad you’re not a girl', was taken too literally.  Erwin goes to Casablanca, and comes back as Elvira.  However, Anton is still not interested.

In this way, In a Year with 13 Moons is more faithful to Andersen’s story than is the Disney animation that took its name, but altered the ending.


Elvira, in male clothing, tries to buy sex from rent-boys who beat her up when they discover that she is not a man.  At home, Elvira’s lover Christophe, has returned after a long absence.  They argue and he leaves for good.  Elvira chases after his car and is knocked down.  Elvira’s hooker friend Zora sees this and cleans Elvira up.  Elvira takes Zora to the abattoir where Elvira worked when she was a man.  Elvira goes home, attempts to asphyxiate herself but is saved when her ex-wife Irene arrives.  Irene is concerned that a newspaper article about Elvira which mentioned the businessman Anton Saitz might cause trouble.  Elvira promises to go to Saitz and ask for forgiveness.  Zora finds Elvira crying in a video arcade and takes her to see a gay friend who has been eight years in a mental hospital, and has not been outside for months.  Zora then takes Elvira to see Sister Gudrun at the orphanage where Elvira was raised.  Elvira goes to visit Saitz, meeting an ex-accountant who was fired for being ill, and a suicide with an amazingly positive attitude about things.  Saitz at first fails to recognize Elvira, but goes home with her for a chat.  Zora is still in Elvira’s flat, and while Elvira is making coffee, Saitz and Zora start to make out.  Depressed by this, Elvira cuts her hair and dresses in male clothing, and goes to see Irene and their daughter Marie-Ann to ask if she can return to being Erwin.  It is too late.  Elvira goes to see the journalist who had taken the interview, but it is after 11pm.  Elvira goes home and kills herself.  Zora and Anton, still making out, do not notice.

Who is who

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1954 – 1982) was a prodigy of West German cinema, completing 40 films, 2 television series, 24 stage plays, 36 acting roles and more in 15 years before dying of a drug overdose.

Armin Meier (1943-1978), a former butcher, was Fassbinder’s lover 1974-8.  After a break-up he committed suicide on Fassbinder’s birthday.  He was in 7 of Fassbinder’s films.

Ingrid Caven (1938 – ) actress and singer.  She was married to Fassbinder 1970-2.  She has been in over 50 films.  Her current lover French writer Jean-Jacques Schuhl has written a book entitled Ingrid Caven which won the "Prix Goncourt" 2000.

Lilo Pempeit (1922 –1993) is Fassbinder’s mother.  She acted in 23 films, mostly directed by her son.

Volker Spengler (1939 – ) actor.  He was the adulterer Ardalion in Fassbinder’s Despair, 1978, and Hermann Goering in The Ogre, 1996.

Eva Mattes (1954 – ) actress.  Jury’s Special Grand Prix at Cannes 1979.  Best Actress at Bavarian Film Awards 1981.  She acted in three of Fassbinder’s films, and then played Rainer Fassbinder in A Man Called Eva, 1984.  She has a daughter with director Werner Herzog. 


1978 had 13 new moons.

In addition to script and direction, Fassbinder designed the sets, edited and did the camera work.  He did this in no other.   He also expanded Erwin/Elvira’s biography as a short story.

The speech at the end of the slaughterhouse sequence is the closing monologue from Goethe’s Torquato Tasso, 1790,  where the poet in painful awareness of the arbitrariness of his existence switches between self-torture and self-confidence.

Two quotations from Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation on suicide as an affirmation of the will.

A clip from Claude Chabrol’s Le Boucher, 1970 (about a butcher who is sex-murderer).  Armin Meier had been a butcher.

The ‘I Like to Hike’ scene from Jerry Lewis’ You’re Never Too Young, 1955, a gender switch version of The Major and the Minor, 1942 (both films are about passing as children).

The opening scene, along the bank of the Main River at dawn is accompanied by Mahler’s adagio movement from his Fifth symphony which is also used in the opening, also dawn, sequence of Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice, 1971.

While Elvira is asleep, Zora watches on television a news program about Pinochet’s Chile, and then there is a cameo by Fassbinder in the program.

The anecdote is told by the friend released from the mental hospital about a cemetery apparently of young children until it is explained that the dates are not of the person’s lifespan, but of the time during  his life when he had a friend.  This anecdote is of course also told in Orson Well’s Mr Arkadin, 1955.


The film is very bleak, and all the more so as it was Fassbinder’s follow-up to the commercially successful The Marriage of Maria Braun.  It follows the last two days of Elvira’s life.  She meets or visits most of the significant persons in her life, and from the dialogue we find out her biography.  That Erwin was born illegitimately during to war, and given up to an orphanage.  He was almost adopted, until the birth mother would not sign the papers because she was not able to admit the existence of the child to her husband.  Erwin worked in an abattoir and married Irene, the manager’s daughter.  He developed a crush on Anton, with whom he was involved in a shady deal with meat.  Anton said: “Too bad you’re not a girl”.  Erwin went to Casablanca and returned as a woman, Elvira, but was still rejected by Anton.  Part of the irony is, as Saitz’s bodyguard says, “nobody loves Anton Saitz”.  He has no wife or girlfriend.  He appears to be the type of man who takes a woman, and then tires of her and moves on.  Had Elvira been a female from birth, she still could not have made Anton love her.  It is part of Elvira’s naivety that she does not understand this.

The genre of male-to-female transsexual narratives is small.  However In a Year with 13 Moons does not seem to be of the type.  These films deal with the difficulties of changing gender, of operations and hormones, of building a new life and seeking acceptance.  In A Year with 13 Moons this is suggested rather than detailed - indeed of hormones there is no mention at all.  The film is about a person, the gender hardly matters, who is failed by all those who know him, and who gives up.  In this it is like other Fassbinder films, especially Fox and his Friends, 1974.

Most of the books on Fassbinder describe this film as his most personal.  In addition to directing and writing the script, he expanded Erwin/Elvira’s biography as a short story, he designed the sets, edited and did the camera work.  He did this in no other.  He also cast his mother as Sister Gudrun.  This of course does not mean that it is autobiographical - at least not in a straightforward way.  Fassbinder was not transgendered.  He was more of what the modern gay scene would call a bear, and he usually had a beard.  Unlike some other German directors, Lothar Lambert and Rosa von Praunheim, he never put on a frock to appear in front of the camera, and very few of his films contain transgendered characters (although it is said that there are undeclared drag cameos in several of them).  However Laurens Straub has argued that the film is indeed autobiographical: “He could feel like a woman more than a man .... his quickness, his sense for intrigue ... and maybe he was longing to be a woman”.  Straub is the writer of A Man Like Eva made five years later, when Fassbinder was also dead, in which Eva Mattes (who plays Elvira’s daughter, Marie-Ann, in In a Year with 13 Moons) played Fassbinder himself, a rather unattractive portrait.

Fassbinder made this film immediately after his lover Armin Meier committed suicide after one of their frequent rows over Fassbinder’s affairs with others or drugs or politics, a normal part of their dramatic relationship.  The immediate cause was that Fassbinder was taking a different lover to the Cannes film festival.  Meier took an overdose of pills on Fassbinder’s birthday.  His body was not discovered until five days later when Lilo Pempeit, Fassbinder’s mother, who had a key, came to investigate because the neighbours were complaining of a bad smell.  Fassbinder did not attend the funeral.   Meier, like Erwin had been a butcher.  Erwin’s sex-change is an attempt to buy love, a cry of loneliness, which Fassbinder identified with Meier.  At the same time there is much of Fassbinder himself in Elvira, especially the anomic experience of urban life, which is not the way that Meier experienced it.  However, the extreme passiveness of Elvira, and the simple-mindedness is such that one is doubtful that this is a portrait of Meier - surely Fassbinder is either insulting his dead lover, or is playing intellectual games.  And while Fassbinder is part of Elvira, surely Fassbinder is part of Saitz also, in particular the manager of people who takes multiple lovers and then casts them aside.

Fassbinder had dedicated his 1974 film Fox and His Friends, which is about a working-class gay man exploited by his middle-class lover, to Meier and played the title-role himself.  In 1977 he contributed a segment to Germany in Autumn which mainly consists of Fassbinder losing his temper as Meier voices working-class reactionary clichés about terrorism and authority.  While Fassbinder grieved in his own way at Meier’s death, when he locked himself in Volker Spengler’s flat in Frankfurt for several days, the cynics who knew him were predicting that he was turning his lover’s death into a new film.

Fassbinder is not the first filmmaker to dramatize his dead lover with a gender switch.   The playwright and screenplay writer Terence Rattigan had an affair with Kenneth Morgan which ended with Kenneth’s suicide.  In the play, later film, The Deep Blue Sea, 1952 and 1955, Kenneth has become Hester who twice attempts suicide as details of her affair with an ex-RAF pilot become known.  Her husband William is based on Rattigan himself.

Let us return to Hans Andersen.  Andersen, a closeted gay man who never married, had a lifelong friendship with Edvard Collin, of whom he wrote “he was the antagonist to my almost girlish nature”.  When Collin announced that he would marry, Andersen wrote The Little Mermaid.  He later confessed that nothing in his writing had ever moved him more.  Even his first biographer, who is otherwise coy, wrote: “the little mermaid was himself ... She lost the prince, saw him wed another”.

The film contains several past-tense narratives: Elvira’s story of her life with Christoph told to Zora at the slaughterhouse; Sister Gudrun’s story of Erwin’s childhood; the cancer victim’s story of Saitz.  This is a technique from pre-cinematic drama when flashbacks could not be done.  Gudrun’s tale of how Erwin was born illegitimately to Anna Weisshaupt while her husband was a prisoner of war, and how her inability to admit this prevented Erwin from being properly adopted was written by Fassbinder as a short story - only parts of it are narrated in the film.

Volker Spengler, the actor who plays Elvira, does not specialize in feminine roles.  He plays Elvira more with bravery than conviction.  And when he switches to male clothing at the end, he looks natural as a man - very unlike Dil in The Crying Game , 1992, who looks like a woman in men’s clothing.

Zora, Erwin's friend says: ‘She just did it.  And she didn't have a good  reason, like, because of her soul, or something.  I don't think she was even gay.  Isn't that right,  baby?  You weren't even gay when you went to Casablanca.'   This set Elvira apart from almost all transsexuals, most of whom have felt since childhood that they should really be the other gender.  This is a dismissal of the opinions re the transgendered experience.  It is not social constructionist, nor is it essentialist; it is neither nature nor nurture which lead Erwin to become Elvira.  It is rather an existentialism of terrifying arbitrariness - a decision based on happenstance rather than pattern.  There is one other film that features a transsexual - much better adjusted than Elvira - whose change was based equally on a whim, and whose story is also told in a past-tense narrative.  This other is Tina in Pedro Almodovar's Law of Desire, 1987, who had had the change as a teenager as part of an affair with her father.  Like Elvira, Tina became a woman because she conformed to the whims of others.

17 September 2009

My Human Gets me Blues

A song on the album Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart (also known as Don Van Vliet) and His Magic Band.

'I saw yuh baby in yer x-ray gingam dress
I knew you were under duress
I knew you under yer dress

You were afraid you'd be the devils red wife
But it's alright God dug yer dance
'n would have you young 'n in his harum

Dress you the way he wants cause never had a doll                   
Cause everybody made him a boy
'n God didn't think t' ask his preference
You can bring yer dress 'n yer favourite dog'

  • Captain Beefhart & His Magic Band. Trout Mask Replica. LP  Straight STS 1053 – 1969.
  • John Muir (ed). The Lives and Times of Captain Beefheart.  Babylon Books. no date, probably 1980.

This video is of two songs: She's Too Much For My Mirror & Human Gets Me Blues.

15 September 2009

Helena Amwrosjewa & Georg Schachnin

The Moscow State Circus in the 1960s featured the following clown act.

An amazon and a tiny absent-minded professor come into the ring. She plays a trombone loudly, skilfully and in horrible taste; he accompanies her on the piano. They then both remove their wigs to show that the Amazon is a man and the professor is a woman.

11 September 2009

3 X ‘I Wish I was a girl’ – the lyrics

‘I Wish I was (sic) a girl’ is a popular title for a song. The lyrics in some cases are rather odd.

Do any of these lyrics give the impression that the singer will actually start down the gender path?

The Pink Fairies, 1973

The boys come down to see me
I know that they can't believe me
I don't need their coffee bars
or clapped-out racing cars

You can tell I was the only one
My school days weren't much fun
As a child I was the only one
I can't say I was a son of a gun
I wish I was a girl

As a street fighter I don't make it
When the boys cut loose I can't take it
The sight of Blood don't turn me on
When the trouble starts I'm long gone
Oh, I wish I was a girl'.

Counting Crows, 1998

The devils in the dreamin’
He tells you I’m not sleepin’
In my hotel room alone

With nothing to believe in
You dive into the traffic rising up
And its so quiet
You’re surprised and then you wake

For all the things you’re losing
You might as well resign yourself to try and make a change
And I’m going down to hollywood
They’re gonna make a movie from the things
That they find crawling round my brain

I wish I was a girl
So that you could believe me
And I could shake this static every time I try to sleep
I wish for all the world
That I could say
Hey, elizabeth, you know Im doing all right
These days

The devils in the dreamin
You see yourself descending
From the building to the ground

And you watch the sky receding
And you spin to see the traffic
Rising up and its so quiet
And you’re surprised and then you wake

For all the things I’m losing
I might as well resign myself to try and make a change
And I’m going down to hollywood
They’re gonna make a movie from the things
That they find crawling round my brain

I wish I was a girl
So that you could believe me
And I could shake this static every time I try to sleep
I wish for all the world
That I could say, hey, elizabeth,
You know I’m doing all right these days

And one of these dreams
You forgive me
It makes me think of the bad decisions
That keep you at home
How could anyone else have changed
But these are wrong conclusions
That leave you alone
How could everyone rearrange
How could everyone else have changed
What I see
I believe

For all the things I’m losing
I might as well resign myself to try and make a change
And I’m going down to hollywood
They’re gonna make a movie from the things
That they find crawling round my brain

I wish I was a girl
So that you could believe me
And I could shake this static every time I try to sleep
I wish for all the world
That I could say, hey, elizabeth,
You know I’m doing all right these days
Well I cant sleep at night [repeated]

Violent Delight, 2003

I wish I was a girl so I'd see more tits
I wish I could jack by dipping in a pit
I only have a dick that's quite hairy
My ass is too, that's kinda scary

I wish I was a girl

I don't care about the blood, I don't care about the pain
Cos being a girl's the only thing that's on my brain
Cost being a guy is really boring
And cross dressing just isn't my thing

Some people think I might be gay
But I don't swing the other way
I just wanna be a girl so damn much
To fell my clit as it gets.........

But if I was a girl I couldn't drive no more
Cos I couldn't tell the difference between the clutch and the door
I'd get mood swings and I'd have to shave my pits
But I wouldn't really care cos I would have massive tits
I wouldn't have to put up with erections all the time
I'd get a better job when performing 69
Cos being a girl would be so cool
Cos when you cum you don't leave a pool


Why wasn't I a girl
[repeat 12 times]
[Chorus and out]

And for the other side with better grammar

Beyoncé, 2009

If I were a boy
Even just for a day
I’d roll outta bed in the morning
And throw on what I wanted then go
Drink beer with the guys
And chase after girls
I’d kick it with who I wanted
And I’d never get confronted for it.
Cause they’d stick up for me.

If I were a boy
I think I could understand
How it feels to love a girl
I swear I’d be a better man.
I’d listen to her
Cause I know how it hurts
When you lose the one you wanted
Cause he’s taken you for granted
And everything you had got destroyed

If I were a boy
I could turn off my phone
Tell everyone it’s broken
So they’d think that I was sleepin’ alone
I’d put myself first
And make the rules as I go
Cause I know that she’d be faithful
Waitin’ for me to come home (to come home)


It’s a little too late for you to come back
Say its just a mistake
Think I’d forgive you like that
If you thought I would wait for you
You thought wrong


But you’re just a boy
You don’t understand
Yeah you don’t understand
How it feels to love a girl someday
You wish you were a better man
You don’t listen to her
You don’t care how it hurts
Until you lose the one you wanted
Cause you’ve taken her for granted
And everything you have got destroyed
But you’re just a boy

07 September 2009

Cold Souls

Directed and written by Sophie Barthes

101 mins 2009

Paul Giamatti plays Paul Giamatti

Dina Korzun plays Nina

Emily Watson plays Claire Giamatti

Katherine Winnick plays Sveta

Anna Dukova plays Olga

Country of finance: USA/France

Nationality of director: French

Location of story: New York, St Petersburg

Filming location: New York, St Petersburg.


Paul, paralyzed by anxiety about playing the lead in Uncle Vanya on Broadway, reads in the New Yorker about a new service Soul Storage which removes your soul and preserves it until you want it back. He does this and becomes too light-hearted. So he rents the soul of a Russian poet, which enables him to get the performance just right. In St Petersburg, where souls are bought and sold rather than stored for a fee, the boss’s wife, Sveta, a soap-opera actress, wants the soul of an American actor. She gives a list of 12 names of famous actors. Her husband asks why no actresses on the list? Nina, the mule who transports souls between St Petersburg and New York inside her body, steals the only actor soul that the New York Office has. She tells Sveta that it is Al Pacino’s soul. Paul wants his soul back but is not to be found. He tracks down Nina, and then goes with her to St Petersburg. He finds out that his rented soul is that of Olga, a factory worker, and that unable to get her soul back, she has committed suicide. Nina and Paul drug Sveta so that they can extract Paul’s soul from her. They do so. It has become dried up from her soap-opera performances. They both return to New York where the Soul Storage company has been taken over by a hedge fund.


Both Sveta and Paul acquire opposite-gender souls. In neither case does this affect their self-identity, their mannerisms or their attitude.

Olga dies without her soul. This is opposite to the legends in The Golden Bough where external soul storage is used to avoid death.

Why is it, in western movies, that it is always winter in Russia?