Jun 8, 2014
Out of all the drag queen superstars that worked with Paul Morrissey and Andy Warhol, Holly Woodlawn (Trash, Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers) is the only one who managed to live long enough to become middle-aged (in fact, s/he is still alive today and well into her 60s). While fellow tranny superstar Jackie Curtis made for an even less believable woman than Divine did, and Candy Darling would have easily passed as a member of the fairer sex were it not for his/her pesky cock, Ms. Woodlawn fell somewhere in between her Women in Revolt (1972) co-stars in terms of genuine female physical features. Despite Woodlawn’s sub-homely appearance, some goofy gay filmmaker actually had the gall to direct a film where the tranny attempted to recapture the spirit of silent screen divas like Gloria Swanson and Theda Bara. Of course, unlike many of Warhol's superstars, Woodlawn was fairly decent at acting and Hollywood Golden Age auteur George Cukor (The Philadelphia Story, My Fair Lady) even attempted to petition the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for her to be nominated for 'Best Actress' for her decidedly degenerate gender-bending performance in Paul Morrissey's Trash (1970). Indeed, the 20-minute black-and-white silent short Broken Goddess (1973) directed by one-time auteur ‘Dallas’ stars Woodlawn as a majorly melancholy dude-goddess of the quasi-Gothic sort who does a bunch of melodramatic stares and poses, as if s/he is the only pseudo-girl left in the world. The closest thing to an aesthetic marriage between the films of Kenneth Anger and Werner Schroeter (in fact, the film is rather reminiscent of Eaux d'Artifice (1953), albeit the Anger flick features an Italian midget as opposed to a Puerto Rican American tranny), Broken Goddess features homo high-camp hysterics for sure, so I can only recommend the work to the already initiated, as it lacks the cheap quasi-scatological anti-feminist laughs of a film like Women in Revolt. Featuring Woodlawn wearing what auteur Dallas described as a “Western Kabuki” (a makeup style combining elements of Greek tragedy, pop art, and silent cinema aesthetics) on her face, Broken Goddess actually manages to do a little more than simply parrot the essence of the silent era, as a work that is equally aesthetically repugnant as it is strangely exquisite. As to why Dallas would do something so seemingly anachronistic as make a silent movie, the director once confessed: “Why, some people asked, a silent movie? Having had no education beyond New York City public high school (and that counts for nothing), I figured the best place to start directing great motion pictures was at the beginning. And move forward from there. Nice and simple; a one-character one-reeler. That's where D.W. Griffith started. And Mack Sennett. and Charlie Chaplin..” Shot during a series of twelve mornings (from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m.) that spanned a two month period at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, NYC, Broken Goddess may not be up to par with D. W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919) starring Lillian Gish, but it is surely not bad for a work where the star was oftentimes drunk on the set and was paid for his performance with a mere bottle of wine (little Gallo port to be exact).
Almost entirely in slow-motion, Broken Goddess features probably no more than 5 minutes of actual footage that has been slowed down to create a reasonably poetic effect similar to that of Derek Jarman’s hallucinatory neo-Shakespearean masterpiece The Angelic Conversation (1985). Of course, there is no one-on-one conversations in Dallas’ film, as Woodlawn merely talks to herself in an absurdly lovelorn fashion that is communicated via elegant inter-titles. In fact, the inter-titles are actually derived from song lyrics written by Jewish-Polish-Italian-American singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. In terms of a score, the film includes classic impressionist compositions by French composer Achille-Claude Debussy, who also, somewhat coincidentally, influenced Nyro. Opening with the inter-title, “Love and despair, reminders that we are man, child and woman. For, in the private most hours dares there among you one who will make distinction between himself and the world?,” Broken Goddess then features the eponymous protagonist as played by Ms. Woodlawn walking slowly down a set of stairs while sporting a tattered black dress, as if s/he had just been raped, beaten, and left to die, or so one might assume due to his deathly depressed demeanor and rather ghost-like fashion of moving. Undoubtedly, the Central Park of Dallas' film more resembles an ancient Gothic graveyard than some unpleasant concrete jungle in NYC where cocksuckers go cruising. In between scenes of Woodlawn looking like a wounded animal while striking preposterous poses around the fountain and absurd inter-titles like, “Now the tears in the gutter are flooding the sea…Why was I born?,” topless glamour shots of the Warhol superstar in a silky white dress appear, as if to demonstrate what the sad shemale looked like before suffering abject heartbreak. In the end, flaming creature Woodlawn walks up the same set of stairs that she walked down at the beginning of the film, thus Broken Goddess comes full-circle in the end, as if the character had finally found some sort of peace. Indeed, there might be hope for this seemingly hopeless tranny.
In his book Joe Dallesandro: Warhol Superstar, Underground Film Icon, Actor, writer Michael Ferguson noted regarding Holly Woodlawn: “She appeared in a few other low-budget films on the heels of TRASH, including SCARECROW IN A GARDEN OF CUCUMBERS (1972) and BROKEN GODDESS (1973), before famously telling a lamely inquisitive Geraldo Rivera in 1976, who wanted to know WHAT she was, that it didn’t make any difference “as long as you look fabulous.” Gracious and much sought after for years on the film festival circuit, she’s inevitably queried about working with Joe [Dallesandro].” Indeed, aside from brief cameos in a couple of Rosa von Praunheim documentaries, including Tally Brown, New York (1973), as well as a small non-sexual role as a lounge singer in Armand Weston’s pornographic take on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Take Off (1978), Woodlawn would not act in another film until the 1990s. Undoubtedly, in terms of Woodlawn films, you cannot find one that is classier and more cultivated than Broken Goddess, as it seems to be the one rare cinematic example where the dude-diva is taken terribly seriously. As for auteur Dallas, he apparently attempted to make a mainstream all-female comedy after releasing the silent short, but the studios were only interested in all-male buddy films (i.e. Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman; Paul Newman and Robert Redford; Al Pacino and Gene Hackman) and had no use for a work about a bunch of campy fag hags, so he never made another film, stating, “If I was ready for Hollywood, Hollywood sure wasn't ready for me. So I tended bar, wrote for magazines, painted silks for Halston.” Whether they are completely conscious of it or not, most people have heard of Woodlawn via Lou Reed’s 1972 hit song “Walk on the Wild Side,” as s/he is the person mentioned at the very beginning of the song (“Holly came from Miami, FLA...”). Undoubtedly, Broken Goddess demonstrates that Woodlawn came a long way since that truly life-changing day when s/he, “Plucked her eyebrows on the way…Shaved her legs and then he was a she.” Indeed, if nothing else, Broken Goddess is a celluloid enigma that reminds me more than any other film why I will never be able to wrap my head around the fact that certain people with penises have a more innate desire to be dreamy ‘divas’ than most authentic women do.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:58 PM
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