Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ich möchte kein Mann sein (I Don't Want to be a Man) (1918)

Seen: On my laptop, streamed from netflix instant.

It's been documented that I am a sucker for stories of ladies impersonating dudes so they can gain some privilege, so when I saw that there was a Lubitsch silent with just that premise, it seemed crucial viewing. Playful teenage tomboy Ossi (Ossi Oswalda) just wants to hang out with her bros, smoking and joking and playing cards, but her father and governess are both strictly against her wanton ways. They want her to grow up into a proper, refined young lady and so they enlist a strict male guardian (Curt Goetz) to keep her in line. Ossi realizes that she'll never be allowed to have fun as a girl, so she gets herself a nice suit, dons a toupee, and goes out for a night on the town looking like a dapper young gentleman. Of course, Ossi discovers that men have to grapple with some un-fun things too (Bow ties are complicated! Being forced to give up a seat for a lady on the train!) but ultimately she has a delightful evening with her guardian (!) who doesn't recognize her. There's a lot of man-talk, and some decidedly affectionate kissing. It's pretty awesomely gay... but only kind of?

At a curt 45 minutes, I Don't Want to be a Man wastes little time on over-plotting. This is a light, funny adventure in a young woman's life, with some silly drunken comedy mixed with satirical bending of social norms. Ossi Oswalda is adorable as the childish, impetuous Ossi, whose only goal is to have lots of fun all the time in a society that tries to pin her down. She makes a cute guy, too, if hilariously tiny. The acting is of course over the top and dragged out, but it's a silent comedy so I'm not going to fault it for that, and I did find it pretty funny for the most part. It's a little sappy at the end because of course once the guardian realizes he's been hanging out with his female ward all night, they have to fall in love. But again: whatever. The couple had way more sexual chemistry when Ossi was dressed like a dude and they kept drunkenly kissing each other, so I have no doubt her cross-dressing will continue or he'll leave her for an actual man. The whole thing felt more like a parody of romantic comedies than anything else, which is impressive considering the genre hadn't been established yet.


Pair This Movie With: For another cross-dressing oldie there is of course Sylvia Scarlett, a movie that starts off so great with Katharine Hepburn in drag and Cary Grant's Cockney accent and also con hijinks, but then it turns into a boring sappy love story, aw dang. Still a fun (if messy) film, just be prepared for ups and downs.


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