ROMAN POLANSKI'S TENANT: CROSSDRESSING AS INSANITY
Trelkovsky sat by the window of his Paris apartment in full drag. His long and wavy wig was light brown with reddish highlights. Heavy makeup: thick blue eyeshadow, mascara, blush, bright red lipstick. He wore a green/yellow/black floral print knee length spring dress. The shoes were admittedly mid-70's, clunky black platforms. Trelkovsky was going insane, taking on the clothing and personality of the young woman Simone Choule. She was the previous tenant of the apartment Trelkovsky now rented, and she'd committed suicide by throwing herself out the window onto the pavement several stories below.
Director Roman Polanski's 1976 movie "The Tenant" has a major crossdressing component, but it isn't about crossdressing. In other movies, crossdressing is comedy- "Some Like It Hot" (1959) or "Tootsie" (1982). But Polanski's film shows it as something darker: paranoid schiziophrenia.
The premise: Polish-born /French-naturalized Trelkovsky (played by Polanski himself) rents an apartment whose previous occupant killed herself. A series of strange events indicate a plot to make Trelkovsky "become" Simone and also end his life the same way. In his own madness, he resolves to fight back by becoming Simone completely-clothing, wig, and makeup.
After moving in, he finds her dress hanging in the closet, along with other objects of her's: a white underwire bra, silk stockings, red nail polish, assorted cosmetics. He wakes up one morning, goes to the window to look outside. Some workmen repairing the glass which Simone's body crashed through see him, point, and start laughing. He is wearing full eye makeup, foundation, blush, and lipstick. He looks in the mirror, horrified. "They're trying to make me commit suicide, but I'll show them!" he snarls.
He buys a wig and black platform shoes, a la mode in 1976. We then see him totally "in face" for the first time, adjusting the suspender tab of his garter belt, attaching it to his silk stockings. He admires himself in his full length mirror, and tries to practice saying things he imagines a woman might say: "Beautiful", "God, that's divine," and "I think I'm pregnant!".
This is not a transvestite film. This is a film about an already borderline man progressing into delusions of conspiracies. Wearing woman's clothing and makeup is just one manifestation of this. Revealingly, this film can be found in the video rental store in the "Horror" section.
On an artistic level, we may possibly respect Polanski's work. He sets a scene and creates very effectively the mood of encroaching madness. However, the film seems to be another negative transgender portrayal, like the transsexual killer in Silence of the Lambs.
The message for the viewer seems to be "If you're a man who wears women's clothing, you're either a psycho, a deceiver, or a clown". Overcoming these Hollywood stereotypes is part of our struggle as transgenderists. We must create a positive counterimage.
Melanie's Home Page