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Venus of Mars

Tue 1 Jun 2004 In: Movies

VENUS OF MARS Dir: Emily Goldberg, USA, 2003, DVD, 105 mins Glam-rock is alive and well in the US Midwest, and taking the ground-breaking gender-bending of early Bowie into the 21st century. This documentary focusses on transsexual Venus, androgynous lead singer of All The Pretty Horses, who by day is Steve Grandell, happily married for 16 years. Goldberg's film has three threads to it, the main one being the story of Venus's marriage, which is one of the most fascinating ever captured in a documentary. Steve had not come to terms with his transsexuality when he got married, meaning his wife has had to cope with major changes to her husband subsequently as he realised he could no longer identify as male to the world. Venus describes herself as “in-between”, she takes female hormones and has breasts but is not planning to have sex change surgery. Despite the earnest talk of “courageously exploring a brave new world of gender identity”, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that all is not so secure. A trip to Europe sends Venus into a deep depression when she realises that being neither male nor female is not something she feels comfortable with. One gets the feeling that Venus would really like to be completely transformed, but has chosen not to out of respect for her wife, for whom it has already been a big ask to accept the semi-transformation of her husband. Venus' parents are equally accepting, but would have difficulty accepting their son having a sex change. Equally interesting is the progress of the band as it travels across the world, playing redneck bars and flying in the face of ignorance and prejudice. Straight men who initially baulk at the idea of having a bunch of “faggots” invade their local bar are mesmerised once the band start playing, and drunkenly admit that they find Venus attractive. The aftermath of an All The Pretty Horses TV appearance on a nightly news programme is an indicting reminder of how little progress has been really made since the so-called sexually liberated 1970's, but the courage of the nervous programme producer who stands firm in the face of a potential bollocking from network heads shows there is still hope. The third subplot centres around drummer Jendeen, who seems more at ease with her identity, easily deflecting her hecklers. She, too, has yet to make a total transformation, and still plays in a cafe big band as a man. In one of the more memorable scenes, we see Jendeen arrive at the cafe for an evening gig in full flamboyant female regalia, and emerge from the women's toilets a few minutes later looking like Phil Collins. Venus' unresolved inner conflicts have undoubtedly contributed to the success of the band. The music and performances and full of passion and verve. It is easy for All The Pretty Horses to escape lazy criticisms that would write them off as a novelty band, and Venus and Mars works both as a musical document and an engaging character portrait of the band's key players. Chris Banks - 1st June 2004    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Tuesday, 1st June 2004 - 12:00pm

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