A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 201 – Ed Wood

Ed Wood – September 17th, 2010

Being an MST3K fan, I have seen quite a few Ed Wood movies, and not the ones that spring to mind when you hear his name. I’m talking about the ones that aren’t even campy enough to laugh at without professionals making fun of them for you. To be honest, we don’t even put in the two MST3K episodes with the “cautionary tale” type movies very often. They’re really pretty boring. Give me monster movies and cardboard gravestones any day. And that’s why movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space are the ones people associate with Ed Wood. That’s why people know his name now. That’s why this movie was made.

It is ostensibly a biopic of a period of Ed Wood’s life. Between his initial meeting with Bela Lugosi and the opening of Plan 9, to be specific. Wood, struggling to bring the stories he wants to tell to an audience (any audience) meets Lugosi by chance one afternoon. That chance meeting leads to Wood finding ways to work Lugosi into whatever projects he can. Wood makes Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 in the course of the movie and the challenges he faced to make them are really a lot of the story of the movie. The trouble was, Wood wasn’t really a great writer, director or actor. That’s a high hurdle to jump.

Watching this tonight, I felt genuine regret that I haven’t seen Glen or Glenda. Not because I’m sure it’s a fine piece of cinema, but because I have seen the other two movies featured and it’s fantastic to see what this movie does with them. Watching the filming of the octopus scene in Bride of the Monster is fantastic, and knowing that scene? It’s even better. It really does look like that! It really is that obvious! Seeing one of the cops in Plan 9 scratching his head with his gun? Yeah, that’s a common affectation for the character in the real movie. My favorite bit is the scene between the female lead and the file clerk in Bride of the Monster. Watching the movie itself, that scene is so stilted and the two actresses are so odd together. Putting it into the context of Wood’s girlfriend getting shunted to the file clerk role when Wood thought the actress who played the lead could give him some funding? It’s just great to see these moments played out. And everyone involved really nails the scenes from the movies.

I remain thoroughly impressed with every performance in this movie. Johnny Depp played Wood like a puppy who thinks that back yard desperately needed a hole dug in it and aren’t you glad he dug it for you? And you look at it and go “Holy crap, that is one horrible hole in the middle of my yard.” And you look at the puppy and go “… awwwwwwwwww.” That is Johnny Depp as Wood. Making his movies and loving every moment of them and utterly convinced the world will love them too! And as played here, you feel for the guy. His vision surpassed his skill by far. There are also some great performances by Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lisa Marie and Jeffrey Jones (and Juliette Landau, playing her role as Loretta much like Loretta plays the role of Janet, which is awesome). I love all of them. But the best of them all is Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.

Up until his death and the filming of Plan 9 From Outer Space, the movie is more about the end of Bela Lugosi’s life than about Ed Wood. At least it is to me. Martin Landau’s performance as Lugosi is absolutely heartbreaking and his performance elevates so much of the story for me. I don’t presume to know the true nature of Wood’s and Lugosi’s friendship. I’d like to believe it was genuine in real life. But whatever the truth is, in the movie it is a friendship. Sure, Wood won’t pass up an opportunity to use Lugosi in a film, but Lugosi wants to work with him. As far as the movie’s concerned, Ed Wood cared about Lugosi as a person, as one of his idols. As a friend. And every moment between them is magic. I’m not ashamed to admit that Landau’s performance makes me tear up whenever I watch this movie. He won an Oscar for it and it’s well deserved, because he was amazing. Landau as Lugosi is vulnerable and feisty at the same time. He can hold his own on set, but he needs help at home. The scenes where he calls Wood late at night and the one where he checks into the hospital are truly emotional, which is fascinating in a movie so rooted in Wood’s own style.

The whole movie is done in black and white, which I think was a fantastic choice. It sets the mood and time period and style so perfectly. Never once did I question the setting of the movie. It all feels so perfect. So spot on. The music, done by Howard Shore, adds a lot to it all and Tim Burton really nailed the ambiance, even if it is all much smoother than Wood’s own style. But delving too deeply into Wood’s style would just have ended up looking cheap, and that’s not the point. The point was to capture the essence of it all in an upscale way. Depp’s enthusiasm as Wood, Landau’s amazing performance as Lugosi, a cast and crew who were obviously dedicated to recreating some iconic movie camp, it all comes together to create something funny and sad and cheesy. Perfect for Ed Wood.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Ed Wood

September 17, 2010

Ed Wood

What self respecting fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 doesn’t love Ed Wood. Not this movie (though they’d probably love that too) but Ed Wood the infamous writer and director of some of the worst movies ever made. Sure there’s plenty of worse directors out there, and there are movies far worse than Bride of the Monster and Plan 9, but there’s a special charm to this schlock. And it’s a delight to see the reverence with which Tim Burton treats the source material of his somewhat farcical biopic.

Tim Burton here presents the adventures of a young Ed Wood as he makes three of his first movies and starts out his illustrious career. (For the sake of brevity it skips over Jail Bait and Night of the Ghouls in a rush to get to his grand opus – Plan 9. Which we very briefly reviewed way back near the start of our whole movie project.) The whole movie is a big sloppy transvestite kiss to all the misfits, weirdos and strange people that gather in Hollywood. In the movie (and I suspect in real life) they gather around Eddie because he’s got such passion and charm. Throughout the film he’s constantly discovering new friends in strange places. It starts with him running into Bela Lugosi and striking up what starts out as hero worship but quickly develops into a wonderful friendship. The Amazing Criswell, the most successful part of Ed’s entourage in the movie, seems to instantly understand the bizarre world that Ed inhabits. There’s Tor Johnson the Swedish wrestler who would go on to star in a real contender for worst movie ever made in The Beast of Yucca Flats. There’s Ed’s friend Bunny Breckinridge, an old queen who is by Ed’s side from the very beginning. When the whole crew is together it’s like a celebration of everything that is off-kilter in Hollywood, with the manic and enthusiastic Edward D Wood Jr. at the lead.

What really sells the movie is the collection of astonishingly talented people Burton has collected to portray this parade of freaks. Bill Murray seems to be really enjoying camping it up as Bunny. Johnny Depp is so wonderfully charming as Ed himself that you want to drop everything and be a part of his world. He’s got charisma, determination, and an almost complete inability to see what kind of movies he’s making. Of course the Oscar winning performance Martin Landau as Bela is a wonder to behold. Bela in this movie is a washed up has-been and morphine addict with no career and no friends. Since so much of the story is played for laughs it’s all the more impressive that Landau and Burton are able to insert such a tortured and tragic figure into the film.

At times I feel like Burton is cheating a little bit. So much of the humor in this movie comes from re-enacting scenes from Wood’s movies. The toppling gravestones, Tor’s complete inability to read his lines, the hilarious sets, the sad inanimate rubber octopus… these all can be seen in the original movies, and I found them funny there too. The alien’s line in Plan 9 “Your stupid minds! Stupid, stupid!” got a great laugh when we saw the Rifftrax live version of th movie in the theater. Burton even uses Criswell’s prologue to Plan 9 as the prologue to this movie. (Albeit edited down so it doesn’t include the “the future is where you and I will spend the rest of our lives in the future” bit which is heard later in the movie.) I guess it shows a kind of dedication to shoot duplicates of all these moments, providing a slightly different perspective, since in this movie we’re presented with background and motivation for this silliness. I would love to see side-by-side comparisons of the Ed Wood versions of these scenes and the Tim Burton versions.

I suspect that the real Ed Wood was not so naive about what kind of films he was making. He probably knew that his movies were not quite up to the caliber of those produced by other Hollywood directors and producers. But that never stopped him from making them. Did he have the passion and dedication shown here in this movie? I don’t know, and really I don’t care. It makes for a wonderful escapist movie. You see this and think to yourself, however wrong you may be, “hey, I could make better movies than this.” I’m almost tempted to challenge myself. In this movie Ed Wood writes the screenplay for Glen or Glenda in three days. If I had three days off in which to write a screenplay, just what would I come up with? I dare not try. My own efforts would only come off as amateurish and disappointing. I have no hope of reaching the lofty heights of camp awful that Ed was able to attain.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment