A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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September 17, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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