IMDB #210 Ed Wood

Greetings, my friends! Today we take a look into the past, for that is where you and are have spent the entirety of our lives: the past! Tim Burton gives the sympathetic biopic treatement to "worst director of all time" Edward D. Wood, Jr. with 1994's Ed Wood.

And if I take one thing away from this film, it's the idominitable nature of the human spirit, whether you're a closeted transvestite/movie director longing to be accepted, an aging screen legend/drug addict hoping to reclaim the spotlight, or just a film blogger/wannabe entertainment writer not able to keep up with watching three movies a week and writing about them analytically. No matter your dreams, just get them done whatever way you can.

The Key Players:

We once again visit with Tim Burton, director of previous countdown entry Big Fish, wherein I already wrote up his credentials. (sidenote: would you believe me if I told you that Tim Burton has only one Oscar nomination to his credit? Would you further believe if I told that that one nomination was for Corpse Bride in the Animated Film category?)

This is of course his second of approximately eight hundred billion collaborations with Johnny Depp, our nation's favorite pirate.

In support are:

Martin Landau ("Mission Impossible," "Space: 1999," North By Northwest)
Sarah Jessica Parker ("Sex and the City," Sex and the City: The Movie, the upcoming Sex and the City 2: The Quickening)
Patricia Arquette (the aptly-named show "Medium," Bringing Out The Dead, Flirting With Disaster)
Jeffrey Jones (forever known as the principal from Ferris Bueller's Day Off
And the legendary Bill Murrary (who I'm sure we'll get to later on other things*).

*NOTE: further inspection reveals the only other top 250 entrant will be Groundhog Day. WTF? What about Ghostbusters? Caddyshack? Any Wes Anderson movie? Lost in Translation? Sometimes you fail me, internet.

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The Story:

We open on a ramshackle 1948 playhouse, where an audience of a half dozen or so watches a play put on by our hero, Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Depp). He and the cast and crew, including his friend Bunny Breckenridge (Murray) and girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Parker), stay up to read the review in the paper- it's a scathing one, but Wood pleasantly notes that the costumes are called "realistic."

We then see that very little daunts Wood as he goes to work delivering plants on a movie studio lot- he stops by the film stock warehouse to view stock footage that will just linger in storage, unused and comments on what a shame that is. Then he overhears that a movie is being made about Christine Jorgensen, one of the first widely known transsexuals.

He talks his way into a meeting with the producer of the proposed film, George Weiss, by claiming that he's "specially qualified" to direct the project- this qualification turns out to be his secret life as a tranvestite, which he has never before revealed (Wood was heterosexual, but had a thing for angora fabric due to some latent "being raised a girl" related mother issues. No biggy.). Weiss shoos him out the door as an underqualified nut.

Wood is dejected, but a chance encounter turns everything around: he runs into the now elderly Bela Lugosi (of Dracula fame) outside of a funeral parlor (where Lugosi was trying out coffins, you know, like ya do). Befriending the aging star by offering him a ride home (and effusively praising his work), he returns to Weiss armed with a real live (if washed up) movie star for the project, and offers to write a script as well.

Weiss gives in, and since rights to Christine Jorgensen's story were never acquired for I Changed My Sex!, delivers an entirely new screenplay which is mostly a delirious mix of tranvestite sympathy with a bit of sex reassignment at the end (bookended by a vague and dramatic monologue from Lugosi) and is now titled Glen or Glenda.

The film is a flop, but Wood is only momentarily disheartened- he secures independent financing for his next film, Bride of the Atom, a horror movie starring a local wrestler of circus-like proportions. During the course of filming, he recasts Dolores's role on a misunderstanding, talks Lugosi into wrestling with a stolen octopus prop in a swamp at three A.M., befriends a cheesy TV psychic (Jones), and is forced to changed the title to Bride of the Monster by a meat packing tycoon who takes over financing (in addition to finding a major role for the tycoon's idiot son).

Dolores, who had tried but failed to take Wood's earlier revelation of his cross dressing in stride, leaves him at the wrap party, fed up with his circle and his lifestyle (Breckenridge, for example, openly talked about plans for a Mexican sex change operation). Lugosi also repeatedly calls Wood late at night in a drugged stupor, until forced to admit his problem and enter rehab.

But things look up as the premiere of Bride of the Monster approaches: Wood attends with a new, cross-dressing-accepting girlfriend on his arm (Arquette), Lugosi, the psychic Criswell, Vampirella (the host of a local horror movie tvcast, and a direct precursor to Elvira), and the hulking star of the movie- it's as if the film had been buliding to this moment, where the purveyor of the odd is flanked at his finest moment by an All-American girl, a vampire and vapiress, a bow-tied psychic and a behemoth.

The film is roundly booed, and the gang are chased out of the theater by an unruly mob. But can the intrepid Edward D. Wood, Jr. dust himself off again for Grave Robbers From Outer Space?

The Artistry:

Burton was excited to make a film that didn't require storyboards and focus on character, and not to be critical, but it mostly shows. Shot in black and white (a decision that caused Paramount to back out of the project), Ed Wood mostly gets out of the way and lets Johnny Depp's performance, all 50's Casey Kasem style enthusiasm, take over the reins.

Which is fun enough, and some pretty great supporting performances buoy the film even higher- Landau's turn as an addled, egotistical Lugosi that bristles at the mere mention of Boris Karloff won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and Murray's quiet turn as well as Parker's shrill part are both fine work.

As a newcomer to Wood's work, I was a little befuddled with the opening homage to Plan 9 From Outer Space: Jeffrey Jones, in character as The Amazing Criswell, sits up out of a coffin and gives a wandering speech introducing the film, much like in Wood's infamous fail-tacular. But by the second Jones' monologue at the end, I was all for it.

It's just- who doesn't want to make movies? It looks like fun, even if it's frustrating. Depp portrays Wood as the kind of film-lover that didn't just move on after one take because he had limited time and budget- to him, each take was perfect, because he was living the dream, man!

I kept expecting a little more of a hammer to fall, given Wood's reputation as a spectacularly bad director, and found myself a little anxiously cautious early in the film, but that feeling ebbed as I realized it was nearly as much a labor of love as the films of its subject.


Lugosi, after filming hardly one scene for Wood's next project, sadly passes away, leaving our hero with no star and no financing for his next project. He manages to convince his landlord's Baptist church to bankroll Grave Robbers From Outer Space telling them the way to make money for their intended film series on the 12 apostles is to first turn a profit on a film in a proven genre.

He gets his girlfriend's rather tall chiropractor to stand in for the majority of Lugosi's role (with his arm over his face), gets the now-unemployed Vampirella to take a part, and proceeds to start filming an over-the-top mashup of space invaders, vampires, and shoddy productions values, with cardboard tombstones and flying saucers with clearly visible strings.

As the Baptist change the title (to Plan 9 From Outer Space, grave robbing being morally uncouth) and insist on casting and plot changes, Wood becomes frustrated and storms to a nearby bar in a huff (and in drag). There he has a chance run-in with none other than his idol, Orson Welles! Welles, over a drink, sympathizes with tales of studio interference, and tells Wood not to compromize his vision for anything. Wood returns to set, demands to have things his way, and end the movie by driving off to marry his girlfriend after a triumphant screening of Plan 9.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

Oh man, I know it might be because I have a huge soft spot for movies about making movies (I was even thinking about making a list until the Onion A.V. Club freaking posted this on Monday), but I say higher.

The Legacy:

Rick Baker won an Oscar for his makeup, in addition to Landau taking every other Supporting actor award under the sun that year. Commercially Ed Wood was a bomb befitting its subject material, but critical acclaim has preserved it in memory.

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

"Well...somebody misplaced the octopus motor, so, when you get in there and fight with him: shake his legs around- looks like he's killin' ya! Okay!"

Leftover Thoughts:

-"Really? Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!... Hello?"

-Fun fact: Martin Landau's daughter Juliet Landau, who has a minor part in this film, is much like Lugosi most famous for playing a vampire: Drusilla on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

-Actual tagline for this film: Movies were his passion. Women were his inspiration. Angora sweaters were his weakness.

-I was pretty proud that not only did I know it was Vincent D'Onofrio playing Orson Welles, but also that his voice was dubbed over by Maurice LaMarche (The Brain from "Pinky and The Brain").

Coming Up...

Thursday, September 17th: Letters From Iwo Jima

Friday, September 18th: The Lost Weekend Yeah, that's right, three days in a row! Boom!

4 Response to "IMDB #210 Ed Wood"

  1. wcurry says:

    I like your reviews, but any chance you can rate them(1-10) instead of just 'higher' or 'lower?'

    Thanks! I struggle each time with a ranking like that- I worry that I would just give the majority of things an 8, like the imdb weighted average for the next fifty films or so.

    Plus then people could just skip to the end to see what I thought! Still, I do like numbers...consider it under advisement, wcurry. Things are in store for the next entry, which is in fact tomorrow.

    notemily says:

    Drusilla is Martin Landau's daughter?!

    Yep. Also she is Forty-Four Years Old This Year WHAT

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