Monday, March 21, 2016

Ed Wood

Sometimes vision and ambition outweigh talent.  Pure drive and longsuffering carry such individuals through miles of the inevitable rough roads, the blackest of nights.  Film director Edward D. Wood was apparently longer on the former than the latter.  His efforts included the near unanimously ridiculed PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and BRIDE OF THE MONSTER.  But several accounts, including Tim Burton's 1994 ED WOOD, portray a man who never let obstacles cloud his disposition.  As played by Johnny Depp, Wood is like the eternally sunny optimist who tells you to turn that frown upside down when your entire world is turning to ash.

The obstacles were considerable.  Hollywood studios repeatedly, and understandably, turned down his scripts.  But no one could question the enthusiasm behind Wood's pitches.  One might say it must take someone with extraordinary mettle and optimism to create such awesomely bad movies.  Someone who was in love with every shot.  Folks have said as much about Quentin Tarantino, though other than his performance in PULP FICTION I haven't found anything as nearly as stink worthy in his epics as in an Ed Wood production.  Movies with dime store production values, grade Z acting, liberal use of stock footage, and general ineptitude in every facet of movie making.

Wood, who was also a prolific novelist,  was also more openly eccentric than most directors.  For example, he never hid his fondness for donning women's apparel.  It would be (at least in Wood's mind) a calling card for his being the appropriate choice to direct a biography of transgender notable Christine Jorgensen.  Wood's predilection for transvestism would cost him a girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) but later he would meet a woman named Kathy (Patricia Arquette) who was more understanding of this lifestyle.

The Jorgensen film, GLEN OR GLENDA, was a critical and box office dud.  Undaunted, Wood would be forced to seek independent financing for future products.  He consults psychic The Amazing Criswell (Jeffrey Jones) for advice and even feigns religious conversion, complete with baptism, to secure funding for PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE..  Others who agree to bankroll an Ed Wood film demand that their kid be in the picture.

Depp is just right as the unflappable would be auteur.  A gentle soul who becomes close friends with a morphine addicted Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, Best Supporting Actor), whose celebrity has tarnished. Their relationship becomes the heart of ED WOOD, of two creative souls trying to become/stay relevant.  It's quite poignant.  Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's screenplay is no condescension to either, as it might have been in other hands.  Burton has not fashioned a postmodern point and laugh movie, and that's why it works (and endures).

Burton really was the right guy for this project, obviously someone endeared to yesteryear B-movies.  He recreates - accurately, I would guess - what it's like to shoot things that would be generously called "B"s.   All the makeshift props and recklessness with permits to use real locations.  When it's discovered that Ed Wood and crew are shooting illegally, his advice to everyone is "Run!"
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