Ed Wood (1994)

12 Jun


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Moviemaking is a pure art. Why should people in Hollywood be in it just for the money? Why not the joy and storytelling of the actual thing? Moviemaking should be about filmmakers appreciating the art and joy of what they do.

That’s why Tim Burton’s comedy-drama biopic “Ed Wood” is a true delight—a wonderful film based on the life-career of filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. If you’re not familiar with that name, he was well known for making some of the worst and most laughable movies of all time, such as “Glen or Glenda” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” But Ed Wood didn’t see them that way when he was making them. He just had stories to tell—somewhat weird, offbeat stories—and wanted to create them on film. He loved doing what he does and despite the roadblocks put in his way, he didn’t give up.

One of the best things about the movie “Ed Wood” is that the title character is played with enthusiasm and energy by Johnny Depp as a 30-year-old enthusiastic, slightly weird optimist whom we can learn to root for. Watching this guy, we don’t care that he’ll make some pretty bad movies, and some bad decisions to make them. We just see him doing what he loves to do. Johnny Depp definitely succeeds in making this guy likable and capturing the true essence of who this guy really is. The character isn’t portrayed in a mean-spirited way and that is one of the many joys of this film.

As the movie starts, Ed is at a premiere party for one of his bad productions (this is a stage play). The scene is laughably bad with the strange dialogue by Ed’s own crew and the lame special effect used in the background. Then, the scene cuts to Ed and his friends celebrating but then reading a negative review towards the play. But Ed, always the optimist, states, “We can’t let the negatives rule over the positives!” Then, once that is done and we see Ed at home, with his girlfriend, and looking for new projects, we see him as a likable character right then.

The movie features Ed as he goes into filmmaking and creates three projects that will become cult classics nowadays—“Glen or Glenda,” “Bride of the Atom,” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” Who does he get to play the lead parts in the movies—Ed’s friends, his girlfriend, people who paid him money to get them started in the first place, and the old movie star Bela Lugosi, best known for “Dracula.” He’s really old but Ed, still a big fan of his, knows he can still act. So, he and Bela become fast friends and Ed gives him a part to jumpstart his career again. The relationship between Ed and Bela is handled nicely and believable. Bela is played by Martin Landau, under a lot of makeup, and it’s a good, tough, eerie performance to pull off—he does.

One of the strangest things about Ed is that he always liked to dress in women’s clothing. His girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker) is always wandering why some of her clothes are missing. He finally reveals the truth when he makes a movie about a transvestite—“Glen or Glenda.” And he never shot a second take, saying that the first take was “Perfect!!!” Even in the scene where a wrestler-turned-actor named Tor Johnson (“The Animal” Steele) has a bit of trouble going through a door, he still says it’s perfect. “It’s fine—it’s real.” I guess he just liked to film shots.

“Ed Wood” is filmed in black and white. But don’t let that stop you watching it. The black-and-white aspect is appropriate because it captures the zaniness of the idea and it traditionalizes the Ed Wood pictures, which were filmed in black-and-white. Then, for those who have watched the Ed Wood pictures, the scenes in which the movies are being created are satisfying. One of the best moments in the movie involve Ed’s actress asking which color dress she should wear; one of the producers says he’s color blind but he likes the “dark-gray one.”

This movie could have been called “Worst Director of All Time” but instead, it’s called “Ed Wood” because the movie celebrates him more than it mocks him. Johnny Depp does an extraordinary job at playing the filmmaking optimist and proves himself to be one the best actors of our time. He just finds the right balance of making this guy likable and a little weird as well. Also, the actors playing the original characters from back in the real Ed Wood’s day look remarkably like their counterparts—Bill Murray portrays Ed’s openly-gay friend Bunny Breckinridge known as the “Ruler” in “Plan 9,” Max Casella and Brent Hinkley portray Ed’s reliable production assistants, Jeffrey Jones plays local psychic TV entertainer Criswell, and Lisa Marie is Vampira of that old “Vampira Show.” Once again, Martin Landau gives a striking resemblance to the real Bela Lugosi with a terrific makeup job by Academy Award winning makeup artist Rick Baker.

Director Tim Burton, best known at the time for directing “Beetle Juice,” “Batman,” and “Edward Scissorhands” (also featuring Johnny Depp as a man named Ed), as well as for producing “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” has always been known for making unusual yet visually and virtually intriguing projects with characters that some people find touching and fun. Ed Wood is a character that all people will find touching and fun. He’s a young energetic filmmaker who is obsessed with Hollywood. I just love the scene in which Ed is ticked off during one of his productions—two stiff producers want to do things their own way—and Ed meets Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio), who tells him that “visions are worth fighting for”, as encouragement.

But Ed also just happens to dress in women’s clothes sometimes. At one point, someone asks him, “Are you a homosexual?” He proudly replies, “No, I’m a transvestite!”

“Ed Wood” is one of my personal favorite films. It’s a great movie that should be required viewing for every film school because it’s about a guy who loves what he does and will do anything to get a movie done. I mean, I’m not saying, “Hey, go out and make the worst movies ever made,” but rather, “Follow your dreams—don’t let them get away from you.”

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