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One Of My Favorites

by Andrew Green

Some of you folks may already know the story of Edward D Wood Junior, but for those who don't, I shall briefly retell it here in today's entry. 

Put simply, Ed Wood is regarded by many as the worst filmmaker of all-time. He wrote, directed, and produced a string of B-movies in the 1950s and 60s, most notably,Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was named the "Worst Film of All Time" in the book, The Golden Turkey Awards, among other places. Ed struggled for several years in Hollywood, believing strongly in his work, but never tasting commercial or critical success. His story eventually became legend among bad cinema enthusiasts, and to this day, there are festivals held in his honor. There's even a church -- The Church of Ed Wood -- that is legally recognized in the state of California, boasting thousands of members (at least, according to Wikipedia -- the go-to source for all self-respecting reporters).

The legend of Edward D Wood Junior reached its peak with the release of the Tim Burton film, Ed Wood, which chronicles Ed's earlier, more optimistic days on the Hollywood scene. In particular, the film focuses on the production of three of Ed's projects: the previously mentioned Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster, and Glen or Glenda. However, Ed Wood's actual body of work consisted of several more movies. Additionally, his REAL story is much more depressing than the Tim Burton retelling makes it out to be. After numerous failures and repeated disappointments, Ed descended into a bleak existence of alcoholism and depression by the mid-60s. In his final years, he made ultra low-grade soft core porn and monster exploitation flicks with titles like Necromania and Orgy of the Dead (however, I personally think it was right of Burton to leave this sad chapter of Ed's life out of the 1994 biopic). His films have since been panned, prodded, and parodied in numerous places, making great fodder for some of the best episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

What's interesting about Ed Wood is that his movies, although indeed quite terrible (I personally regard Ed's Glen or Glenda as the absolute WORST movie I have ever seen), somehow always managed to be distinguishable from other B-grade fare of his era. For one thing, Ed had a talent for making noteworthy, if odd, friends who would show up in his pictures. Among them is the legendary Bela Lugosi, who befriended Ed towards the end of his life, and appeared in a number of Wood productions for very little money (a GOOD thing for Ed Wood, since his films were invariably crippled by grossly inadequate budgets). Ed also knew assorted TV personalities of his time (like the variety show psychic Criswell) , Playboy Playmates, and famous wrestlers. They all appeared in his movies. The other thing that makes Ed's films stand out is the fact that he could actually be rather BOLD with their content. Ed's movies contained themes that must have been risky for his time -- grave robbing, sex-crazed teenage girls, smut peddlers who exploit runaways, crossdressers....

So, in a sense, Ed Wood was a slight step up from the average crappy filmmaker of that era. As a man, he was more interesting; he knew more interesting people; and he somehow managed to beat the odds and repeatedly get movies MADE, even if they sucked. If anyone was going to serve as the universal representative for B-Movie heroes, I guess only Ed Wood could truly fill that role. And the Tim Burton film about his life expresses this perfectly.

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood one of my very favorite movies -- not only because it tells the story of Ed Wood in an admirable way, but also because it's basically a FLAWLESS film on its own merits. One doesn't have to know ANYTHING about Edward D Wood Junior to appreciate the film that tells his story. It's unfortunate (yet oddly appropriate, if you think about it) that this is Tim Burton's least commercially successful picture, considering that it's also his best. I personally attribute that to the horrible marketing campaign Ed Wood was given at the time of its release, which almost totally focused on the cross-dressing aspect of Ed's story (yes, ad wizards, that'll get the masses flooding into theaters).

Anyway, here we have an incredibly skilled director making a movie about the worst director ever. It's funny, beautifully shot, perfectly scored , and well-paced. Each of the three acts focuses on different projects of Wood's earlier career, and all of the colorful players in that phase of his life are depicted by a cast that's just as interesting. Performances across the board are excellent. We've got Bill Murray as the flamboyant friend; Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi (a role for which he won an Oscar); Patricia Arquette as the sweet girlfriend; and the super awesome Juliet Landau (Drusilla!) as a crazy would-be actress who thinks she's allergic to liquids. Of course, this is all not to mention Johnny Depp, who shows more charisma and life here in the title role than he does in any other film I have seen (which says a lot, since Depp always rules).

We share Ed's pain through his frequent struggles, and rejoice in his fleeting moments of success...we laugh at the awkward situations in which he places his friends...and we smile when it all ends on a whimsically optimistic note (confession -- I will sometimes shed a tear during the movie's final pan-up-to-the-sky shot). From start to finish, Ed Wood is a fantastic film, and I recommend it highly.

5 out of 5.