Friday, November 18, 2011

#459. Ed Wood (1994)

Directed By: Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker

Tag line: "Movies were his passion. Women were his inspiration. Angora sweaters were his weakness"

Trivia:  This film cost more to produce than all of Edward D. Wood Jr.'s films put together

The popular opinion is that Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space is one of the worst films ever made, directed by one of the worst filmmakers of all time. 

But after watching Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, I now see the infamous director in a much different light. As played by Johnny Depp, Wood was a man who loved movies, and was absolutely thrilled to be working in the medium, even if the medium didn't exactly reciprocate that joy. 

From a young age, Ed Wood (Depp) dreamed of becoming a Hollywood director. When Georgie Weiss (Mike Starr), a producer of B-movies, announces he's making a film about a sex change operation, Ed is convinced he’s the most qualified person to direct it, not because he's a gifted filmmaker, but because he is secretly a transvestite. Ed uses this morsel of personal information to land the job, despite the fact he hasn't even told his live-in girlfriend, actress Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), the truth about his peculiar 'habit'. 

Thus begins one of the strangest careers in the annals of motion picture history. Over the years, Ed would befriend a variety of bizarre characters, chief among them screen legend Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), the star of Universal Studios’ 1931 horror classic, Dracula, who, by the '50s, was a poverty-stricken drug addict. Lugosi appeared in a number of Wood’s films alongside other Hollywood misfits, including Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), a hokey psychic named Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), and a former T.V. horror queen known to the world as Vampira (Lisa Marie). With his loyal cast and crew at his side, Ed Wood directed a handful of movies over his nearly 20-year career, even though he had absolutely no talent for it whatsoever. 

The true charm of Ed Wood lies in the performances of both Johnny Depp and Martin Landau. Depp plays Wood as an eternal optimist, someone who can find a bright side to every tragedy. It's an enthusiasm he carries with him to the director's chair. 

Martin Landau won an Academy Award for his turn as Bela Lugosi, and rightly so. Landau's Lugosi is a complex character, a former movie star who realizes his best days are behind him, yet still insists on being treated like a big shot everywhere he goes. When an admiring stagehand asks Lugosi for his autograph, telling the aging actor he loved him in the one where he played “Karloff’s sidekick”, Lugosi launches into a profanity-fueled tirade, claiming Karloff wasn’t half the actor he himself was. 

Humorous moments aside, Bela Lugosi is Ed Wood's most tragic figure, a penniless heroin addict clinging to a past that has completely abandoned him. In portraying this Hollywood icon, Landau milks a full range of emotions, causing us to laugh as we’re choking back tears. 

If determination itself could be transformed into actual talent, Ed Wood might have had a brilliant career. But then, even with his sub-par output, we still remember Ed Wood, don’t we? To this day, his movies continue to play. 

Maybe Ed Wood got the last laugh after all.


Valerie Troutman said...

Been awhile since I saw this movie, but despite Glen Or Glenda being hilariously bad, it still had some of the most honest and straightforward statements about crossdressing. I don't remember this movie stomping on that even if it did play some of it for comic effect.

DVD Infatuation said...

Michael" Thanks for the comment!

The movie was actually quite respectful in most of the topics it dealt with: crossdressing, homosexuality, drug addiction, etc., even though, as you said, most (if not all) were used at one point or another for comic effect. Definitely one of Burton's best, though.

Thanks again, and have a great weekend

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting role for Depp. I've been wanting to check this out in a while and your review makes me even more curious about it. Not a big fan of SJP but I'm willing to overlook it :)

DVD Infatuation said...

Flixchatter: Thanks for the comment! It's a great role for Depp, but the show is stolen by Martin Landau as Lugosi. And not to worry...SJP isn't in it for the duration! :)

I'll be checking out that Gregory Peck doc in the next few days. Thanks again for the link!