Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Ed Wood

Grade : A+ Year : 1994 Director : Tim Burton Running Time : 2hr 7min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

One of the key things Tim Burton and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who would later write “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon”) do in “Ed Wood” is they never sugarcoat Wood’s lack of talent. The glimpses of recreations of “Glen or Glenda,” “Bride of the Monster,” and “Plan 9 From Outer Space” don’t make us envious of seeing any more (although any film buff worth their weight in film knowledge will still want to see them so they can say they have).

What makes Burton’s film unforgettable and entertaining, however, is Ed’s unbridled enthusiasm towards his work. True, he didn’t have an ounce of talent, although the rumors of “Plan 9” being the WORST movie of all-time are greatly exaggerated, but he had passion for his work. On that level, Wood and Burton are kindred spirits, making the visually-gifted former Disney animator the only choice to make a biopic on Wood’s life…

…And Burton’s onscreen alter ego Johnny Depp the only choice to play Wood. In a way, he is one of Depp’s most “normal” characters, despite his fetish for wearing angora sweaters and surrounding himself with bizarre characters like “Bunny” Breckinridge (the indispensable Bill Murray), Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), the psychic Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), and the original Dracula, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau, in an Oscar-winning performance that never fails to move me in its’ heartbreaking look at an artist whose life never got past his one big break). But through their interactions with Ed, we get a glimpse of each character’s humanity, and the broken dreams we see in each of their faces, some knowing that this will probably be the biggest chance they ever get at fame.

Women are a problem for Ed, however. His girlfriend Delores Fuller (the sexy and hilarious Sarah Jessica Parker) is understanding at first, but eventually can’t take it anymore (losing out the promised lead in “Bride of the Monster” to Loretta King (Juliet Landau, Martin’s daughter and eventual vamp herself on “Buffy”), who helps financially to make the movie, doesn’t help either). And Vampira (Burton’s girlfriend at the time Lisa Marie) isn’t very receptive of Ed professionally or personally until her own show gets canceled. But fate turns around when, visiting Bela in rehab, he meets Kathy (Patricia Arquette), whose support and caring helps ground Ed in the last third of the film, especially when the premiere of “Bride of the Monster” ends in a riot.

First and foremost, however, the film is about making movies. Bad movies, true, but movies nonetheless. There’s a lot of insight and- dare I say- inspiration for budding filmmakers about following your passions and not letting anything get you down. We’ve seen a lot of movies about making movies out of the Hollywood establishment (and lord knows the age of DVD has given us more insight than anything else into the filmmaking process), but especially when it comes to making my own movies, this and Frank Oz’s underrated “Bowfinger” are the ones I keep coming back to, if only because I don’t have big studio money behind me- just pluck, friends, and imagination…though I hope, a little more than Ed Wood.

So much to say about Burton’s film (his best, with “Edward Scissorhands,” “Big Fish,” and “Sweeney Todd” not far behind). The score by Howard Shore (Danny Elfman was on a one-film sabbatical after the arduous “Nightmare Before Christmas” experience), which captures that cheesy ’50s sound beautifully with the theramin, the percussion, as well as a couple of really lovely themes. The visual style, with Colleen Atwood’s costumes really showing off the style of the time next to Tom Duffield’s elegant production design and Stefan Czapsky’s brilliant black-and-white cinematography. The makeup by Rick Baker (who won an Oscar), especially in how he turned Landau into Lugosi.

And then there’s the scenes and moments. Wood at work in angora. “Alright, let’s shoot this fucker!” Bunny’s heartbreaking tale in Mexico. Tor running into the wall. Ed meeting his hero Orson Welles (played by the peerless Vincent D’Onofrio). Bela’s reciting of Ed’s off-the-wall dialogue to applause on the street. “Really? Worst movie you ever saw. Well, my next one will be better!” “What’s to protect it was perfect!” The lovely touch of a “Plan 9” premiere that never happened. “Fuck you, you come down here!” Bela wrestling with an octopus. Wood and co. stealing the octopus. Bela and Ed watching one of Bela’s movies on Halloween. Sure, there were better filmmakers than Ed Wood, but there are few who- through Burton’s beautifully-observed film- I’d be more interested in knowing in person, if only to be in the presence of someone whose love of movies rivals my own.

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