Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood (1994), directed by Tim Burton.

A loving, mostly comic tribute to the "world's worst filmmaker". The key is that neither he nor his circle are ridiculed for their terrible product. No: everyone should have an Ed Wood in their lives and a chance to be part of such a community.

The darker segments come from Bela Lugosi's poverty and drug addiction toward the end of his life, and hints of Wood's future alcoholism -- when he's down we always see him in a bar. But Wood had friends, and he gave Lugosi work and friendship when he most needed it.

I have nothing against Tim Burton or Johnny Depp, but this is the only film from either that I enjoy unreservedly. It did not do well, and I'm not sure why. Cult topic with too much inside humor? Black and white? Main character a straight cross-dresser? (Well... Captain Jack Sparrow was well-liked and he hardly walked a narrow path).

Depp said he based the role on Casey Kasem (for the voice), Ronald Reagan (for that yes-and-no head wobble), and the Tin Man of Oz (for his bright, courteous optimism).

I always presumed this was a Tim Burton project from the outset, but it was actually developed by others. Burton was, of course, enthusiastic about it.

Inspired score by Howard Shore. I would have guessed it was Danny Elfman, frequent Burton collaborator who did many goofy SF soundtracks.

We have clever cross-reflections of scenes and tropes from Wood's life, his movies and this film, and we get to see the making-of three Wood/Lugosi pictures: Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955), and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). They reproduce several scenes more or less exactly:


"More or less" because the reproductions look better than the originals. The old films become more watchable after you've seen Ed Wood and know the backstory, but I can't say they become better movies. Glen or Glenda (1953) is "special" (ahem) because it is such a heart-felt plea from someone with a harmless kink that no one understands, and is still a matter of humor even in the newer film.

The Medved brothers brought Ed Wood to modern attention by calling him the "Worst Director of All Time". That their ridicule could become appreciation in this film is a very fine thing, but I suspect it's all been said by now.

The film is not a documentary and they skip over a lot of history to keep the portrayals mostly sympathetic. Some of this is mentioned in the commentary track:

Trivia: three actors from Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) appear in this film, two from Bride of the Monster (1955), and one from Glen or Glenda (1953). Conrad Brooks is in all four films.

Finally, this makes me think of M. Night Shyamalan, who I confess I admire for his unapologetic goofiness, his yearning to be a film director no matter what. He's like Wood in that regard, and a better director with, of course, vastly more resources.

Available on Blu-ray with an edited commentary track featuring the writers, director, crew and Martin Landau. They stress how much filmmakers love this story. Everyone in the business is delusional at times.