Hear Me Out Before You Shut Me Out

Ed Wood: The Best Movie on the Worst Director

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Ed Wood is distributed by Touchstone Pictures

I’m taking a different route this time by reviewing an older movie. I heard a lot about this one, like how it’s one of the most underrated films of the year. It’s an interesting view of one of Hollywood’s most…interesting people: Edward D. Wood, Jr. Cult film lovers know this guy, but the rest of the world have never heard of him. This guy is hailed as the worst director that ever lived. He made low-budget movies with horrible storytelling and crummy production. He used strange casting decisions in the weirdest of roles. He wears women’s clothing when he’s not filming. All of this plays out in Tim Burton’s unseen classic Ed Wood.

Many people don’t like Tim Burton, but I love his work. Sure, his last movie doesn’t qualify for quality, but he’s made more good movies than you know. That’s the beauty of him: for every good movie, he’s made an underrated movie. For Batman, there was Batman Returns. For Edward Scissorhands, there was Sweeney Todd. For Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, there was Big Fish. Ed Wood definitely fits in the spot of “best movies you haven’t seen” because despite its weirdness and zaniness, there is so much to enjoy. The cast play this ensemble of characters so well that you’d think they were actually the characters. The dialogue can be strange but also funny. The best part is that it’s filmed kinda like an Ed Wood movie. Watching this story, it’s hard to believe that a man like this even existed.

During the 1950’s in the height of science fiction, Edward D. Wood, Jr (Johnny Depp, if that surprises you) decides that he wants to work in film. Inspired by his idol Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio in one scene), Wood directs, writes and produces his movies. With the help of his girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker), some friends and even fallen star Bela Lugosi (amazingly done by Martin Landau, but I’ll get to that later), Wood independently makes movies that eventually stink so hard that they smell like roses. But after hardships occur, Wood has to figure out how he can overcome them and continue his movie-making dream.

Four things stand out the most in this movie. The first is the ensemble. Johnny Depp as the titular weirdo gives him charm and amusement that you wouldn’t expect to find. This character is by far the strangest I’ve ever seen, and I saw him in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Ed Wood apparently filmed everything in one take. It didn’t matter if someone knocked over a prop or said a line weird, it went in the movie regardless. Hell, all of the lines in his movie were weird. “Pull the string! Pull the string!” Martin Landau won the Oscar for his role as Bela Lugosi, and first viewing of this movie can explain why. He doesn’t just play Bela, he becomes Bela. There’s some dispute as to how accurate Burton depicted Lugosi in this movie, but Landau’s performance is spot on. His accent sounded natural as well. With his physical acting, his physiognomies (facial reactions), and his delivery, Landau almost stole the show in every scene. This was a better Bela than Kirsten Stewart in Twilight. After that comes Bill Murray playing a flamboyantly gay man surprisingly convincing. An odd departure from his usual shtick, but nevertheless he does well. The only performance in this movie that didn’t do very well was Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles because you can easily tell that wasn’t his voice. Someone dubbed over him, and it sadly shows.

The second thing that stands out is the story. A hack director making strange movies strangely? It sounds too good to be true, but truth can be stranger than fiction. This story proves two things: a can-do spirit can take you so far, and that it’s always best to do more than one take. Burton also uses this story to glorify the auteur. Welles advises Wood to have full control over his material and not allow the producers to tell him what to do. Granted, Wood perhaps should have listened to his producers, but he probably wouldn’t be remembered if he did. Sadly, few directors stand out as visionaries. Nowadays, most directors serve as the pawns to the producers, and they ironically make worse movies than Wood did. At least Wood’s movies were  entertaining albeit for unintentional reasons. Some parts of the movie do get sad and/or pretty scary, like Bela’s story regarding his morphine addiction. You don’t see him inject a needle, but you do see the holes along his arm.

The third thing that stands out is the dialogue. Actually, make that the delivery of the dialogue. Some lines seem pretty standard to the character, but the way the actors say them make them either funny or just enjoyable. How can no one laugh at how nonchalantly Ed says “I like to wear women’s clothing” or how Landau curses out an admirer for undermining him for Karloff. Much of what is said probably didn’t exist, but does it make the movie more entertaining. The fourth and final aspect that stands out is the cinematography. Burton filmed this like an Ed Wood B-movie which attributes more to its charm and appreciation. It segues a number of Ed Wood elements like fake saucers and a model of the city in the opening credits. You can guess what you’re going to expect in this movie: a king of kitsch at work.

Ed Wood intentionally glorifies someone who probably doesn’t deserve it, but we respect him even more because of it. His movies did suck, but at least we had fun watching them to some extent (probably thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000) This movie probably is the best movie associated with the lunatic behind Plan 9 From Outer Space. The actors give great performances as the strangest lot of people. The story itself either entertains or motivates. It’s odd seeing a biopic for a person like this, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. It’s definitely a movie for film lovers and wannabe filmmakers both in glorifying the spirit of filmmaking and educating us in how NOT to make film.

Final rating: 8.6 (Do Go)

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