By JAMES MELVILLE
We’re three weeks into the semester. No, wait. Four? I don’t know anymore. All time has faded away in this haze of caffeine and inconsistent weather. I waded through an ocean of surrealist clocks on my way to class this morning. Note to self: look out window before choosing footwear.
The Plot: In 50s Hollywood, Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp) wants to make movies. He’s inspired by Orson Welles and classic horror films, like Dracula. He finds a way into the industry when he befriends an aging, morphine-addicted Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). Together, they make a series of terrible B movies. But what Ed lacks in talent he makes up for in a cheerful optimism that manages to inspire the people around him. The movie follows Ed’s early career, beginning with the making of the critically panned Glen or Glenda, and ending with the premier of Plan 9 From Outer Space, also known as the “worst movie of all time.”
Though it pains me greatly, I’m sure that some of you haven’t heard of Ed Wood. There might even be some of you who don’t know who Bela Lugosi is. They’re real people. Ed is the worst director of all time, and Lugosi is the original Count Dracula. All caught up? Good. There will be a quiz.
Ed Wood is an un-ironic tribute to a man cursed by a tremendous lack of talent. It’s a sweet film that meets the almost overwhelming sadness of Wood’s career with the unbridled optimism of the man himself. He’s absolutely convinced that the movies he makes are great. Why? Because they are 100% Ed Wood. He pours his heart and soul into every movie. Take Glen or Glenda, for example. What the studio originally wanted to be an exploitation-style sex change picture, Ed changes into a personal story about the internal struggle of being a transvestite. Reading the script for the first time, his girlfriend finally understands why her angora sweater was so stretched out.
This movie could easily have been pretty meh. Had it been directed as a standard bio-pic, with heavy doses of drama and cliché, it probably would have sucked. But Tim Burton gives the film the perfect combination of offbeat style and genuine heart. The film is shot in black and white, with aesthetics to match the movies that Ed was trying so hard to emulate. Howard Shore (The Lord of the Rings movies) provides a score that at once evokes cheesy sci-fi and makes you feel the childlike awe that inspired Ed Wood to make movies in the first place. Together, Burton and Shore capture the essence of 50s Hollywood in a way that still manages to feel unique. Honestly, I think this is Tim Burton’s best film.
At its core, Ed Wood is about more than watching a plucky loser continue to lose in endearing ways. This is a movie about an artist struggling with the fear of rejection and failure. It’s something that anyone who’s shown a creation to the world has had to deal with. What if I’m no good? What if everybody hates it? The more of yourself you put into your work, the harder you take it when you fail. Ed Wood put everything into what he did. He just insulated himself with equal parts delusion and positive attitude.
It’s that gap between reality and perception that makes the film so wonderfully bittersweet. Ed Wood ends on a relatively happy note, with the premier of Plan 9 From Outer Space. Finally, Ed thinks he’s made it: “This is it. This is the movie I’ll be known for.” We know that Plan 9 is terrible, but Ed doesn’t yet. He’s riding high. After the premier, he proposes to his lovely, supportive girlfriend (Patricia Arquette), and drives off in the rain, headed to Vegas. He’s convinced that the rain will end when they get to the desert, or maybe even “just around the next corner.”
Ed’s life after the events in the movie was a sad story. Like his friend Bela, he never got the recognition he craved. Eventually reduced to writing pornography and filming sex ed movies, he died penniless in a run-down apartment in 1978. Two years later, he gained notoriety when he was declared the “worst director ever.” Like I said. A sad story.
Should you see this? Absolutely. It’s one of Johnny Depp’s best performances, in what is definitely Tim Burton’s best film. It’s also a lot less depressing than my last paragraph, so that’s a plus.
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