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Ed Wood

1994 American comedic biopic directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp

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The man whose life needed a second take.

  • May 31, 2012
**** out of ****

Often called the worst film director of all time - with his films also given the privilege of being regarded as some of the crappiest ever produced - it would seem that Edward D. Wood Jr. would have no reason to be optimistic. Yet, played here by Johnny Depp, he has nothing to do but smile. Certainly a whacky, peculiar individual; Ed believed his area of expertise to be filmmaking, even though he didn't know jack-squat on the subject. He never went to film school, although he walks the walk by residing in sunny Los Angeles, California (AKA Hollywood). Ed lives with his girlfriend Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker), who stars in the stage and film productions that he attempts to carry out. Just when Eddie feels that success is safely in his tight grasp, a negative review in the newspaper of his latest effort proves discouraging. Perhaps he has been plagued by romantic delusions of what life should be like for an upcoming artist of the visual medium in the highly desirable Hollywood. Edward dreams of new heights yet can't seem to get past the old lows.

But one chance encounter can change a life - or in this case, a career - and Edward's very own encounter is with an idol of his, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) of "Dracula" and "White Zombie" fame. Edward drives Bela back to his house after they meet and greet on the street, and the two hit it off almost instantly. Bela was once a big star, so Edward thinks he can take advantage of that quite easily. But he brings his ideas to the studio executives - with the promise of Bela appearing in a role - and gets the same old response: "isn't he dead?" If it's not that, it's words of advice to stay away from the man; for he has, apparently, slipped himself right into a life of frequent narcotics abuse. Edward ignores these warnings even though they do end up being true, and decides to shoot his picture. First, it's a film about transvestites. After that one is unsuccessful (but completed), the next film is called "Bride of the Monster". This is the one to end it all, literally; for it is upon the completion of the film that Dolores breaks up with Ed after a new leading lady steps up to take her place in the production.

Another why she broke up with Ed; his strange knack for stealing her clothes and wearing them around the house of while directing. When he wears the feathered coat, he somehow feels terrifically inspired. I suppose we all have our "feathered coat", although it might not be a literal one like Ed's (or rather, Dolores's, to be absolutely precise). The reason for this fetishistic sort of behavior can be traced back to Ed's boyhood, as he himself says; when his mother would dress him up in women's clothes because she lacked daughters. This puts somewhat of a psychological handicap on Wood, although he is forever insistent on being a straight man. Anyways, I find myself drifting.

For "Bride of the Monster" and the production that followed, "Plan 9 from Outer Space" (arguably his most infamous film); Ed added a few new members to his crew. The important new additions include: friendly and sociable brute Tor Johnson (George "The Animal" Steele), sexy television horror host Vampira (Lisa Marie), Kathy O'Hara (Patricia Arquette) - who becomes Ed's new girlfriend after Dolores gets jealous and leaves him -, and financial investor (and television psychic) Criswell (Jeffrey Jones). Bill Murray also has a brief but very funny role as an openly gay man named Bunny Breckinridge who unsuccessfully tries to get himself a sex change (ironic, since Edward's first movie, being the one involving transvestites, is strictly about a man who also desires a sex change). There are a lot of characters here; some kind, some mean, some decent, each colorful and very real in their own way. Even Vincent D'Onofrio makes a cameo appearance as Orson Wells, another great man who inspired Ed to take up filmmaking.

Tim Burton was chosen to be the director of this fine biopic, but it never feels as if he was saddled with his duties. He certainly voices his opinions on the various characters that he must recreate, and his vision can be found in the evocation of the 1950's era. It was, after all, his choice to shoot "Ed Wood" in black-and-white. Good call, Tim. I couldn't picture the thing working so well with color photography. If you really want to capture a historical period on cinematic terms, shoot with an understanding for the times. Burton, an intelligent and creative filmmaker, knew what he had to do; and he did it. But at the same time, he seems to be dealing with themes here that really hit close to home for him. As far as the whole biopic thing goes, he's less concerned about accuracy and more about the thematic elements. This is a film of themes, motives, morals, emotions; not facts. Those who actually knew any of the characters in real-life might think differently of the film than those who haven't, but they are a few and far between.

Now with that out of the way, you can enjoy some of 1994's finest performances. Depp is sensational the titular failed filmmaker Ed Wood; making you care for him throughout, if only because he is a nice and decent man but completely unable to surpass the level of "utter shit" when it comes to his own directorial features. And then there is Landau, who deserves praise not only for channeling the Hungarian accent of Lugosi, but also the visual representation (impressive prosthetic make-up work ensures this). Wood and Lugosi seemed like they really had a thing going between the two of them; and the encounter that they had in the street that fateful day changed the lives of both men forever. Wood found an inspiration and an outlet, Lugosi found a true friend and a guardian. This is the kind of film that surely inspires people; to make movies, that is. By evading the obvious decision to mock Edward D. Wood like most probably would have, Burton instead celebrates what he did for cinema; he gave bad movies a beating heart. You can look at all the bad movies that are still being made today, and they lack this element. Give me a heart over a soulless drag through endless CGI action set pieces any day. Therein lies the appeal of the man and the film. Maybe all you need to make a movie is ambition, if not skill. In that sense, Eddie was kind of lucky.

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June 01, 2012
Thank you for sharing a terrific, interesting recommendation of a move that deserves the praise. Nicely done.
More Ed Wood reviews
review by . October 14, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
"Honey, what if I'm wrong? What if I just don't got it?"    "Ed, it was only one review."    "Orson Welles was only 26 when he made Citizen Kane. I'm already 30."    "Ed, you're still young. This is the time in your life when you're supposed to be struggling."    "I know. But I'm scared it's not going to get any better than this."       …
review by . July 18, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
So many Tim Burton movies have great ideas and beautiful visuals, but somehow go a little flat in the telling. For example, BIG FISH had some great things to look at, along with a some fun performances...but in the end it was too pleased with itself to make an emotional impact and the ending was muddled. BATMAN was a visual and acting delight as well, but had absolutely no suspense because the action sequences were was clearly not what interested Burton, but it meant the movie never got …
review by . December 18, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
A very offbeat movie indeed. Johnny Depp is quite adept at portraying this astonishingly talentless film director. The oddball characters that Martin Landau and Bill Murray play are quite entertaining as well. The black and white setting works well with the mood of the film.The twists and turns that Depp encountes in getting this film releases are indded comical. Although the formula tires just a little bit towards the end, the overall impression is a good one. Worthy of a viewing.
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #3
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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About this movie


Edward D. Wood Jr. was an actor writer-director-producer, occasionally in drag, who combined meager bursts of talent with an undying optimism to create some of the most bizarrely memorable "B" movies to ever come out of Tinseltown. Though Wood died in obscurity as an alcoholic in 1978, his films have been considered cult classics for years.

He is consistently voted the worst director who ever lived. You would think this an odd subject, but director Tim Burton harnesses the undying hopefulness that made Wood such a character. Shot in black and white, just like Wood's creations, this stylized, witty production captures the poetic absurdity of Wood's films and his unconventional life.

Burton's recreation of Wood's wonderfully awfulPlan 9 from Outer Spacelooks much better than the original low-budget quickie. Burton tackled an extremely strange subject matter for a biopic, but Wood is presented as naive almost to the point of delusion, so the story works. The pace sags in the middle, as the weirdness starts to wear thin, but Depp proves himself an adroit actor, even while wearing angora and a blonde wig. Wood's unconventional repertoire company is faithfully reproduced, including an Academy Award-winning Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi.

Landau is pathetic, droll, and charismatic as the elderly junkie who made his last screen appearances in Wood's films.--Rochelle ...
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