Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp, Martin Landau and Sarah Jessica Parker in this fifties-set Hollywood biopic of “the worst director ever.”
Howard Shore’s score shifts from ominous age of the atom wail to Tiki lounge playfulness, the two minute credits feature stop motion creature FX with a budget no doubt higher than any of the subject’s productions, Stefan Czapsky crisp black and white cinematography capture the sunny locations of old Burbank and Wilshire Boulevard. I’m in. Every time. You could see Ed Wood as a finely made, very witty and well cast celebration of the life and works of Hollywood’s “worst” filmmaker but really it is all about acceptance. Acceptance of transvestitism. Acceptance of addiction. Acceptance of failure. Acceptance of harmless bullshit. Acceptance of compromise. Acceptance of the penniless dream. I’ve seen Ed Wood’s movies; they are strange and cheap and incomprehensible and really cheap but they do have vision, ambition and charm. They take conservative genres and instead of producing exploitation they become quite humanist. You can laugh easily at all the wobbles and fudges but I’d rather a little personality over professionalism. And Wood’s output leak eccentric charm in spades. Burton’s movie really wants to celebrate the chutzpah of making movies no-one asked for with the bare minimal tools required. He wants to celebrate a community of freaks and drop outs who bandied together and became a little house band of tat.
The rich tapestry of characters produces a showcase for a seemingly never ending parade of juicy deadpan acting. Depp wins with his most recognisably personable lead – the cute dreamer and striver. Landau earned an Oscar in a very tight year and his foul mouth Bela Lugosi deserved the trophy. Lisa Marie’s Vampira shines in the most well written, complex female role. We follow her begrudging fall into being part of the Ed Wood no ring circus over the course of the movie yet she retains her abrasive dignity throughout. Bill Murray steals every scene as drag artist buddy Bunny Beckridge. The always welcome Jeffrey Jones has wonderful mid ground larks as larcenous fake psychic Criswell. Vincent D’Onofrio’s cameo as Orson Welles provides an excellent third act coda. And Patricia Arquette has the best scene as Wood’s second wife in what seems like an underwritten role at first glance but contains angelic moments of silent serenity and support.
I’ve often grumbled about the people who sneer at Wood. After all what have they ever made? The most profitable mass market repackager of the camp and uncanny clearly has a true love for this Tinseltown aberration… so why shouldn’t we? A marvellous warm hug of a movie.
Perfect Double Bill: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
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