Wayback Wednesday: Ed Wood (1994)

One great movie about the making of three terrible movies.

I just finished watching this documentary series on Amazon called 100 Years of Horror (1996) which chronicles the rise and fall of B monster movies. In case I haven’t made it explicitly clear in countless other reviews, I am indeed a spooky bitch who loves to absorb as much eerie entertainment as I possibly can. The movie Ed Wood (1994) has been on my list of movies to see for a while now and having just finished that documentary series, I felt like now was the perfect time to cross it off said list. Trust me, right now my brain is filled to the brim with cheesy monster movies from the 1950s so a movie that is all about the making of those terrible movies is entirely up my alley right now. 

Credit: imdb.com / Buena Vista Pictures

Based on true events, Ed Wood tells the story of the titular director’s rise to infamy in Hollywood during the 1950s. Eager to make a name for himself as a big-time director, Ed does whatever he can to finance and produce his movies, often at the expense of his own personal relationships. Unfortunately the sacrifices never seem worth it for although Ed is proud of his work, the rest of Hollywood deems his movies as some of the worst ever made.

I’m an enormous fan of Tim Burton and his signature aesthetic (again, this should come as no surprise), specifically Burton’s work throughout the 1990s. If I had my way, I would totally live in the creepy and visually striking worlds of movies like Batman Returns (1992) and Sleepy Hollow (1999). Burton definitely was on a hot streak in the 90s and his winning direction of Ed Wood is no exception. This was a slightly different project for Burton because it was his first movie that dealt with real-life figures and was rooted in reality. That being the case, there are times when Ed Wood doesn’t even feel like a Tim Burton movie. Simply because he reigns in all the creep and camp the director is so known for and instead delivers a grounded and moving story about one man’s earnest yet deluded ambitions to rise to the top of his artform. No matter how many obvious shortcomings he may have. The fact that Ed Wood doesn’t feel like a typical Burton movie isn’t a bad thing because it shows that the director has more up his sleeves than just what everyone expects. That being said, Burton does a great job of sprinkling his aesthetic and tone throughout the movie without pulling focus from the story of artistic struggle that is at the heart of Ed Wood. Like the fact that it’s filmed in black and white. I love that choice. It’s such a small yet appropriate touch that helps effortlessly transport you into this time in Wood’s life. Burton always nails the visuals when it comes to his movies. I mean, the movie starts with  a crack of lightning and a closeup of a creepy old house which is 10,000 per cent on brand for Burton and also 10,000 per cent the way to capture my attention. Ed Wood starts off on a strong note that made me eager to see more and the rest of the movie did not disappoint. 

For the fans of modern movies out there, Ed Wood has a very similar feel to movies like The Disaster Artist (2017) and Dolemite Is My Name (2019). It’s that familiar story of one driven, eccentric filmmaker doing everything within their power to make their dream come true. If you’re a fan of the type of movies that showcase the unbelievable backstage drama and antics it took to get awful movies made, than Ed Wood is an absolute must-see. Hmmm, now that I’m thinking about it, it’s an odd coincidence that Ed Wood screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Kraszewski ALSO wrote the screenplay for Dolemite Is My Name. The screenwriters created and write for American Crime Story (2016 – present), and more importantly wrote Agent Cody Banks (2003). Icons! Well-written and well-performed, Ed Wood is a strong recommendation for me. While the movie is very enjoyable, interesting, and masterfully-crafted, my only complaint is that it’s just a smidgen too long. Honestly, that’s my only complaint! The movie is captivating and interesting from start to finish but there are times when you can tell that some parts of the movie could have been edited down. Still, the rave reviews and two Oscars the movie garnered are more than well-earned. By the way, can you believe that Ed Wood only made a measly $5 million against a staggering $18 million budget? Wild!

One of the Oscars Ed Wood earned was for Best Makeup (very well-deserved) and Best Supporting Actor for Martin Landau, who plays horror icon, Bela Lugosi. Also extremely well-deserved. Wow, what a phenomenal actor Landau is. I read that he watched dozens of Lugosi’s movies and interviews to nail his portrayal and all I have to say is that all that research more than paid off. As Lugosi, Landau is as mesmerizing and mysterious as Count Dracula himself. Every action Landau makes, whether it’s a simple hand flourish or the subtlest of facial movements, is carefully thought out and a hauntingly accurate impression of the legendary actor. He’s fantastic. His performance convincingly tricks your brain into believing that you’re really watching Lugosi! His accent is a little…obvious, but hey, that’s honestly the way Lugosi spoke. I am so in the mood to watch old Lugosi movies now. Especially Dracula (1931). 

While Ed Wood features reliably talented actors like Sarah Jessica Parker and Bill Murray who deliver small yet entertaining performances, it’s Johnny Depp’s lead performance as the notorious director that is the highlight of this movie. Depp really needs to return to interesting and unique scripts and characters again. He’s become such a parody of himself in his recent projects that he needs to return to playing roles that actually show his impressive talent. In Ed Wood Depp truly looks and sounds like he’s an aspiring filmmaker from the 1950s. The genuine zest for the artform that he puts into each of his lines feels so authentic, a true embodiment of Wood. Sometimes manic, sometimes sweet, and always a fascinating characterization that has more layers than a bag of onions, Depp’s performance is brilliant. More than anything I left this movie wanting to learn more about Wood’s life. Only 15 minutes into the movie and we already knew about his interest in wearing women’s clothes. It’s interesting that Wood wasn’t gay or transgender, but just interested in wearing women’s clothing. It’s funny but if he were alive today, who knows? His campy filmmaking style and his bold fashion choices may have made him incredibly popular. Although, without his work we may not have gotten eccentric and trailblazing directors like William Castle, John Waters or Burton himself.

Now that I’ve finally gotten around to seeing Ed Wood I can confidently say that my love and admiration for Tim Burton movies is still alive and well. Recently I’ve come to the realization that I’m not the biggest fan of biopics because of their tendency to turn the subject’s life into a never-ending parade of tragedy and misfortune, but this was a biopic that I greatly enjoyed. I think because the passion and appreciation that Wood had for the movie business is never lost or downplayed in the movie. This is a movie about one man’s undying love for movies and honestly, isn’t that something that we as movie fans can all relate to?

Have you seen Ed Wood? What are your favourite Tim Burton movies?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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