Cinematic Heaven: Ed Wood

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Ed Wood | Tim Burton, 1994

When we are kids we always dream that we are going to be something exciting when we grow up. We say, ” I want to be a policeman” or “I want to be a firefighter” or “I want to be an astronaut.” More often that not, we don’t do what we wanted to do. We either forget about it, realize that we do not have the skills that are required to the job, or we just settle for something traditional that will please those around us. Edward D. Wood, Jr. was not a man who gave up his dream of making movies. No matter how harsh his critics were, no matter how difficult it was for him to raise funds for his movies, he always found a way. So, it is no wonder that Tim Burton idolized him and decided to tell his story on film, and it resulted in one of his greatest movies.

When we first see Wood (Johnny Depp) he is in a theater, and his play is about to premiere. It flops, but took comfort in the fact that one critic said that the costumes were realistic. One day, he hears that a movie is being produced about the first man who got a sex-change operation. He thinks he is the perfect man for the job because he is a cross dresser, something that he has kept secret from everyone, even his girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). At the same time, he meets one of his favorite actors, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), once a famous actor, now a drug addict who lives in the shadow of his most famous role, Dracula. They immediately hit it off, and he gives him a part in Glen or Glenda? as the movie came to be called since they couldn’t get the life rights to the real person. The movie then chronicles Woods life after that movie, through his break-up with Dolores, his friendship with Lugosa, and his eventual death, and concludes with the premiere of the movie he would be remembered for, Plane 9 From Outer Space.

Like Burton’s other two great movies, Big Fish and Sweeney Todd, this is more of a character study that lends its self to his usual style. This movie is not just about Ed Wood, but about a man that knows what he wants, and does everything in his power to do it. It is also about the strain that the pursuit had on his relationship with the person he loved, and the friendships that he made along the way.

Also, like those two movies I mentioned, Ed Wood is a very stylish movie, but the style does not overshadow the story or the characters. The art direction, the costumes, the gorgeous black & white cinematography that serves as an homage to Wood, all of those things scream “A Tim Burton Film” but they take a back seat to what really matters.

This shows that Burton is definitely a great filmmaker, but as of late, with the exception of Todd, it seems that he is just making movie just for the pay checks, and therefore giving more evidence to the haters that he is just someone who makes things for the Hot Topic crowd. I do hope that one of these days he makes another movie like this, but it seems that with Frankenweenie coming soon, as well as Dark Shadows, and Maleficent, he is going to stay within the macabre for some time (I’m actually okay with Frankenweenie because it is stop-motion and with Maleficent, as long as it is not a CGI fest).

More proof that he is great come from the performances that he got out of his actors. Johnny Depp gives one of his best performances here. We all know that he is good at playing this kind of off-beat and energetic characters, but he gets completely immersed in the role here. Thanks to the facial gestures, his body language, and his voice, I’m able to forget that I’m watching one of the most recognizable stars in the world. Sarah Jessica Parker gives her best performance here, and Bill Murray is a delight to watch. But the best performance belongs to Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. Although I am not familiar with Lugosi’s work, Landau does an excellent job of potraying a man that once had it all, but lost it due to drug addiction and age. He really loves his job, but Hollywood changed, and it no longer needed actors like him. His last scene before he dies, where he once again delivers his dialogue from Bride of the Monster, is amazing because it highlights Logosis’s entire life in a couple of sentences, and Landau delivers it with great conviction. Landau rightfully won an Oscar for this, and his performance now takes a place among my favorite performances of all time.

Ed Wood is a fantastic movie, and one of Tim Burton’s best. He clearly had an affection for the man, and it shows with all the heart he put into his work. This is something that most bio-pics lack now a days. Anyone that doubts Burton’s abilities, should take a look at this movie.

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