Friday, February 22, 2013

Ed Wood

Directed by Tim Burton.
1994. Rated R, 127 minutes.
Martin Landau
Sarah Jessica Parker
Jeffrey Jones
Patricia Arquette
Lisa Marie
George “The Animal” Steele
Vincent D’Onofrio
Mike Starr
Max Casella
Brent Hinkley

Ed Wood, here played by Johnny Depp, is widely considered one of, if not the worst director of all-time. This biopic follows him from the time shortly before he makes his first feature, Glen or Glenda through the completion and premier of his magnum opus of bad filmmaking, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Let’s face it, Ed Wood was an abject failure in his chosen profession. He was also socially awkward, a fact exacerbated by the less tolerant era during which he lived. Even the end of this movie tells us Mr. Wood eventually descended into alcoholism. The template is there for a dead serious biopic. Luckily for us, our director for this feature, Tim Burton, is both skilled and quirky. The former keeps the story moving briskly and in an engaging manner. He gives us a fun film highlighting the subject’s passion for making movies. We know that he’s bad at his job, but we also know he loves what he’s doing and genuinely believes he’s making masterpieces.

Burton’s quirkiness lead him to some brilliant choices. The most easily recognizable is that we’re watching a black and white picture. It snugly fits the world these people inhabit. Ever the purveyor of palatable weirdness, Burton’s handling of this collection of misfits is also perfectly done. He makes them fun without making fun of them. To that end, he gets wonderfully odd performances from Johnny Depp, Bill Murray (Bunny Breckinridge) and Patricia Arquette (Kathy O’Hara). He also uses Sarah Jessica Parker (Dolores Fuller) as a conduit for the audience, first wide-eyed in amazement of Ed’s ambition and eventually our sober voice of reason. Her final outburst reveals a painful truth to Ed that he unsurprisingly ignores. That he is undeterred is a testament to his love for his craft and belief in himself.

The part of the movie that touches us most is the relationship between Wood and the legendary Bela Lugosi (Landau). They form a peculiar friendship. It seems to be based initially on Wood’s hero worship of the once great star then on his exploiting Lugosi and Lugosi’s willingness to be exploited. Wood is the only director who will have the rapidly declining legend. By this time, he’s more than happy to be in any production so that he can support his drug habit. By the end, we’re not sure who used who more but we realize they actually do care for one another.

When it’s all said and done Mr. Burton’s film is a tip of the cap from one filmmaker to another, a loving tribute to a man who gave everything to tell the stories he wanted to tell. Admiration permeates the movie. It’s evident that Burton understands Wood’s movies are a mess but he can’t help but respect the man’s drive. When the credits begin to roll, we’re in the same boat.

MY SCORE: 9/10

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