lördag 1 november 2014
Robin's Favorites: Ed Wood (1994)
While the obvious way to discuss my favorite films would be in the form of a Top 10 or something similar, leading up to my all-time favorite, I decided to start with my number one. This is the only one I will rank. It would be impossible for me to assign ranks to my other favorites and be satisfied with the list, but there is no doubt that this one would be at the top. I have seen this film countless times and I will never grow tired of it. If you have met me at least twice, I have probably recommended it to you.
Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994) is semi-biographical film about infamous B-movie director Edward D. Wood Jr. (played by Johnny Depp), exploring his life and relationships during the time he made his three most-known films: Glen or Glenda (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). I won't go into too much detail plot-wise, as I would rather discuss why this film means so much to me. Some kind of summary is however necessary to help you understand the points I bring up. For more context, you may want to check out the trailer:
Ed Wood is passionate director-writer-producer with a complete lack of self-awareness. As he attempts to get a job directing a sex change-flick, he runs into one of his idols: horror movie icon Bela Lugosi (played brilliantly by Martin Landau). Lugosi is down on his luck, but Ed uses his fame to get the job, promising the producer that a star like Lugosi will bring in a lot of money at the box office. The resulting film, Glen or Glenda, is terrible, but Ed, along with Lugosi and his other friends, keep trying to make more movies.
Johnny Depp is brilliant as the over-enthusiastic Ed. One minute you're laughing at him, the next you feel deep sympathy for all his problems. This is, in my opinion, Depp's best performance. Ed is as quirky as Jack Sparrow or the Mad Hatter, but he feels real. Depp also looks good in drag. Oh, that's right, I forgot to mention that Ed Wood was a transvestite. The film deals with his cross-dressing humorously, as well as seriously. The viewer gets to experience the drama of him coming out to his girlfriend Dolores (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) and hear him explain how this is who he is. He never pretends to be a woman, he just likes to wear bras, panties and angora sweaters. I do however find it a bit annoying how often he explains that cross-dressing does not make him gay or less of a man, but, to be fair, this is always in response to other people's asking about it.
While Depp delivers a great performance, Martin Landau steal the show as Bela Lugosi. His portrayal of Bela incorporates a wide range of emotions: from optimistic to cynical, depressed and angry. He actually won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (and makeup artist Rick Baker won for Best Makeup). While the film exaggerates certain aspects of Lugosi's personality (e.g. his cursing), Landau definitely looks the part:
As a fan of Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931) and Lugosi in general, I find nothing objectionable about Landau's performance. While it isn't perfect, it doesn't have to be. In the end, it is respectful and as long as you don't mind minor historical inaccuracies, you'll probably love it. In fact, sometimes I wonder if Landau's acting as Lugosi as an actor is better than Lugosi's real performances in the films in question.
Other memorable supporting characters include Bill Murray as Bunny, Ed's transgender best friend; Jeffrey Jones as the TV psychic Criswell; and Lisa Marie as TV horror host Vampira.
Now, let's get more personal: why do I love this film so much? Well, I, like any person who think of themselves as creative, can identify with Ed. I have always loved to make up stories and write short stories, scripts, poems and song lyrics, and the film has a dual message for people like me. Firstly, while you might think of your work as brilliant, others may disagree. And they may have a point. We see Ed constantly fail as a writer, director and producer and we understand why. He is not very good at writing, directing or producing. When looking at our own work, we must be humble and self-critical, or we may never make something good.
The second message might seem contradictory to the first, but it is equally important; never give up on your dreams. We have to use our creative passion. In light of the first message, this means that while we may experience problems and criticism, we have to pull through if our projects really matter to us. The real story of Ed Wood ends with pulp novels, nudie films and alcoholism, but Ed Wood ends on a high note. Ed wanted to be a world-famous filmmaker; now he is.
A lot of these points have been brought up by e.g. James Rolfe and Doug Walker, both of whom also list Ed Wood as one of their favorite films. It is understandable that they, as independent filmmakers, love this film, as they probably can relate to a lot of the difficulties that arise when producing a film on a low budget.
For me, watching this film always puts me in a good mood. It isn't just because it is incredibly funny; it also leaves you with a sense of optimism. You feel as though everything is going to work out. It also helps you appreciate other films, especially Ed Wood's actual work, a lot more. While it may not paint an accurate picture of 21st century Hollywood, you can still apply its lessons to any film. Ed's arguing with producers and struggling for funding, probably goes on behind the scenes of a lot of films today.
I also love the film for what it represents. It was produced by Disney, but released under their Touchstone banner, for $18 million. Anyone with half a brain would've known that it would never make that money back. While Tim Burton and Johnny Depp certainly were popular at the time, they couldn't convince people to see a black-and-white (Burton had to fight hard for that) film about a cult filmmaker that most people had never heard of. Was the studio willing to pay that much to get a chance at a few Oscars? Maybe, but I prefer to think that they also fell for Ed and wanted to pay tribute to Hollywood's B-side.