Heather does Ed Wood [plus retro review]

“This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve ever been in. You are wasting my time!”

The Scoop: 1994 R, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp, Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Landau, Jeffrey Jones and Bill Murray

Tagline: Movies were his passion. Women were his inspiration. Angora sweaters were his weakness.

Summary Capsule: The story of a man who just had to live his dream, and the audience who just wished that he wouldn’t.

Heather’s Rating: Every time I hear Bela Lugosi’s name my mind starts running the Hanukkah song on a loop.

Heather’s Review: I disagree with Sue’s opinion of this film, although I do not, in her words, think that she is a big, nasty poopyhead. From what I’ve seen, she looks quite petite in her pictures, and I trust that she has commendable hygiene.

Ed Wood. Oh, Ed Wood. Unless you’ve been glossing over every review or article I’ve ever done, it’s safe to say that you know I LOVE MST3K and therefore have seen a couple of Mr. Wood’s films multiple times. If you travel the forums from time to time you’ll also know that I have spent actual money in these times of economic downfall to watch Plan 9 From Outer Space twice in theaters this past year. In my defense, both were Rifftrax viewings seen either live or on delayed broadcast and totally worth it.

All of this is to say that I was very familiar with Ed Wood as a director, but until I saw this film I had little knowledge of him as a person. I did know that he was passionate about the movies he made, and never let anyone tell him he couldn’t achieve his dreams. Has someone’s moxie ever inspired you to both cheer them on and punch them at the same time?

I suspect that everyone who came across this man or his creations had that reaction (at least the latter).  Ed Wood made some of the worst piles of dung to grace the silver screen, but he was unique among his fellow dung pile-ers in his unabashed love of making films. He didn’t care about all of the intricate details, or making things realistic, or even making sure that there weren’t shots revealing critical set pieces getting knocked over like the pieces of cardboard they were. Like a teenager on a date, Ed Wood just loved doing what he did; he didn’t care whether or not he was doing it right.

It must have been that child-like glee Johnny Depp was trying to tap into with his portrayal of the B movie auteur.  In my opinion he ran the tap dry with this performance and gave Wood a wide-eyed, childish creepiness that doesn’t fit with how I imagine him.  It was especially difficult to take the role seriously having first watched his nearly identical but ramped-up version of this performance in Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. I kept looking for the purple top hat and tails.

Still, Depp is enjoyable to watch, as is everyone in the movie, especially Martin Landau. Holy Inanimate Objects, that man did a fantastic Bela Lugosi. I suffered as Sue did, not really feeling for anyone, except I did feel for Mr. Lugosi. I was moved by the defeat in his eyes when talking about his career, and the pain of that second (made up) scene where he nearly commits a suicide and homicide and gets himself checked into rehab. I could even laugh at him for his Old Man Crotchetyness ™ when Ed kept yelling at him to roll around in freezing cold water at four AM for a shot.  “F*** you! You come out here!”  Indeed, Mr. Lugosi. Indeed.

The story is interesting and mostly true. Wood’s life and group of friends was so off the wall that it can’t have made anything but an intriguing story. The cinematography is fantastic and I love the look of it in all black and white.  Aside from being monochromatic the way this film was shot, as well as the care taken in all the set details and the fantastically eerie score, make this movie have a really odd B movie quality to it. I love the film’s quirkiness, even though I would give its subject a good post-mortem kick.

Sue’s Rating: Better than a long whiff of ether in a Civil War surgical tent!

Sue’s Review: Ed Wood is a schlocky film about a schlocky writer/director of schlocky B movies. I could, in fact, stop my review right there, because I know this is a cult favorite, crafted by the fine hand of Tim Burton no less, and we’re a cult site and I’m supposed to feel the cult love, and if you can’t say something nice you shouldn’t say anything at all… *deep breath*… oh man, I’m sorry but this just sucked.

I’ve got to be honest. I didn’t even watch Ed Wood to the absolute end. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I took five very determined shots at it, the last with a long run-up, a girding of the loins, and a liter bottle of Mountain Dew to keep me going. To no avail. I nodded off. Just plain nodded off. Every time. I wasn’t even tired! It was like Johnny Depp and his angora sweater sucked all of the oxygen out of the room. Don’t get me wrong, I think Johnny Depp is one of the best actors of my generation. In my wild, misspent youth, I lusted after Johnny Depp. I don’t even dislike Tim Burton. Heck, I loved Big Fish! I blame the sweater.

My guess is that the point of this movie was to showcase the great drive and enthusiasm of Mr. Wood in his production of countless craptastical movies. Maybe it’s all about the idea of success as a state of mind, or daring to live your dream, or reaching for the stars – even when they won’t return your calls and you’ve been served with several restraining orders.

I wasn’t feeling it, folks. All I got was, “Holy cow, that guy is creeeeeepy.” His demeanor was too chipper, his smiles too manic, his monologues so rapid-fire that they deteriorated into white noise and my brain went all slushy under the onslaught. I mean, there are some funny lines, but quite of few of them were drowned in the ‘Golly gee, Mister, that’s just swell!’ schtick. Drowned, I tell you. Like puppies in a burlap sack.

The supporting characters really aren’t much better. Bela “don’t call me Boris!” Legosi is especially one nasty, temperamental, drug-addicted son of a biscuit. He’s a little sad, a little funny, a little edgy, a little pathetic and a little repellent. None of those things make me want to give him a hug, y’know? In fact, there are no characters whatsoever that I can cheer for, or that seem to have any appreciable depth. Despite that, the movie is certainly well acted, but only after you remind yourself that overacting is in the script.

In retrospect, I think that if a few external factors had been different, I might have had a better – at least cheerier – perspective on Ed Woods’ alleged culty sweetness. Those factors would have included large quantities of alcohol, mycologically produced hallucinogens and a large group of boisterous, roistering friends to share them with. Unfortunately, I have long since been riding the wagon, I’m allergic to certain varieties of mushroom and I like my friends a little too much to inflict this on any of them. I mean, what have they ever done to me??? Come to think of it, few of my friends roister. At least not when I’m around.

Now I know there are folks out there who are even now screaming words like “heretic” and “apostate” and “shallow minded idiot” and even “big nasty poopyhead’, and to you all, I apologize.

Maybe sometime, I’ll give Ed Wood another try. Maybe I won’t dislike it quite as much. Maybe I will.

In the meantime, keep that hate mail coming, as long as it makes you feel better about yourself, okay?

I prefer Mr. Depp in my dreams, not my nightmares, thank you.

Intermission:

  • Tor’s character seemed a lot more eloquent in Ed Wood than the real Tor Johnson ever sounded in the films he did. I say that without even a hint of sarcasm.
  • The crew used black and white because none of them had ever seen a color photo of Lugosi. No one had any idea what color his eyes were, and to look at Landau made up as Lugosi in color didn’t seem quite right.
  • Martin Landau won an Oscar for the role of Bela Lugosi. I also want to mention how in awe I am that he learned a Hungarian accent and then learned how to speak it like a Hungarian trying not to talk in a Hungarian accent.  Brain hurt yet?

Groovy Quotes:

Bunny: How do you do it? How do you get all your friends to get baptized, just so you can make a monster movie?         Ed Wood: It’s not a monster movie. It’s a supernatural thriller.

Bela Lugosi: They don’t want the classic horror films anymore. Today it’s all giant bugs. Giant spiders, giant grasshoppers… Who will believe such nonsense?

Edward D. Wood, Jr.: I like to dress in women’s clothing.
Georgie Weiss: You’re a fruit?
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: No, not at all. I love women. Wearing their clothes makes me feel closer to them.
Georgie Weiss: You’re not a fruit?
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: No, I’m all man. I even fought in W.W.2. Of course, I was wearing women’s undergarments under my uniform.

Edward D. Wood, Jr.: [after Tor Johnson bumps into a scenery wall while walking through a door making the wall shudder] Ok, and CUT! PERFECT! PRINT IT!
Cameraman Bill: Don’t you wanna do another take Ed? Seems like big baldy had some problems gettin’ through that door.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.: No, it’s fine. It’s real. You know, in actuality, Lobo would have to struggle with this problem every day.

Orson Welles: Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Mistress
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
  • I really don’t know….Plan 9 From Outer Space?
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7 Comments

  1. Well, that’s a much more positive review. I might have to finally check it out to see what you mean for myself.

    I must say, though: one thing I hate, one thing I absolutely loathe, is when a reviewer for this site admits they haven’t watched a movie to the end, but then reviews it anyway. Especially when Justin does it, being the Big Banana and therefore up to a higher standard and all.

    I’m not trying to tell you guys how to do what you’re doing for free and for fun but, please; try not to TELL us if you fast-forwarded through a film or skipped the beginning/middle/end. That just seems like the set-up for a dishonest and misinformed review.

  2. For as much as the film criticizing community (pinky-out snobs F.Y.I.) looks down upon Ed wood and his work, he wasn’t that bad. Seriously, I used to own Plan 9 from outer space on DVD and it was not THAT bad. Look at it from a film maker stand point. He had NO budget, a script he made up as he went along, and let’s face it… not exactly “Shakespeare theatre” worthy actors. Treat it as any other story that happened to be told through a fractured, cheap lens. Look at the tripe with SUBSTANTIALLY bigger budgets that is considered a movie nowadays. Off the top of my head…

    Crank (1 and 2)
    The core
    Terminator Salvation
    The rock
    Avatar (save for the 40 minute eye-melting battle sequence at the end… utter garbage. Condolences)
    And the big shebang… the lowest of the low… the movie that I will curse until the day I have a tag on my toe and I depart this world…

    Batman and robin

    Ed wood was no genius of cinematic brilliance… but his film entertained me. He had the will to bring his dream to life. I can only imagine what he could have pulled off if he had a 21st century budget (I.E. District 9 was made with a “Paltry” 30 million) His films were a work of love and spirit of creativity.

  3. I’m very confident that ignoring continuity, refusing to re-shoot botched scenes, writing nonsensical dialogue (and in your words, making it up as he went along) and cramming in awkward stock footage (or creating whole movies around it) are considered marks of a less than talented director. A bad director, in fact.

    If anyone who sees Mr. Wood’s work as less than quality is, in your opinion, a “pinky-out snob”, then I suppose myself and darned near everyone else on the planet falls under that category. Lovers of kitschy cult films celebrate Ed Wood as one of the most awful film makers in our history. It’s unfair and rash to insult everyone (and there are a lot of us) who disagree with your belief that Ed Wood (and especially Plan 9) wasn’t that bad.

    There are many, MANY wonderful films produced on a shoestring budget. It’s possible when you have the talent to make them so. Sadly, for all his love and passion for making movies, Ed Wood was not that person. This does not make him a bad person, nor should he have succumbed to the pressure to stop doing what he loved; but just because you love something and have a passion for it does not make you good at it.

  4. Pingback: Heather does Bride of the Monster « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

  5. Pingback: The Nightmare Before Christmas [Retro Review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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