Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beetlejuly: Ed Wood

In the early 90s, Tim Burton was quite busy. He was shooting Batman Returns, producing The Nightmare Before Christmas and was in preproduction on a biopic based on "the worst director of all time". Thus, in 1994, Ed Wood was released by Disney's subsidiary Touchstone Pictures, who distributed Nightmare a year earlier. The film would be Johnny Depp's second outing with Tim Burton and the first time Danny Elfman did not produce a score for one of Burton's films. Instead, the film's score was produced by Howard Shore, who would later go on to score the epic music for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The film also stars Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones and Martin Landau in the role that would earn him an Academy Award. Believe it or not, Ed Wood is a Burton film I haven't seen until recently, and to put it plain and simple, it's a bag of laughs. I've already gone on saying that Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice are two of my favorite comedies of all time, but after seeing this flick a few times now, I can honestly say that I would place Ed Wood up there as well. It's no wonder why Disney distributed this film under Touchstone, for there are enough f-bombs and adult jokes in this film to fill a pool. If you are easily offended by profound language and inappropriate quirks, this film might not be your cup of tea, but if you are in the mood for something with perfectly timed humor and buffoonery, this might be your jackpot. I laughed out loud in several areas of this film and have come to realize that Tim Burton, in his own right, is not only the master of macabre, but the master of comedy and well skilled in giving you something to giggle about. 

I feel that in order to talk about the movie itself, I must talk about who the movie is in fact based on. The film is based on Edward D. Wood Jr, an American screenwriter, producer and director who has been widely regarded as the absolute worst in all of these areas. His films include Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster, Night of the Ghouls and the colossal cult film Plan 9 From Outer Space. He was also a heterosexual cross dresser and member of the United States Marine Corps, which are addressed on numerous occasions throughout the coarse of the film. I have to admit, I have come to admire Ed Wood and his filmmaking taste, but I'm not the biggest fan of Plan 9 From Outer Space. It certainly wasn't the worst movie I've ever seen, but I couldn't really get pulled into it as much as I wanted too. The film bored me in some areas and most of the movie seemed like just a bunch of people talking and talking and talking. Again, it wasn't the worst, but it's certainly not a favorite of mine. If your curious and want a oddball flick to check out, knock yourself out. Perhaps you will have a different view of the film than I did. Anyway, back to Ed Wood. 

As I said before, I admire Ed Wood's passion and perseverance for his work. Johnny Depp does a swell job of portraying Ed as a headstrong, optimistic person who always likes to look on the brighter side of things. When things go haywire for him (and trust me, things go haywire for him quite often in this movie), he still keeps that confident attitude and always finds a way to make it all work out in the end. Sure, things don't turn out flawlessly, but Wood realizes that and knows that it's not the teeny, tiny mistakes that matter, it's the entire big picture. He knows that things won't always live up to his original vision, but that doesn't mean he won't fight for his vision. We see him do an awful lot of fighting for HIS control over HIS projects despite the constant interference from studio executives and managers. As Orson Welles himself tells Ed in the movie, Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making somebody else's dreams? Ed Wood is the perfect example of how a person can make things happen THEIR way and it's certainly something Walt Disney himself would be proud of. Wood demonstrates that even when you're considered a talentless, ecocentric moron, you can still make a difference and reach out to people, probably in ways you least expect. Ed Wood certainly reached out to people in ways he least expected and even if he is considered to be the worst director of all time, his work found an ever-growing audience and fan base who cherish and admire his work for the imperfect work that it is. Nothing is or will ever be perfect and Wood realized that. He knew there would be difficulties, he knew there would be detractors, but that didn't stop him and his passion. He just kept looking down that road and continued doing what HE thought was right. He ignored all the hate and continued doing what he loved. That, my friends is a great lesson for all of us. 

 I personally think that Ed Wood is one of Johnny Depp's greatest performances and every time I see him in the role, I just get a good feeling, a feeling of confidence and giddiness. Just look at that smile, you can just tell that he's having a good time! 

Johnny Depp is a wonder in this movie, but he's not the only one with profound talent. Martin Landau portrays Bela Lugosi, the actor who will forever be merged with Dracula. He formulated the Dracula we are all familiar with today and Landau is spectacular portraying Lugosi as an ill tempered, yet determined, wise mentor to Ed. Tim Burton based the relationship between Ed and Bela off of his own relationship with his idol, Vincent Price and you can really see how much the two care for one another as the film plays out. Bela believes in Ed and knows that he is capable of a lot of things, and Ed really wants to make Bela the star he once was, despite Bela's addiction to morphine and proneness to swearing. Ed constantly has to watch over Bela and it's heartbreaking to see the poor fellow go downhill as the film unfolds. The pain Ed feels when Bela eventually dies is very saddening and you can really see why he wants to get Plan 9 From Outer Space made, to pay tribute to the legendary actor and give him a proper swan song. Whenever a sad scene occurs with Bela Lugosi, Tchaikovsky's main theme for Swan Lake plays, the same theme that is heard in the beginning of the 1931 Dracula which made Bela Lugosi synonymous with the name Dracula. Sometimes, while I'm watching the movie, I forget that it's Martin Landau and think that I am watching Lugosi himself. Landau is spot on capturing every mannerism, word rhythm and movement Lugosi was known for, not to mention that Landau's makeup, done by Rick Baker makes him the spitting image of Lugosi. Landau's performance as Bela Lugosi and Rick Baker's makeup earned them both Academy Awards and helped make Lugosi known for a new movie going audience. In some ways, this film introduced people to the original Dracula and other such Lugosi films and helped people realize what a talented and dignified actor he really was. Lugosi was truly an icon, and Landau was marvelous playing him. 

All the other actors are spot on as well. Bill Murray is hilarious as Bunny Breckinridge, Ed's openly-gay friend and Lisa Marie (Burton's then lover) does a fantastic job as Maila Nurmi aka Vampira, capturing her calm yet outspoken nature. Sarah Jessica Parker's character of Dolores Fuller can be a bit loudmouthed and annoying at times, but she's not all that bad and she's gone by the film's closing act. Patricia Arquette, who played the main heroine in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors portrays Ed's second girlfriend Kathy and she's for the most part much more calm and understanding than Parker's Dolores. But the character I found most striking was Jeffrey Jones' character Jeron Konig, also known as The Amazing Criswell. He's the guy who gives the film's opening speech and comes off as an exuberant fellow who believes he can see the future. He even helps Ed find financiers for his movies and even acts in some of his movies, most notable Plan 9's opening scene. Yes, this film has quite an array of cast members and most of them are pretty good if not very good. 

The film really makes me feel like I'm in the 1950s time period. The scenery is old fashion looking, filled with old cars and like Vincent and Frankenweenie, the black and white really gives the film a style and retro feel. There's even a joke in the film that caters to the black and white look and pokes fun at it. Nevertheless, it's a nice touch to the movie and helps us get sucked into the 1950s time period. I also like the film's opening title sequence, filled with fake looking tombstones, an octopus and Howard Shore's whimsical soundtrack. If you were to listen to his score for this movie and his score for The Lord of the Rings movies, you probably wouldn't guess that they were done by the same guy. Yeh, I know the films are from different genres thus need a different tone, but it just goes to show that Shore can pull off different film scores that fit in greatly with the films themselves. It's a rather funny and quirky score, something reminiscent of an old monster movie from the 1950s-60s timeframe and each scene is greatened with his weird, wacko score playing in the background. It's enjoyable and unlike any other soundtrack for any other movie. 

This is certainly one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Even in some of the film's more serious scenes, there are bits of humor and funny stuff to smile at. Landau's Lugosi is a billion laughs and likes to spew a cuss word every now and then and the guy who invests in Glen or Glenda is an ill tempered loudmouth who also likes to curse and chow down on grub. The scenes where Ed dresses like a girl will have you silent for a few moments, then hit you with a bolt of laughter. I also like the scene where Ed and his crew break into a butchery to steal a giant octopus and as they cut it down off the ceiling, it falls on Tor Johnson, the film's corpulent, yet memorable wrestler character. Of course Tor doesn't die in the sequence, but the buildup to his emergence from the octopus' bottom is legendary and worth a chuckle. And I don't know about you, but I always get a kick out of the scene where Bela fights the octopus in the water and has to move the octopus' tentacles himself, as if the dead octopus is wrapping his tentacles around him. Talk about cheesiness! In fact, that's a word that best sums up this film, cheesiness. It has a lot of moments that aren't meant to be taken seriously and the serious scenes always have something to laugh over. It's acting is top notch and over the top at times, but always manages to get it's point across and the characters' motivations straight. It has that balance of comedy, suspense, drama and imagination, but is all in all a fun, hilarious and powerful motion picture with a lot of memorable moments. Ed Wood hit the spot for me and I hope it can hit the spot for you. It goes to show what comedies are capable and what the brilliant mind of Tim Burton is capable of. 

Tune in next time and we'll talk about a movie based off cards. 

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