movie film review | chris tookey

Ed Wood

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  Ed Wood  Review
Tookey's Rating
10 /10
Average Rating
7.38 /10
Ed Wood .............. Johnny Depp (LONDON CRITICS' CIRCLE - ACTOR OF THE YEAR), Bela Lugosi .......... Martin Landau , Dolores Fuller ....... Sarah Jessica Parker
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Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski . Based on Rudolph Grey's biography, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood

Released: 1994
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 120

Citizen Kane showed the downside of the American Dream by taking a success story, peeling away the layers and revealing the man beneath to be a loser. Ed Wood does precisely the opposite, taking the ultimate loser - Edward D. Wood Jr, an eccentric, unemployable transvestite generally acknowledged as the Worst Director of All Time - and revealing him to be a surprise winner, the supreme individualist, an inspiring embodiment of the human spirit.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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A disaster at the box office, it did at least win an Oscar for Martin Landau, another for the wonderful make-up by Rick Baker, Ve Neill and Yolanda Toussieng. Some of the great movies of all time were flops on first release - The Wizard of Oz, It’s A Wonderful Life, even Citizen Kane. To that illustrious number we can now add Ed Wood. Hollywood’s most visually talented director, Tim Burton reunited himself with actor Johnny Depp for the first time since Edward Scissorhands, and the result is a masterpiece.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world to poke fun at director Edward D. Wood. After all, if you sit through any of his most notorious films of the Fifties - Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster or Plan 9 From Outer Space - it is impossible to imagine how he got funding for them, persuaded actors to speak his dialogue, or directed with such breathtaking ineptitude. Burton’s film succeeds in showing not only how he managed it - but why.

There is a fictitious but magical scene towards the end when Wood meets his hero and fellow auteur Orson Welles, magnificently impersonated by Vincent d’Onofrio. Wood, clad in his favourite ensemble of angora sweater, skirt and blonde wig, commiserates presumptuously with Welles on being unable to finish his movie of Don Quixote. The point is well made. Welles and Wood are reverse sides of the same artistic personality, both daring to tilt at windmills, though with very different levels of talent.

If Ed Wood is a touching film about artistic self-expression, it is also a celebration of go-getting entrepreneurialism. Wood’s films were so appalling that he must have been a better salesman than Welles ever was. The scenes where Wood wheedles money out of the unlikeliest sources are worthy of Arthur Daley in the heyday of Minder.

This is also a moving study of friendship. Wood was a bad film-maker, but a good friend - not least to the bitter, burned-out star of Dracula, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). Landau thoroughly deserved his Academy Award for both an uncanny impersonation and a towering, tragic portrayal of human disintegration.

But it is Depp who carries the picture, at the head of a flawless supporting cast which includes Bill Murray as Wood’s greatest fan and Patricia Arquette as the woman Wood woos and weds. Depp has played weird misfits before, but never so brilliantly. Unrecognisable from the handsome romantic lead of Don Juan de Marco, he is frantic, funny and sincere. He makes the warm, well-meaning, woolly-minded Wood seem a genuine hero in a world which has lost its values and settled for a dull, mercenary conformity.

The lesson may well be lost on our own, censorious and selfish times. Some - and perhaps a majority of film-goers - will find themselves on the outside looking in, like Wood’s increasingly unimpressed fiancee, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). "I see the usual gang of misfits and dope addicts are here," she remarks witheringly, of Ed's friends.

The rest of us will come to care about Wood’s odd entourage of deadbeats and dead wood (it comes as no real surprise to learn that his cinematographer is colour-blind). It is impossible not to admire his determination to live on his own terms, however cockeyed these may be.

Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s screenplay is touching, funny and economical, so much so that I wished they could have presented even more examples of Wood’s peerless incompetence - his ill-judged adventures into visual surrealism, his wildly inappropriate use of language (“He’s as gentle as a kitchen,” says Lugosi of his huge sidekick in Bride of the Monster), his imperishably awful dialogue (Man in Plan Nine From Outer Space: “I saw a flying saucer.” Woman: “Saucer? You mean the kind from up there?” Man: “Yeah. Or its counterpart.”). But there are still enough examples to leave any audience weeping with laughter.

Howard Shore’s witty score, Tom Duffield’s tongue-in-cheek design and Stefan Czapsky’s lustrous black-and-white cinematography all enhance a movie which is very much in the tradition of Tim Burton’s other movies about outsiders, from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure through Batman to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

This is easily his best picture, and perhaps his most personal one - Wood’s friendship with Lugosi reflects Burton’s own relationship with veteran horror actor Vincent Price. But it also has a universality.

There is no picture which captures better the importance of art, friendship, resilience, optimism, respect for others and for history. Try to see it. Ed Wood is a triumph, a twentieth century Don Quixote.

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