Ed Wood, a name that would bear the ill repute of “worst director of all time”, became the subject of ridicule for the majority of his filmmaking career; spanning from the 1950’s up until the 1970’s. Wood’s most recognizable films would include Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), Night of the Ghouls (1959), and Glen or Glenda (1953). Most notable for their cheap aesthetics, nonsensical dialogue, and poorly performed acting, Ed Wood’s films would ultimately succumb to the inevitable failures preventing him the major directorial status within his lifetime. It wasn’t until a few years after his death that his notoriety was rightfully placed among the public. Books and documentaries revisited the aspiring filmmaker’s journey through his passion for film. Yet it wasn’t until 1994 that a biopic surrounding Ed Wood’s filmmaking journey that would truly make him a recognizable figure among the masses. The biopic, simply titled Ed Wood, was released on this day, Ooctober 7, 1994 years ago. The film is directed by Tim Burton (Beetlejuice) and starring Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands), Sarah Jessica Parker (Hocus Pocus), Martin Landau (Crimes and Misdemeanors), Bill Murray (Ghostbusters), and Patricia Arquette (Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors).
An outsider of sorts (similar to Ed Wood) Tim Burton’s films have established their originality through his unique perspective on visuals and presentation, clearly demonstrating the influence of German Expressionism through his cinematic aesthetics. But Burton’s artistic visuals aren’t the only factor that capture audiences to his films; it’s the characters. Just like Burton, and perhaps even Ed Wood, the protagonists are usually odd, quirky characters you generally wouldn’t find as a film’s centerpiece; Edward Scissorhands, Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Betelgeuse, and even Lydia Deetz are prime examples of outsiders, castaway from what society would consider the respective norms. When the opportunity to film Ed Wood became a reality, perhaps Burton felt it was not only a character he could relate to, but one he could respectively pay homage- an ode to a director with an intense, yet wonderful, passion plagued with awful execution in filmmaking. The screenplay was written by Problem Child writers, Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski and based on an Ed Wood biography titled, Nightmare of Ecstasy by motion picture historian, Rudolph Grey.
Burton’s version of Ed Wood, through the cinematic lens, portrayed a man with a drive and love for filmmaking, unmatched by many, if not most, filmmakers. Rather than direct a film about bad movies, Ed Wood is a story of a man revealing his undying love for film, revealing how that love went well beyond his capacity and limitations. Depicted by Johnny Depp, who was thirty-one at the time, Ed Wood tracks the film director during a five-year period of his career; during Ed Wood’s most prolific period in his filmmaking. Burton’s reverence to the failing filmmaker revealed the “dreamer”, the more optimistic side of Ed Wood, rather than shining light on the darker elements and addictions brought upon by his depression. Kudos to Johnny Depp for his captivating performance, revealing a more comedic side to Wood’s outrageous behavior; achieving this as a non-comedic actor truly shows ones talent. Martin Landau, who portrayed Bela Lugosi (Dracula, 1931), was awarded an Academy Award as well as a Golden Globe for his performance; Lugosi had collaborated with Wood in three films during the 1950’s, Bride of the Monster, Glen or Glenda, and Plan 9 From Outer Space. The relationship between Wood and Lugosi plays a major role within the centerpiece of the film as well.
Tim Burton also explores Wood’s admiration for Lugosi within the film, which seems to very much parallel his own for Vincent Price; who had collaborated with Burton on Edward Scissorhands as well as narrating Burton’s short film, Vincent. Utilizing the Wood-Lugosi relationship as a narrative device is perhaps the single most profound element that moves the film in a forward direction; once again mirroring Burton’s relationship to Price. Lugosi passed away while filming Plan 9 From Outer Space while Price passed away shortly after filming Edward Scissorhands.
Although Tim Burton found much success in his movie-making career, there was a period when his own artistic and creative abilities were questioned. Being fired from Disney for his dark/horror aesthetics from his short films, Vincent and Frankenweenie (while using Disney resources to produce the films), Burton would soon find his place in Hollywood just a few years afterward. The eccentric nature and originality of his films would, fortunately, help him evade the “failure filmmaker” status, even when his budgets were relatively low when producing films. Unfortunately, these similar circumstances did not yield the same results for Ed Wood. Although one could easily argue the artistic and creative value of Tim Burton is much higher than Wood’s. Perhaps Ed Wood was a script that captured Burton in a particular way, seeing a version of himself with the same passion and love for film. Although Wood’s failures led him to a dark place during the last years of his life, Ed Wood celebrates a filmmaker whose eccentrism and love for film serve as the driving force. With optimism even in the face of ridicule and failure, Ed Wood is a respectable homage from one unique, successful, filmmaker to another unique, failed, filmmaker.
Burton’s direction for Ed Wood takes on a much more sympathetic approach towards Wood’s actual life; adding a slight comedic flair to the film. In a film review written by Peter Travers from Rolling Stone, he writes, “Ed Wood is Burton’s most personal and provocative movie to date. Outrageously disjointed and just as outrageously entertaining, the picture stands as a successful outsider’s tribute to a failed kindred spirit.” Think what you may of Ed Wood’s film career, one thing can be said for certain, his films will not be forgotten. In whatever capacity they may be placed, even as the worst films ever made, they are here to stay (several films can currently be streamed on online platforms such as Amazon Prime Video).
Ed Wood may have made some questionable and rather terrible films, but Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is a far cry from a disappointment. It is perhaps one of Burton’s best to date, and one that marks one of Depp’s finest performances as well. Make some plans this coming weekend and checkout Ed Wood if you can. After 25 years, Ed Wood remains to stand as an amazing, heartfelt film. If you are in fact a fan of Ed Wood’s work, let us know which film is your favorite. You can also comment on your favorite Tim Burton film as well. Or perhaps tell us about your favorite eclectic film director that has challenged the norm of Hollywood storytelling; mine are David Lynch and Guillermo del Toro.
What’s your favorite Ed Wood film? What’s your favourite Tim Burton film? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club. And, as always, stay ghoulish, friends!