Welcome back to the Brand new Blind Spots Series for the year of 2014! After successfully finishing last year’s batch in December, I decided to kick this series off with Tim Burton’s Ed Wood(1994), something I’ve obviously been meaning to see for long time but it had to this series that finally made me get to it.
Tim Burton still remains to be probably my biggest pop cultural blind spot. This one marks sixth of his film I have seen and 3 of them are from his last four. Almost everyone, probably even those who love him, agree that lately his movies are only a sad reminder of how great he once was. Engrossed completely in their own world, they seem to have a very distinct look and feel to them but only seem to go down in quality and all I have seen are these films during his decline. Technically, I have seen Edward Scissorhands(1990) but it’s so long ago that practically all I remember are glimpses of two scenes. So that leaves us with Big Fish(2003) which I only got to earlier last year. So I had to start somewhere getting deeper into his filmography and I guessed Ed Wood would be as good a start as any. It turns out I was right.
For those who do not know, this film is about Edward D. Wood Jr., a legendary filmmaker in ‘50s, who has become a legend for all the wrong reasons. Apparently he was termed ‘Worst Director of all time’ in 80s but that only led to his resurgence many years later and his almost iconic, cult-like status which I am assuming this movie as well played some part in. But funny thing is, after watching this film, I can almost understand why. I am sure his films will be a great watch with a group where people can enjoy how bad they are. Film however, without hiding the fact that he was a terrible director, paints Wood in all his eccentric glory but in very personal way, in a very sympathetic light. Given the type of characters that surround him, it would have been very easy to make them caricatures of them rather than actual human beings. But Burton puts a lot of heart in all these characters to make them likable. They are flawed, extremely weird and even gothic but he finds a way to make them likable. I don’t know if Burton has any ties to Wood or if he had any inclination towards him but he handles this film with such genuine warmth, with such a personal touch that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else in his shoes doing it any better.
Edward D. Wood Jr didn’t seem to care about the quality of his films as long as he gets to make them. It’s almost as if his only target audience was he himself. It’s obvious that any Tom, Dick and Harry would do a better job directing than this guy; even his support crew had better sense of directing than him. But what made him stand out was his passion, his unquenching desire for making movies however bad they may be and his optimism. I don’t think there will be many people saying “Well, My next one will be better” to a big studio executive when he tells you that your film was the worst movie he ever saw. Not that he never had his moments of doubts; on couple of occasions he does wonder what if he never can make it big?, what if this is the best he can do? But surprisingly none of it derailed him. Maybe ‘that’ is real passion.
Burton does a lot of things right in Ed Wood. First and probably the most important is making it such a personal film. Second, he shoots it in glorious black and white. What it does personally is it makes me instantly fall in love with its look. However more importantly, since it is suppose to take place in 50s and Ed Wood made his films in black and white, it takes it closer to their base material. I am not sure if color would have added anything to this film. Thirdly, his casting is just perfect! Today, Johnny Depp in Tim Burton film is a default choice but in ’94, it was just second collaboration and there was no Helena Bonham Carter yet. But everyone down to minor supporting roles in this film is so well casted and in return they repay their director with such amazing performances that that it is almost impossible to imagine anyone else in those roles.
Obviously, two main points of focus in acting department will have to be Johnny Depp in the titular role and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. It is a very typical role for Depp now but there is much more to his role than it is visible just on surface and he brings out those nuances beautifully. Credit for making Ed Wood such a personal story and likable character despite all his quirks and stupidities goes to Depp’s acting as much as it is to Burton’s direction. But the real star here is Martin Landau. Admittedly, I haven’t seen him in a whole lot of films but the two I remember him for are probably his biggest achievements and both are quite monumental – this one and Crimes and Misdemeanours(1989). Landau is so amazing as Bela Lugosi that anyone can be easily fooled to believe that it was actually Lugosi himself playing his own role. He is so convincing that it is almost creepy. I was always sort of disappointed by Samuel Jackson not winning an Oscar for his supporting role in Pulp Fiction(1994) but after seeing this, I can take comfort in a fact that he at least lost to another equally deserving performance. Any actor that can produce a look on his face such as look on Landau’s face in rehab while paparazzi are taking his pictures and utter desperation in his voice when he says “Let them” deserves every accolade he gets.
Ed Wood made bad films and he was extremely proud of it. I had not seen any of his films before but I understand that the way Burton filmed them in this movie is almost exactly same as they are in real films. And each and every one of them looks terrible but I was drawn to it like a train wreck. I simply could not believe someone would make movies like that. So I checked out Plan 9 from Outer Space(1959) just out of morbid curiosity and it’s an absolute sight to behold. I have seen a lot of bad films (and I am not sure how to term one film worst film made ever) but this one is so bad, it’s not just good, it’s legendary. I pulled out almost half my hair. I am not sure what I would’ve thought of Ed Wood if I had seen it before watching it. Now that I am watching it afterwards, I am almost more appreciative of Plan 9. I think that is indicative of Tim Burton being successful in achieving everything he would have wanted to by this film. I am glad I started this year’s series with such a personal film.