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Ed Wood: King of Kitsch

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The film I would recommend this Halloween is “Ed Wood.” Directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the king of good-bad, this film is startlingly accurate in its depiction of the man who wanted to be like Orson Welles, but was more like an early precursor to John Waters.

Although it’s illustrated in this biography film how ridiculed and despised this pollyanna oddball movie maker was, Depp brings a hilarious sweetness to the leading role and forces us to respect the filmmaker whose favorite command at a film shoot was, “Cut! Beautiful. Print it!”

Ed was a cross-dresser who utilized his fondness for wearing his girlfriend’s angora sweaters with a movie project based on the story of she-male Christine Jorgenson. Thus, “Glen or Glenda” was born. The footage used in “Ed Wood” is almost identical to the original film, and the scene in which Delores Fuller, played with cheesy fifties innocence by Sarah Jessica Parker, removes her sweater for her lover to wear is almost heart-warming. Eventually Parker’s character becomes tired of the transvestites addicts, and proto-geeks that compromise his film projects and quits after Ed completes “Bride of the Atom.” Although she never really fit in with Ed’s crowd of fun freaks, Delores Fuller definitely encouraged him to keep pursuing his vision.

Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi, the star of “Dracula” whom Ed befriends at a funeral home where Bella’s complaining about their substandard selection of coffins. Ed gives him a ride home and acts surprised that Bela hasn’t gotten more work because of his reputation. “I’m just an ex boogie-man,” Bela laments.

Landau landed a well-deserved Oscar in his portrayal of the hilariously bitter morphine addict who once ruled the horror movie’s silver screen playing a vampire. In another scene, a star struck crew member asks for Bella’s autograph. Right as Bela signs it, the man makes the mistake of calling him Boris Karloff’s sidekick. Bela becomes outraged, rips up the autograph and curses at the man saying, “Karloff doesn’t deserve to smell my s***!”

Everything in this film is so perfect for cheesy horror fun because Burton and his crew took great pains to precisely capture Edward D. Wood Jr. and his band of eccentric film people. Shot in black and white and beautifully filmed, it takes you right into the time capsule of the fifties.

One scene that sticks out for me is when Ed is walking through the film lot carrying a potted plant while mambo music plays and gazing in wonder at the camels that are being used for a picture. He expresses his childlike fascination at the use of real animals and the security guard shoos him away.

The childlike belief Ed has for Bela and for his films, although most of the film society spits on him, is touching. Although Ed Wood wasn’t really respected in his time, except for by his peers, this portrayal of his life’s work is delightfully weird.

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About Jane

  • thank you for the recommendation. i’m a big fan of tim burton, esp. because of Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman, Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. i’d started to watch Ed Wood once, but somehow didn’t get through it, but i’ll try to get it again.

  • jane ripley

    Well thank you for the feedback. It’s definitely worth watching all the way through because imo, it’s one of Tim Burton’s finest efforts.

  • I’ve been waiting for “Ed Wood” to come out on DVD for a long time (I imagine there is some really stupid reason why it hasn’t been released yet — if you want to see this on DVD, sign up at Amazon.com).

    “Ed Wood” is one of my favourite Tim Burton movies and has an excellent supporting cast including Bill Murray and Vincent D’Onofrio as Orson Welles.

  • jane ripley

    It’s because it’s so great, people don’t mind just watching the video. 😀

  • james ibbs

    Thanks jane for the review;once again you prove to your loyal viewers why we keep tuning in.

    I remember watching this movie some years back at one of those “williefests” we used to hang out at.
    I think your review quite accurately captures the atmosphere of this movie, one which tends to defy the standardized mellieu.
    I think this movie stands right up there with… well i’m not sure what…but boy is it fun to ride along with.

    Thanx again

  • jane ripley

    Thanks James. I think it sits up there with “Frida” as one of my favourite bio-pics. They really took great pains to make it authentic and Martin Landau is especially brilliant.

    BTW, what do you mean by “mellieu?” I don’t believe that’s in the dictionary. ;p