Friday, September 24, 2010

Day Eighty-Four: Ed Wood

Ranking on IMDb Top 250: #199
Year: 1994
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp and Sarah Jessica Parker

In a sense, it's ironic that Ed Wood is the 199th greatest movie of all time according to IMDb users. Its protagonist is arguably one of the worst directors of all time, and the likes of Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda would never make even a top 10,000 movies of all time list. Further adding to the irony, no other Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration, of which there are seemingly hundreds, is a member of the Top 250, and Ed Wood is probably the least characteristic film of the duo's work together. Lastly, this is a comedy. It's a black comedy, but the films of Ed Wood and the vast majority of the film's of Tim Burton are not comedies. All that adds to Ed Wood overcoming some sizable odds to make this list. As one might imagine, it makes the cut despite its handicaps because it's really, really fucking good.

Ed Wood's story would be a tragic one if it weren't so ridiculous. He was a transvestite in an era that didn't understand, much less accept, cross-gendered individuals. He was a director, mostly of incredibly low-budget science fiction and horror movies. These were some of the worst movies ever committed to film, and they gained popularity only as so-bad-it's-good cult favorites. He was friends with ex-Dracula Bela Lugosi, whom he convinced to appear in some of his films. But that was mostly just so Lugosi could fuel a drug habit not befitting a man of his advanced age. Wood started making pornography and snuff films late in his career to make ends meet. He became depressed, drifted into alcoholism, and died penniless of a heart attack at the age of 54. All of this should amount to tragedy, but unfortunately, the only thing that Wood left for us to remember him by is an extensive filmography of terrible movies, and it's way too easy to mock them and forget the sadness of his life. This is the essence of Burton's biopic. Wood lives a hard, depressing life, but that doesn't make the flying saucers in Plan 9 from Outer Space any less hilarious-looking. Burton knows this, and he does his best to capture both sides of Wood.

Bizarre as it is, Ed Wood succeeds in a big way. Tim Burton – with huge amounts of help from Johnny Depp as Wood and Martin Landau as Lugosi – effectively communicates the shadow and light inherent in the story. True to the material, Burton resists the temptation to make the film visually busy like most of his work. Stark, simple black-and-white cinematography guides the plot, and the only visual effects present are the terrible ones in reenactments of Wood's films. Like, Ed Wood's life, his biopic is a constant battle between the tragic and the ridiculous, and there is no clear winner. That is, except for the audience.

The Good: Martin Landau's Oscar-winning performance as Bela Lugosi.

The Bad: Sarah Jessica Parker's existence. Or at least her performance.

The Skinny: Definitely deserves to be on the list, and probably somewhere right around where it is now.

1 comment:

  1. First of all let me say that I am not a Tim Burton fan in the slightest.
    But there's something about this movie.
    I love it. Ed Wood, Sweeney Todd, and Edward Scissorhands are the only films of his that I enjoy. (yea I don't really like Big Fish or Beetlejuice)