amazing mix of post-modern and silent-era;Billy Zane is incredible!
This 1998 film was based on a script by the late Edward D. Wood, a script that featured NO dialogue in the tradition of films such as THE THIEF. While much of Wood's work was quirky low-budget entries into various genre-film traditions, his first released feature GLEN OR GLENDA was a truly visionary attempt to express the inexpressible through primitive avant-garde techniques. I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I DIED represents THAT side of Ed Wood, the experimenter, although this film is a comedy (a nightmarish comedy, however!), while the cross-dressing theme of GLEN OR GLENDA was taken so seriously by Wood that there was not room for comedy there. From the first few seconds of this film I knew that I was being taken to a new cinematic world, and I can't really compare that world with anything else. The technical side of the film--production design, sound design, music scoring, photography, etc.--is groundbreaking on any number of levels. In particular, although the film has no "dialogue" there is sound of all kinds and also "language", but you'll have to see how it's done yourself, as the cleverness and surprise of the methods provides a level of excitement throughout. The Glen or Glenda-esque technique of juxtaposing stock footage for surreal effects works well in the film and is kept to a minimum. The whole film is played at a hysterical fever-pitch, and Billy Zane provides an amazing tour-de-force performance that shows what a brilliant physical comedian and actor he is. In a just world, he would have been given some award for this performance. He even LOOKS like Ed Wood, and as played by Zane this character is at various timesfunny, sleazy, tragic, sympathetic, and anonymous(sometimes simultaneously!!!). What a shame that this film was caught up in legal troubles and never received a North American theatrical or video release, only playing a few festivals. Right now, it's only available on video in Germany (in fact, my copy is from a German source--the excerpts from Wood's screenplay that are shown on the screen from time to time are translated into german, although the newspaper headlines (that great low-budget technique of giving plot elements, especially those that would be too expensive to film, via newspaper headlines is used here in the Wood tradition)that Zane sees are in English). I think that this film could have gotten a word-of-mouth following had it been played at midnight in some large cities with some careful promotion. And if played off city by city slowing on the art-film circuit, it could have done well. In fact, if the legal issues can be resolved, I'd like to suggest that the film should STILL be given a theatrical release, especially a MIDNIGHT "cult" release. This is a classic waiting to be discovered.
Did I "understand" every scene? No, but I "felt" every scene emotionally. Did everything "work" in the film? Perhaps not. I've only seen it twice, and the first time I saw it I was interruped a number of times. However, with all the assembly-line junk playing the multiplexes and with so much "alternative" film being fetishistic or pretentious shot-on-video film-school rejects, we need actual Hollywood-made experimentation like this. The recent Bob Dylan film "Masked and Anonymous" took similar chances as did something like Steven Soderbergh's FULL FRONTAL. This film could find an audience much larger than either of those. If you are reading this review a few years from now and the idea of this film sounds intriguing, see if it has ever been released on video. You will NOT be bored. Invite some friends over...make it a party. Play the amazing soundtrack LOUD. I have a feeling that, wherever he is in the afterlife, Ed Wood is happy with this film and feels as though his unique vision has been justified and validated somewhat by the making of this film. Wood's probably also laughing that, just like he always seemed to get the bad breaks in life, the film made in tribute to him after his death is held up in lawsuits and sits unreleased in the country of its making.
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