Because of his eccentric habits and bafflingly strange films, director Edward D. Wood Jr. is a Hollywood outcast. Nevertheless, with the help of the formerly famous Bela Lugosi and a devoted cast and crew of show-business misfits who believe in Ed's off-kilter vision, the filmmaker is able to bring his oversize dreams to cinematic life. Despite a lack of critical or commercial success, Ed and his friends manage to create an oddly endearing series of extremely low-budget films. Written by
According to those who knew him, Bela Lugosi never used profanity. See more »
Edward D. Wood, Jr.:
Hey Cris, how'd you know we'd be living on Mars by 1970?
I guessed. I made it up.
[Leans over to Ed]
Edward D. Wood, Jr.:
[Ed looks very crestfallen]
Eddie, there's no such thing as a psychic. People believe my folderol because I wear a black tuxedo.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.:
[Still looking disappointed, but perking up]
It's that easy?
Eddie, we're in show biz. It's all about razzle-dazzle. Appearances. If you look good and you talk well, people will believe anything.
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The theatre wasn't exactly filling up fast: so far my husband, a friend and myself were the only ones seated. Just before the movie began, a young couple walked in. And shortly after the movie began, they walked out. I wonder if they asked for their money back. I hope they didn't get it.
The movie was ED WOOD, Tim Burton's homage to trash-film director Edward D. Wood Jr., which only played in Greenville for two weeks and did not show up at the second-run movie houses. Apparently no one wanted to see it. Their loss.
But perhaps I'm being too hard on those who don't appreciate the subtle nuances of Eddie Wood's movies. To me, Eddie was a glittering bead hanging on Hollywood's lunatic fringe. However, Eddie, a transvestite who often directed his masterpieces wearing high heels and an angora sweater, was not exactly your mama's director. He was no Frank Tashlin, who tried to make Jayne Mansfield respectable in THE GIRL CAN'T HELP IT. He was no Norman Taurog, who made Elvis look like a dork in countless girls-cars-and-guitars flicks. He wasn't even Russ Meyer, whose exploitation films are legendary in their trashiness. No, Eddie just never seemed to get a break. He wanted to be Orson Welles. He didn't even find the measure of fame accorded to Orson Bean! He remained a pathetic outcast, forever a fringie.
Perhaps it is appropriate that Johnny Depp was chosen to portray Eddie Wood. Depp has a long history of playing outcasts and fringies -- Edward Scissorhands, Gilbert Grape, Hunter Thompson. Depp makes it clear that Eddie's angora-covered heart was in the right place. He worked hard on his scripts, he gave important roles to spectacularly talentless actors like Vampira, wrestler Tor Johnson and Eddie's own main squeeze, Dolores Fuller. And he was very kind to the drug-addled has-been Bela Lugosi, even dissuading the drunken Drac from committing suicide (which wasn't entirely altruistic, perhaps, as Lugosi had threatened to take Eddie with him). Depp makes Eddie appear almost human.
Depp's portrayal is just one of several that are outstanding: George "The Animal" Steele as Tor Johnson, Jeffrey Jones as Criswell, Vincent D'Onofrio in his cameo of Orson Welles and Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge -- one of the rare times Murray has immersed himself in his character and not been merely Bill Murray with someone else's name. Also delightful is a brief appearance by organist Korla Pandit, 1950's television personality once billed "The Prince of the Wurlitzer."
However, all the performances in ED WOOD are overshadowed by Academy-award winner Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi. For those enough old enough to remember Landau in TV's "Mission: Impossible," it perhaps isn't surprising that Landau was able to hide so completely behind a spookily accurate makeup job; seeing Landau's Lugosi watch himself on television was eerie because Landau looked enough like Lugosi to make it seem real.
The film ends on a high note, which Eddie's life didn't -- he died in his sleep, watching a ball game, just a few days after he'd been evicted from his apartment.
ED WOOD is not a family film. Some of the language is strong, drugs and drink are abundant, and many of the characters are a shade on the bizarre side. It might be hard to explain to one's children why this apparently virile man loves to raid his girlfriend's closets.
Unfortunately, ED WOOD hasn't exactly burned up the box office. Perhaps it is because so few people can relate to someone as weird as Eddie, with his terrible stories about men in angora sweaters, killer octopi, blank-eyed wrestler slaves and, the piece de resistance, aliens with eight failed plans to take over the universe. I believe Eddie himself felt like those aliens, which is why, viewing PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE, he said, "This is the one I'll be remembered by." And perhaps that very weirdness made the story appealing to me. Having lived as a misfit and outcast, working hard all my life to reach a goal that has remained elusive, I can, to quote someone I don't care for, feel Eddie's pain. It's too late for him, but perhaps there's hope for me yet ...
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