Tim Burton’s Ed Wood
In one of the early scenes of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, the critically acclaimed “worst director of all time” (Johnny Depp) is in his office making a phonecall, behind him on the wall are two posters. One is for Citizen Kane, the other: Dracula. This detail clues us into Wood’s taste and his appreciation of iconoclastic genius as well as the more outrageous side of cinema.
When we first meet Ed he’s holding an ultra cheap stageplay in some seedy Los Angeles theater. The few dazed audience members watch on as rain drips from the ceiling. It’s a complete disaster. Ed’s real dream is to be a filmmaker. When he learns that a small indie studio is looking for someone to direct a low budget feature he immediately tries to get the job. The producer George Weiss (Mike Starr) is a pastrami sandwich munching loudmouth who tells him the film is called “I Changed My Sex” and has a poster but no script. Ed sees this as his big chance to bring something personal to the project. After some fast talking, Ed finally gets the job and assures Weiss he’ll deliver the goods and he sets off to write his screenplay.
Ed desperately needs a known star to sell the movie and while out in the city, almost as a sign of fate, he runs into Dracula himself: Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). Ed explains to Bela how big a fan he is and asks him to be in the new film. Bela accepts and soon the two become friends.
Meanwhile, at home, Eds’s girlfriend Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker) is unaware that he is a crossdresser. She looks for her angora sweaters and when she finds them they’re all stretched out. After giving Dolores the new script to read, Ed finally confronts her in full womanswear. Understandably she is shocked/angered at him but decides to accept it.
The production for I Changed My Sex is completed after some minor troubles and a title change, the result is Glen or Glenda in which Ed stars as a man coming to grips with his alternate lifestyle of wearing women’s clothing. It’s essentially a biopic disguised in a semi-educational exploitation format. Following the theatrical release (which doesn’t even include L.A.), Weiss lets Ed know he thinks it’s “a piece of crap” and they part ways.
Tim Burton gives us a comical behind the scenes view of how Ed created his films in which he often ignored any accidents (such as cheap walls shaking or continuity mistakes) that occurred while shooting. What Ed definitely had was a raw enthusiasm and vision to tell his stories, as disjointed as they were. It’s clear that Burton wanted to convey that anyone with a true love for movies can make a film, and that’s a big part of what Ed Wood is about. Wood’s penchant for dressing in women’s clothing is also addressed openly with grace and humor. While it is a main focus, Burton doesn’t spend too much time on the taboo aspect, opting to show it in a matter of fact way which just benefits the overall story.
After the money problems Ed has with his second feature Bride of The Atom/Monster, he’s finally able to get solid financing for his third project from two Mormons, Ed Reynolds (Clive Rosengren) and Reverend Lemon (G.D. Spradlin) who need to raise money to produce a series of religious films. Ed uses his quick thinking and explains that he can help them get a lot of cash if they in turn sponsor his own project. Ed and his friends/actors are baptized as part of the deal, after which the pre-production begins. We get to see how Ed cast different colorful performers such as TV host Vampira (Lisa Marie), Wrestler Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), John “Bunny” Breckenridge (Bill Murray) and Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), the curly coifed narrator. The original title for this film was Graverobbers From Outer Space but movie buffs will know it better by its other title: Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Like his other films, Plan 9’s shoot is hindered by a myriad of problems and sloppy editing, but it goes on to be a smash cult hit with fans. Even today when you watch Plan 9 it definitely has a unique charm and very entertaining quality. To me it was Ed Wood’s greatest work and is also one of the first true “midnight movies”.
As much as Ed Wood is about him as a zany character, it equally focuses on his friendship with Bela. When Ed met the actor, Lugosi was on his last legs and had become a morphine junkie. Martin Landau gives a memorable performance bringing a humor and tenderness to the classic actor. He later won an Oscar for the brilliance he brought to the role. Burton was especially interested in this aspect of the story since it closely mirrored his own relationship with the late Vincent Price.
Depp is outstanding as Ed, playing him with a mixture of “the blind optimism of Ronald Reagan, the enthusiasm of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz and Casey Kasem” as he noted in an interview. Wood is like a little kid with a boundless amount of energy and love of movies. Depp again showed with this role that he was an actor’s actor, a journeyman/chameleon who would take on any type of character, which is what makes it so fun to watch.
Ultimately, Ed Wood is a love letter to the filmmaker but the world of moviemaking as well. It gives us a look into one artist’s world and how he was so inspired by his heroes and that following dreams can change people’s lives for the better, if only for a little while.
FURIOUS FILM TRIVIA
– This film cost more to produce than all of Edward D. Wood Jr.’s films put together.
– In a scene with Wood and Dolores, the camera angle showing the ceiling is similar to a scene in Citizen Kane. In the very next scene Ed stands in front of a poster for “Citizen Kane”.
– Johnny Depp’s (Ed Wood) Hollywood home overlooking his nightclub “The Viper Room” was previously owned by Bela Lugosi.
– The first film by Tim Burton to not feature Danny Elfman’s music score.
– Wood’s line, “They’re driving me CRAZY! These Baptists are stupid. Stupid. STUPID!” is modeled on a line from Wood’s film Plan 9 from Outer Space, in which Eros says “Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”
– George ‘The Animal’ Steele worked with a dialog coach for three weeks to recreate Tor Johnson’s Swedish accent.
Martin Landau’s face had to be painted unnaturally white in order for the black-and-white film stock to record it properly.
One day Kathy Wood, the wife of Edward D. Wood Jr., visited the set and asked to meet Johnny Depp. That day they were filming a scene where Wood would look really messed up, which made Burton nervous for what Kathy would think of the movie. When Depp exited his trailer she said, “That’s my Eddie.”
The character of Bela Lugosi continually puts down Boris Karloff and the Frankenstein monster, then later laments that he turned down the role of the monster himself. In reality, Lugosi did play the monster (years after Karloff), in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Incidentally, he also played the role of Ygor in Son of Frankenstein against Karloff’s final portrayal as the monster.
Initially, Bela Lugosi Jr. didn’t want to see the film because he thought it wouldn’t portray his father correctly, but upon further persuasion he saw the film, and agreed that Martin Landau honored his father in the performance. The two later became friends.
– Martin Landau’s winning of the ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Academy Award for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi marked the first time in Oscar history that a performer in any category won for playing an actual movie star. A decade passed before this happened again; when Cate Blanchett took the ‘Best Supporting Actress’ trophy for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator.
– Unhappy with Vincent D’Onofrio, Tim Burton had his voice dubbed by Maurice LaMarche.