Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Reel 20: ED WOOD

“This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve ever been in!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of Tim Burton’s ED WOOD.
Based upon the life story of infamous director (for all the wrong reasons) Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s loose comedic biopic was based upon the novel Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey. The film was the brainchild of writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who as film students at USC originally conceived the project as a documentary. As the project progressed and changed to a concept of a feature film, it eventually landed on the desk of quirky and stylistic director Tim Burton; the man responsible for hits EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990), BATMAN (1989), and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993).

The pairing of Burton with a story about Ed Wood, a director who would gain notoriety as one of the worst directors of all time, was a perfect one. Burton had always been a fan of the man’s work, and this admiration would seep into the film as ED WOOD would ultimately not make fun of his films, but would express a deep love for filmmaking in general. Burton would also inject his personal relationship with screen legend Vincent Price into the film; his Ed Wood character would strike a beneficial working friendship with horror-film actor Bela Lugosi.

ED WOOD would wind up with an ensemble cast. Johnny Depp jumped at the chance of playing the lead, and he was joined by Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Lisa Marie, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, pro-wrestler George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Mike Starr, and a young Vincent D’Onofrio who would cameo as Orson Welles. On top of it all, Martin Landau would turn in a spectacular performance as an aging Bela Lugosi; which would win him an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.
In addition to Landau’s win, ED WOOD would be nominated for a Golden Globe (Best Musical or Comedy), and Best Actor (Depp). Rick Baker would win an Oscar for Best Makeup. The film had underperforming box office numbers, but the very strong reviews and accolades for the cast would earn it popularity long after it left the silver-screens. Much like the director whose name is on the film, ED WOOD would gain traction as a cult-favorite as time went on.

This Blogger’s first encounter with ED WOOD came in the early Spring of 1994, when a certain film professor showed the class a working print copy of the film, nearly six months before it was to be released in theatres. That working print, shown to us in glorious VHS, was an incomplete version…with running time-codes, black spots where edits and effects had to be inserted and a notable absence of opening and closing credits. The film, even in an incomplete version, was dubbed worthy of being shown in a film class as there was a lot the world (and evidently film-students) could learn from ED WOOD. Not only is it perfectly crafted, well-acted, and written to the point where it is infinitely quotable, but Burton was able to find the heart and soul in the story of a very weird man. Burton’s Ed Wood character was the Little-Engine-That-Couldn’t; a very earnest director who spun his wheels really fast and hard but could never quite make it over that mountain. That’s what made it work so well. ED WOOD was a triumph of Tim Burton’s career, and proof that he is capable of finding true cinema.

“This is the one! ‘This’ is the one I’ll be remembered for!”

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