director Ed Wood
I think that watching “the worst film ever made” is a legitimate rite of passage in developing one’s cinematic palate. The night before, I introduced Felix and Clara to Night of the Living Dead (1968), definitely considered one of the great horror films of all time and I thought it an apt counterpoint to show Plan 9 from Outer Space the following night. I’d actually tried to tempt the kids with the watching of this bad movie for fun before but initially couldn’t curry interest. But as time went on, Felix started asking for it specifically.
There is a moderate amount of context that needs to be explained to fully appreciate the film. For instance the appearance of Bela Lugosi in his final film. And the appearance of the stand-in the Ed Wood, Jr. employed in scenes that were shot long after Lugosi’s death, in which the taller stand-in keeps his cape above his face to obscure the fact that he looks little if anything like Lugosi. Clara got quite into this aspect of the film and started announcing “Bela Lugosi” and “not Bela Lugosi” in respective shots.
Laughing at the flying pie plates, the cardboard tombstones, actors reading scripts from their laps, disjointed dialogue is all part of the process.
Felix actually fell asleep and missed out on most of it.
There are definitely some seriously hilarious elements of the film. It’s deservedly a legend, an archetype of bad movies. But, as I explained to the kids, part of why it is such a great bad movie is because it was made in all earnestness. The kids kept asking why Wood didn’t go back and fix things if he was really trying to make a good movie. Well, I tried to explain it but decided that it might be more appropriate and efficient to show them Tim Burton’s movie Ed Wood (1994), so that is our plan for the next week’s movie night.
It wasn’t just Burton’s film but a lot of elements that came together in the 1990’s that brought Ed Wood, Jr. into a different kind of consideration, an appreciation for the passionate ineptitude, the true joys of the unintentional comedy, some aspects of Wood’s real life and Hollywood dreams all into a much more meta experience of his films. It is in this way that I think we watched the film together. Probably more so after watching Ed Wood.
Because in the 1980’s Michael and Harry Medved’s Golden Turkey Awards helped to establish the canon of the worst films ever made and Plan 9‘s and Ed Wood, Jr.’s place in the pantheon of bad. Perhaps this is just a part of the development of movie-watching culture, cinema studies, and pop culture. The movie is pretty funny on its outside. It’s inept, bad beyond bad in places, hard to fathom anyone not realizing this. And trying to be objective about the worst B-movies of the all time, you might want to quantify if not qualify for it.
Whether it’s the worst movie ever made, well, I don’t really want to take that away from the film. It gives it its notoriety. But I don’t think I’ll file it in my Worst of page. I think I like it too well for that to be my true attitude.