director Tim Burton
After watching the legendary Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) with the kids the weekend before, it seemed an apt way to delve into the backstory of Edward Wood, Jr. by visiting .Tim Burton’s affectionate biopic of the man. I’ve long cited Ed Wood as Burton’s best film. I’ve thought so since 1994 when I first saw it (the only time I had seen it). And I think I still stand by that statement.
It’s anomalous in Burton’s oeuvre for although it’s a comedy, it’s the most realistic, least fantastic of all of his films. No magic, no monsters, but also quite a significant emotional center that while extremely positive and upbeat seems more honest than any of his other films. It’s a paean, a non-critical one largely, to film-making, old Hollywood, the creative drive and cinematic artistry. Couched in goofy good humor about a cross-dressing oddball and his extended, inclusive world of misfit friends and partners, I really think it’s the most emotionally true film in Burton’s career.
And it’s also very good. Johnny Depp is charming and lovable as the ever-positive hack artist Wood. The heart of the film is the relationship between Ed Wood, Jr. and Bela Lugosi, who was played by an Oscar-winning Martin Landau. His portrayal of the aging, drug-addicted movie star is a fine one. But it’s the relationship that Wood shares with Lugosi that gives the film its heart. It’s about friendship, but more so it’s about acceptance of the social outsider: the drug addict, the cross-dresser, the transsexual, the oddballs, the passionate hack artists.
Burton kept the film inherently positive, picking to portray the lives of these people in a sweetened light because there was a lot of darkness in the reality of their lives. It’s part of the reassessment of Wood, saving him from history’s derisive trash heap of laughing stocks in the world of bad cinema.
And of course it’s ironic that your best film is about the worst film-maker of all time, isn’t it?
The kids enjoyed the film. Really appreciating the scenes of the making of Plan 9 from Outer Space, getting how someone (even if not historically accurate) managed to make such a bad film while having the best of intentions.
Two odd upshots of watching Ed Wood. One is that the kids didn’t really know who Johnny Depp was. I guess we’d never watched a film in which he appeared in the flesh (they didn’t recall having watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)). Though we’ve watched a number of other Tim Burton films, we hadn’t watched any of the several films that Depp and Burton did together. So next week, we’re planning on watching Edward Scissorhands (1990).
The other odd upshot was explaining the difference between transsexuals and transvestites. One of those conversations every parent should have with their children.