I’m starting to learn that I usually find one work that I love from every director. I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Lubitsch and have no idea why a far superior director, Billy Wilder, felt that Lubitsch was a good. But I absolutely love Ninotchka. I don’t think the Coen Brothers are the great ushers of comedy in the post-modern era that others make them out to be, but I feel the same way about Oh Brother Where Art Thou. For Stanley Kubrick, that film would be Paths to Glory and for David Lynch, Mullholland Drive.
I can understand Tim Burton’s cult following but it’s just personally never been my cup of tea. I like his two installments of Batman and have appreciated them more in retrospect but his offbeat visions in Edward Scissorhands, Beetle Juice, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were too bizarre for me, and although I can appreciate a good animated films as much as the next casual film goer, I’m personally not a film connoisseur of film animation which explains why I didn’t go gaga over the animation innovations of The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Ed Wood, however, is a brilliant idea for a biopic and it’s a celebration of film making and a justification for it, even if the results are less than stellar. The subject of the film is a moderately eccentric man (played by Johnny Depp) who has attracted a cult following after his death by virtue of being considered the world’s worst director. I know that’s a hard title to place when you have guys like Michael Bay and Raja Gosnell still floating around along with countless film school graduates who have never even made it out of small-town film festivals. What separated Wood from the directors who spew out commercialized crap, however, was that Wood aspired to be Orson Welles and (in the film’s portrayal of him, at least) he was so optimistic and upbeat about it that he thought he was well on his way to becoming him. That’s what the film’s about. It’s that life isn’t about success or failure but rather by creativity and how much you love what you do. Wood is portrayed as a winner because he dared to direct films and there’s no better way to celebrate filmmaking than finding merit in the worst filmmaker.
I think it was also interesting that with the exception of his first girlfriend, Wood had a creative team (i.e. Bill Murray’s character, the wrestler) that followed him through all of his creative pursuits and acted as a quasi-support system. If this story weren’t based on fact, I would be left to wonder why these people would keep working with him despite the fact that he failed so often and I think that’s another way that the film highlights Wood’s optimism. Perhaps, this is a parallel to Orson Welles’ consistent use of the same people and his famous repertory company called “The Mercury Players. Of course, Wood’s relationship is closest to Boris Karloff, his idol as a kid, who he later befriended and had the privilege of directing him in film after film. The relationship between the two and the chemistry between Depp and Martin Landau is at the heart of the film. Landau, by the way, is stellar and very deserving of his award.
As for the question of what separated Wood from the many people who never made it far past film school, there was surprisingly little. Wood’s films were mostly independently produced and he was largely an unknown commodity when he died. He gained fame when his film “Plan Nine from Outer Space” won a book-sponsored contest in 1981 of the worst films of all time. It’s a film that was shown in the first week of my first film class and it’s high number of inconsistencies and bloopers are very easy to spot. The movie answered questions for anyone whose watched this film about why it was made so haphazardly: Apparently, it was simply made as a way for Wood to appease his landlord and Burton’s film has this great sense of dramatic irony as Jonny Depp’s character says, “I know this is the film I’ll be remembered for,” but not in the way he wanted.