Review by Troy
= Highest Rating
D. Wood, Jr. (Johnny Depp), a filmmaker with lots of passion
but not much talent, carves his niche in cinema history by making
some of the worst movies of all time...
Tim Burton is something
of an anomaly in contemporary cinema. His films focus on oddball,
outcast figures, always delineating them in a way that is both
comic and genuinely heartfelt. In addition, his keen visual
sense gives his work a stamp that is distinctive in an industry
that leans more and more towards impersonal mass production.
Ed Wood is, arguably, his masterpiece.
All the hallmarks of his other, (generally) more uneven works
are in abundance, but the finished product is cohesive and deeply
touching. In making a valentine to the "worst filmmaker of all
time," Burton found in Wood a kindred spirit —
an eternal optimist with a burning desire to express himself
without compromise. The difference between the two, in essence,
is a matter of talent: quite simply, even the weakest narrative
lulls of Ed Wood are done with
more artistry and genuine creativity than the best moments in
anything Wood ever directed.
The film has come
under fire in some quarters for taking liberties with the facts
but Burton's intention was never to make a strict, by-the-book
"biography". The film captures the essence of Wood
and his entourage, shifting events around to better suit a narrative
structure, throwing out some real details and inventing new
ones (notably the marvelous scene in which Wood meets a sardonic
Orson Welles in a seedy bar). As such, the film can't be taken
as "the whole truth and nothing but the truth," but I would
argue that this is apparent from the opening frame. This is
not a stuffy recreation that painstakingly adheres to the facts,
but a loving tribute to a man whose almost naive enthusiasm
overshadowed a basic lack of talent. Burton never looks down
on Wood or his cronies, however —
there's a genuine sense of love for the characters and their
boundless enthusiasm to make films at any cost.
Perhaps the film's
most hotly debated facet is its depiction of Bela Lugosi. It
seems impossible to argue the brilliance of Martin Landau in
the role —
a performance that rightly netted him an Oscar, which he dedicated
to the Hungarian actor's memory —
but the script's depiction of him as a foul-mouthed, down-on-his-luck
old man whose best days were far behind him raised the eyebrows
of quite a few fans and people who knew him. Here again, to
chide Burton and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski
is to miss the point. Rather than present Lugosi as a saint,
they depict him as a man of conflicting qualities: warm hearted
and funny, but also bitter, dependent on drugs, and capable
of terrible mood swings. Lugosi's morphine habit and abuse of
alcohol are well known, but his (hilarious) rants against Boris
Karloff ("That Limey cocksucker can rot in hell for all I
care!") caused quite a rancor among some fans. In addition,
the decision to "rewrite history" by having Lugosi completely
down on his luck and living alone (in reality, he had a wife
and teenaged son at the time, and he had, for better or worse,
been more steadily employed than the film made out) drew even
heavier criticisms. If the film had taken a negative view of
the now-celebrated horror icon, these criticisms may have had
more weight —
but the fact of the matter is that Burton and Landau (Space:
1999, The Being) make him into a
completely human and lovable figure. His profane rants are funny.
The image of him living alone and desperate for work humanizes
him and makes him genuinely pitiable, but not in a negative
or condescending way. The film is every bit as much of a loving
valentine to Lugosi as it is to its protagonist.
to shoot the film in black and white, to better evoke the period
and the flims for which Wood and Lugosi were best known, lends
the film a stylized flavor. The production design has a slightly
surreal quality, never toppling completely into expressionistic
delirium, but always maintaining a slightly off-kilter approach.
Stefan Czapsky's gorgeous cinematography keeps in line with
this style —
always managing to make even the most mundane setup or location
look somehow magical.
The performances are
central to the film's appeal. As mentioned before, Landau's
uncanny performance goes beyond imitation or caricature —
at times, it's almost as if he is channeling Lugosi's spirit.
As Wood, Johnny Depp gives one of his bravest and most entertaining
performances. As noted in the film's supplements, he based the
performance on the optimism of the Tin Man from The
Wizard of Oz, the odd mannerisms of Ronald Reagan, and
the vocal inflections of Casey Kasem! Keep those influences
in mind when you see the film and they become vividly apparent.
An actor never afraid to bury his good looks for the sake of
a role, here he essays the role of a terrible director —
and cross-dresser —
with wit, style and disarming honesty. Like Landau, he never
makes Wood into a figure of fun. It's an amusing performance,
but one that manages to be funny without turning the character
into a snide joke. The supporting cast includes a brilliant
Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge (immortalized by Wood in Plan
9 from Outer Space, 1959), sexy Lisa Marie as Elvira prototype
Vampira, wrestler turned actor George "The Animal" Steel as
B-horror icon Tor Johnson, and a wryly amusing Jeffrey Jones
as phony mystic and part-time actor Criswell. Every role is
perfectly cast, and the actors all approach the material with
the right mixture of humor and sensitivity.
A marvelous mix of
fact and fiction, humor and pathos, Ed
Wood is a touching valentine to a different era in filmmaking.
special edition release of Ed Wood
has been a long time in coming. Pushed back for some time due
to various issues, it arrives, appropriately, on its 10h anniversary.
Picture quality is simply stunning —
the 1.85 framing is absolutely perfect, and the image has been
enhanced for widescreen TVs. The print is in excellent shape,
with no damage to report; the black and white cinematography offers
rich, deep blacks, clean whites, and a good array of gray tones.
The 5.1 soundtrack sounds equally marvelous, doing ample justice
to Howard Shore's infectious music score.
In terms of extras,
this baby is stuffed to the gills. Several featurettes shed light
on various aspects of the production. Let's Shoot this F#*%@r!,
its title cribbed from one of Landau's hilarious outbursts, offers
behind the scenes footage and affords one some color glimpses
of the production. Making Bela is a fine tribute to Lugosi
which shows Landau's transformation into the horror icon via Rick
Baker's Oscar-winning makeup job. Both Landau and Baker speak
with genuine appreciation and respect for Lugosi. Pie Plates
Over Hollywood focuses on the production design work by Tom
Duffield, who amiably explains his approach to the material. Theremin
rounds out the featurettes and explains Shore's use of the theremin
in the film's soundtrack, as well as offering a fascinating look
at how the instrument (the first electronic instrument) works.
In addition to these featurettes, there is a fun music video,
a theatrical trailer, and several cut scenes. Most of the cut
scenes were removed for obvious reasons (pacing and/or conflicting
with the overall upbeat tone of Wood's character), but one showing
Wood spending the night at Lugosi's apartment is very touching
and could have been included in the film. An additional cut scene
is included as an Easter Egg —
just toggle to the right and highlight the lightning bolt. This
sequence, which shows Wood discussing future projects with Lugosi,
is another that could have made the final cut without any problems.
A feature-length audio commentary featuring Burton, Landau, Alexander,
Karaszewski, Czapsky and costume designer Colleen Atwood, introduced
by Landau in character as Lugosi, rounds out the package. While
previous Burton commentary tracks were a frustrating experience
(he is not the most articulate of filmmakers when it comes to
explaining the "process"), this one basically cobbles together
some well chosen sound bytes from the director and his collaborators
and offers a satisfying insight into the film and its production.