November 27, 2004

Heroes #1: Ed Wood

No name in movie history divides opinion like Edward D. Wood Junior - the anti-genius behind such efforts as the semi-biographical transgender flick, Glen Or Glenda, and the gloriously tacky Plan 9 From Outer Space.

With his entourage of social misfits, cheap sets, un-special effects, unbelievably poor dialogue and the presence of the great horror icon, Bela Lugosi, the potent mixture has provided a movie cult following like no other. Whilst fame unfortunately eluded Wood during his lifetime, a well-established fanbase of Woodheads continues to grow.

This posthumous recognition for his "achievements", began in 1980, with the publication of The Golden Turkey Awards, written by Harry and Michael Medved. The book was an immediate bestseller that presented what the critical brother team considered to be the worst movies in cinema history. The top awards for both Worst Director Of All Time and Worst Film Of All Time were won by Ed Wood for Plan 9 From Outer Space. Achieving such recognition, immediately made Wood movies a curiosity that had to be consumed and considered. Could they possibly be as bad as they are reputed to be?

In fact, while Wood's movies consistently fail to meet the standard of conventional cinematic form, they do express a uniqueness and originality that immediately distinguishes them: An achievement that many mainstream directors have failed to do. An Ed Wood movie is like a David Lynch or an Alfred Hitchcock film, where the director's signature is so clearly defined. Whilst Hitchcock established many of the rules of great cinema, Wood's work is the unintentional antithesis. Whether you find his films to be aberrations or inspired efforts of eccentricity, a cinema connoisseur will always be able to recognise a Wood flick.

Further fame was achieved, when Tim Burton released his beautiful, touching tribute, simply called Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp in the title role. Filmed in black and white, Burton brilliantly captures the atmosphere and oddness of the world that Wood inhabited. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the film, is Martin Landau's Oscar-winning turn as Bela Lugosi.

Whilst Burton's film finishes with an upbeat bang, unfortunately, Wood's life was to end in a far less glamourous manner. He became a severe alcoholic, and had to support himself by writing trashy sex novels, until his death in 1978.

Wood remains a hero of mine, because of his enthusiasm and determination to make films against the odds. His quirky opuses are continually entertaining, as cinema outside cinema. When we watch Wood's films, we do so not for narrative or convention, but rather for experiencing the bizarre box of delights that constantly manifests upon screen; whether it is seeing the elderly, drug-addicted Lugosi, the brutish Tor Johnson, the voluptuous Vampira, the verbose Criswell, or any other one of his unique ensemble spouting out his ludicrous dialogue with such conviction. An Ed Wood film is a true original experience.

Films Recommended:

Glen Or Glenda (1953) - Bizarre, transgendered mish-mash, with Ed Wood in his penchant Angora sweaters.

Bride Of The Monster (1955) - Starring a very fragile Bela Lugosi, in a Wood movie that almost gets it right. Look out for the painted, wobbling walls, as well as the rubber octopus.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) - Where to begin? Flying saucers with strings; outrageously funny monologues; iconic Vampira and Tor Johnson; moving wooden tombstones; the last footage of Lugosi before his death; cloaked-covered face of Wood's chiropractor, standing-in for the late Lugosi.

Night Of The Ghouls (1959) - An incoherent tale about a swindling medium and a collection of ghouls. The seance scene, in particular, is a real stand-out!

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