All-Time Favorites #2
Ed Wood (1994)
“Cut! That was perfect!”
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Bill Murray, Patricia Arquette, Sarah Jessica Parker
Ed Wood is my favorite Burton movie. Period. While I think his recent efforts have been a little too colorful and shrill (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 2005) or regrettably inconsistent in storytelling (Alice in Wonderland, 2010), I adore most of Burton’s earlier works (especially Edward Scissorhands, 1990 and Beetlejuice, 1988). What these movies have in common are the oddball characters, and of course Burton’s unique visual style. He often deals with people that are outsiders, misunderstood by society.
In Ed Wood, Burton tells the real-life story of Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp), B-movie director (or is it D-movie in this case?) and lover of angora sweaters. The movie chronicles his career along with the making of his most infamous work, arguably the world’s worst movie ever: Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). And boy do we have a cast of oddball characters here, from Criswell and a Swedish wrestler to Vampira and the chiropractor whose resemblance to Bela Lugosi is uncanny
- mind you, only when he covers his face with a cape. These characters are portrayed with a lot of dignity, and I give credit to Burton for making them likeable and charming. As usual Bill Murray is a stand-out in the supporting cast.
When I think of Ed Wood, there are two things that I absolutely admire about the movie. First, it shows that if you have a passion for something, you should go for it
- no matter how bad you are at it. The enthusiasm with which Johnny Depp portrays the filmmaker is absolutely inspiring, and may I add hilarious!
The second most crucial element of the movie is the friendship between Wood and Lugosi, who is brilliantly portrayed by Martin Landau. They are such an odd, wonderful pairing that I cannot get enough of their scenes together. Landau portrays Lugosi as a fragile, worn-out movie star, who suffers from a serious drug addiction while trying to deal with the fact that his days of fame are over. I love the scenes in which he turns into a raving lunatic or plays one in Wood’s movies (“Pull the string!”). There are some quiet, touching moments revealing that behind all that noise is a lonely, old man who is secretly missing his home country (Lugosi was an immigrant from Hungary). The character really is quite complex and a perfect match for Depp’s crazed version of Ed Wood. Landau deservedly won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his role.
For me, Ed Wood works as a whole because of its wonderful group dynamic, the fantastic performances by Depp and Landau, and the underlying message that friendships are ultimately more important than fame, money or giant octopuses.