Ed Wood (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Johnny Depp as ED WOOD (1994)

Dir. Tim Burton, US, 1994, 127 mins

Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray

Ed Wood, a bio-flick about The World’s Worst Director (according to promoters in the 1990s) by one of the world’s best. Ironic? Maybe so, but the end results speak for themselves as this carefully crafted film seems to have become a cult classic.

The film is set in the 1950s and follows Ed Wood (Depp), a somewhat highly optimistic movie director as he attempts to do what he loves best, make motion pictures. In addition he comes clean to his friends and family about cross-dressing, including his strange Angora fetish.

The story begins with one of Ed’s stage-plays being heavily criticised by a top reporter, however the ever optimistic Ed tells his cast they all did a good job, there’s no such thing as bad press right? Ed later befriends the original Dracula actor Bela Lugosi and convinces him to star as the Puppet-Master in his sex-change flick Glen or Glenda.

Ed is the original guerrilla film-maker; he writes the script in two days, has a week to complete the movie, gets chased by the police for not having a filming permit during an exterior shoot, and is the master of the one-take-shot.

The acting in this movie is truly superior; Depp’s portrayal is so compelling you feel you are watching Wood rather than Depp as Wood. Landau’s Oscar winning transformation into Bela Lugosi is so impressive you barely recognise him, and Murray’s misfit Bunny Breckinridge is so hilarious if it wasn’t for the strong lead cast he would have easily stolen the show. Sarah Jessica Parker, now more famous for her role in the TV series Sex and the City, also gives a stellar performance and proves her ability to not take herself too seriously with the line: “A horse, I don’t look like a horse do I?”

The style of the piece resembles the films of Wood and Orson Welles, Criswell’s (Jeffery Jones) opening monologue is similar to Plan 9 from Outer Space and the low angle shot of Wood and Dolores is similar to Citizen Kane, so much so that when Wood jumps up we see a poster of the film in question behind him. Another main feature is that it was shot in black and white which, although may not be commercially friendly, wouldn’t have the same impact if it was in full colour.

Tim Burton is the man helming this project and a fine job he does as well. His previous films before this include Batman, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, so the twisted surrealistic production designs we expect from Burton really come into play here.

Edward D. Wood Jr, like many others, is more famous now then he ever was when he was alive. Throughout his highly unsuccessful career he provides a series of science fiction movies during the fifties, sixties and seventies including his masterpiece Plan 9 from Outer Space which is so bad a film you can’t help but watch it to the end. However the man has now achieved cult-status and his films are still watched by many to this day.

The movie is loosely based on Rudolph Grey’s book ‘Nightmare of Ecstasy’ which painted a more accurate and somewhat darker image of Ed Wood the person; one could call the film a sympathetic tribute to Ed Wood, with his darker side glossed over. In fact, the real life Delores Fuller (Wood’s ex-wife) commented that Ed wasn’t quite the optimist that we see in the movie, being more of an alcoholic and somewhat lethargic individual.

However, whether or not this film is 100% accurate doesn’t really come into it, this after all is a wonderful tale of a passionate cross-dressing movie director whose enthusiasm greatly outweighed his talent.

Nick O’Mahoney