Ed Wood movie poster
  • Rated R | 2 hours, 7 minutes

Conventional Hollywood "biopic" on an unconventional subject of study: the ignored, ridiculed, and campily canonized director of Plan 9 from Outer Space. The disrepute, or nonrepute, of the central figure liberates the film to engage in the kind of myth-making in which the "biopic" once engaged with impunity, but which has been much curbed since the coining of the term "docudrama." If ever Tim Burton (in the possessive case) ought to have been part of a movie's title, this surely would have been the one, not Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas. Tim Burton's Ed Wood (sans italics) emerges as the very embodiment of psychological "projection." Burton himself is not bothered, is on the contrary positively delighted, by Wood's transvestitism, by his valueless production values, by his undetectable aesthetic standards, by his blind eye to detail. And so it comes to pass that Wood, too, is unbothered and delighted by all this; is not, to be strictly candid, unsusceptible to the blue moods of the artistic temperament, but is completely immune to self-torture and second-guessing and regret. No doubt this man could have been portrayed in many other ways, plenty of them more readily believable, but none of them funnier or more pleasing to believe. Johnny Depp injects into the part a Young Mickey Rooney-ish ("Let's put on a show!") exuberance, and in one leap expands his acting range by a couple of time zones. And Martin Landau, all but unrecognizable as Bela Lugosi (unrecognizable, that is, as either himself or Lugosi, looking rather more like late-period Raymond Massey), uncovers one of those elusive areas of overlap between the funny and the pathetic. There is unavoidably a sense in which these filmmakers appear to be slumming: the same sense in which the luscious black-and-white photography (by Stefan Czapsky) is a rebuke at the same time as it is a tribute to the low-grade horror and s-f films of the Fifties. But in the prevailing spirit of unbotheredness and delightedness: who cares? With Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray. 1994.

Duncan Shepherd

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