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Ed Wood: SE
Touchstone/Buena Vista .
R4 . COLOR . 121 mins .
M15+ . PAL
Much has been written over the years about Edward D. Wood, Jr. – and most of it has been quite mean. Sure, he was hardly the most attentive or accomplished of directors, however he did at least share one thing with his hero Orson Welles – he aimed to make movies to please the masses, and despite his roughshod ways (hey, the first take is always good enough!) this is something he actually achieved, albeit not necessarily in the manner in which he intended.
Tim Burton obviously shares that same admiration for Mr Wood that many film buffs over the years have – for despite his frightful lack of quality control, there was an underlying wide-eyed innocence, passion, courage and tenacity which imbued his works with a certain something that made them absolutely compelling. Well, at least for some of us. And it’s all brought quite sweetly to the screen for us in Ed Wood, via a combination of reverent homage and a touch of artistic licence – all based upon the biography of sorts Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey.
"Alright, let’s shoot this f*cker!"
It’s quite unusual for a bio-pic to be a comedy, but despite certain dramatic elements that’s essentially what Ed Wood is. A lovingly crafted homage to the much maligned director, it features a cast who obviously shared Burton’s vision, from Johnny Depp as the titular man himself, to Martin Landau in possibly his greatest performance ever as faded potty-mouthed grumble-bum star Bela Lugosi (for which he most deservedly won a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ little gold Oscar dude), to the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones and Bill Murray (plus a face who will be familiar to Buffy fans, Juliet ‘Drusilla’ Landau) all imbuing their characters with a mixture of heart, reality and a certain delightful hamminess so fitting of the man to whom this film pays tribute.
Does my butt look big in this?
Filled to bursting point with ambition, Ed Wood just never quite fit into the Hollywood system. Working as a studio schlepper by day and scriptwriter by night and ever alert to an opportunity, when hearing of a forthcoming bio-pic of transsexual pioneer Christine Jorgenson (announced before the rights were gained, or a script was even penned), he decides he’s the man for the directorial job – after all, as a secret cross-dresser he has all the necessary qualifications, right? Well maybe not, as after a crash and burn pitch it’s only when Ed inadvertently befriends fallen horror star Bela Lugosi and decides to rekindle his career that he’s green-lighted to take the helm of what became Glen or Glenda - more of a personal plea for understanding with a bit about transsexualism clumsily tacked on the end than a sensationalistic exploitation flick (which the studio demanded). Shot in four days, it went down in flames – but Ed was a tough little soldier, and as such he persevered. Cue Bride of the Atom, another half-baked affair featuring more of the remarkable band of misfits he managed to suck into his orbit of enthusiasm along the way to eventual cult stardom.
Another flop – hey, what if he just ain’t got it? Pah! Such words are a folly, and so with the eventual backing of the Baptist Church of Beverly Hills – and more than a little interference from same – the classic (in its own way) that became the supernatural thriller (NOT a monster movie!) Plan 9 From Outer Space was born. Starring Bela, despite the small matter that he was kind of dead (no worries, we’ll just use somebody a foot taller in other scenes with a cape over his face), plus members of the Wood mafia – all outsiders who saw that special something this Ed guy possessed, such as a sacked TV host, a wrestler, a dodgy psychic – as most of us know it went on to be considered the worst film of all time – a big call considering much of the dreck foisted upon us by Hollywood in recent years – especially considering that despite its shonkiness it most certainly had its ticker in the right place.
That pretty much nutshells both Wood’s career, and that which is covered by this film – the story of a man who truly put the ‘k’ back in “quality”.
Pull the string!
In case you’ve been hanging out in Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood comes to us entirely in glorious black and white. Presented here in a decent 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced presentation, visually things are good without being sensational. Sticking to the pleasing side of the ledger, contrast is superb, delivering fabulous detail in a film that’s drenched in shadows – with the transfer doing great justice to the intense, tres ‘50s lighting that’s employed pretty much throughout. Some may bemoan the presence of quite a few white speckles – and the occasional scary, big white scratch – however others may applaud the authenticity it adds to a presentation like this – after all, it’s hardly a bio-pic on Shakespeare (and thank goodness for that!) Grain rears its head on occasions, but never to alarming degrees, and the odd spot of aliasing and black and white-looking-colour in spots may annoy some, but in all seriousness it’s scarcely worth noting. Applause must be sent out for the placement of the layer change, in a black spot between scenes it could not have been done better.
Delivered to us in the Dolby Digital 5.1 format, in all honesty this isn’t the type of flick to take great advantage of having six channels to muck around with. This isn’t to say there’s no surround or subwoofwoof action – the former comes to us mostly via added space to the musical score, whilst the latter gets the odd mini-workout with occasional thunder cracks – but little else. Despite a lack of mind-numbing audio gymnastics, however, the audio does what it’s supposed to – delivering clear and easily discernable dialogue at all times, and it certainly never sounds flat, dull and lifeless like many other 5.1 mixes somehow manage to.
Curiously – at least for a Tim Burton film – the musical work was not done by a certain former member of Oingo Boingo, rather renowned composer Howard Shore was given baton-waving duties. A fabulously immersive musical experience, it makes great use of that trippier-than-trippy electronic doohickie the Theremin, whilst plundering all manner of ‘50s-styled musical genres as well as the odd classical tune or three.
Ed Wood - the menu...
Fantastic, humorously themed menus lead to a reasonable collection of bonus goodies, all of which are full frame, and most of which feature a combination of both black and white as well as colour footage…
First up is a music video, which I certainly don’t recall seeing on Rage. Running for 3:30, it’s a promo for the film’s theme, for the most part featuring Lisa Marie writhing about doing a passable Kate Bush impersonation, with the odd nod to B-grade crap-dom along the way. A theatrical trailer (2:18) is next on the list, a snappily edited affair with a voiceover which doesn’t exactly let on as to whether it’s taking the piss or is a tad too over-serious about the subject matter.
A bevy of featurettes ensues. First up is Let’s Shoot This F#*%@r! (13:54), a fun behind the scenes peek that’s topped and tailed by Johnny Depp dressed up in his finest. A swell little affair, we’re privy to a number of scenes being shot (sometimes more than once – sacrilege!), with a combination of on-set and finished footage, plus Tim Burton pulling funny faces and doing the directorial thang that he does so well. Following on from this is The Theremin (7:25), offering up interview footage with composer Howard Shore, as we take a look at the bizarre Russian invention of the ‘20s which makes all those groovy spooky “wooooooooo!” sounds we’ve come to expect from scary movies. There’s also a chat with a Theremin boffin, where he gets all techy on our arses with talk of frequencies and such.
The featurettes don’t end there, however, with Making Bela (8:16) the next on the menu. This concentrates on the challenge of moulding Martin Landau into somebody altogether more Lugosi looking, and contains interviews with the actor himself as well as renowned makeup dude (and keen bean to work on this particular film) Rick Baker, who deservedly took off an Oscar for his work here. Arguably the most fascinating insights come next, even though they have little to do with the actual film. When Carol Met Larry (9:23) features interviews with Marie Keller of the L.A. Gender Center, as well as a chat with a cross-dresser (Gina) and her wife, offering up theories on the condition of transvestism with a liberal dose of frank discussion about it and how it’s portrayed in the film.
Wrapping up the featurettes is Pie Plates Over Hollywood (13:50), an interesting insight into the film’s overall look. Pretty much dominated by production designer Tim Duffield, we’re given a look into the challenges of creating sets which look “right” in black and white, and are guided through his little black book of bits and bobs from this particular production.
If all that isn’t enough, rounding things out reasonably nicely is a commentary track featuring Tim Burton, Martin Landau, co-writers Larry Karaszewsky and Scott Alexander, D.o.P. Stefan Czapsky and costume designer Colleen Atwood. Replete with introductions for each speaker from Martin Landau done Bela style, it isn’t scene specific, nor are all the speakers present in the same place at the same time. Rather it’s one of those cut and paste affairs which offers quite a bit of intriguing information, but lacks that cohesion we get from knowing those speaking are actually viewing the film whilst gabbing about it.
Even if you’ve never been lucky enough to endure the unique Ed Wood experience, any lover of film should find much to rejoice about in that which is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. With pretty good video and audio, plus a decent selection of actually interesting extras, Ed Wood is, well, just peachy – and despite a lack of commercial success arguably Tim Burton’s finest moment.
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