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Ed Wood (Blu-ray Review)

8 Oct, 2012 By: Mike Clark

$20 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for some strong language.
Stars Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, George ‘The Animal’ Steele.

The supreme irony of an Edward D. Wood Jr. biopic making its way to Blu-ray is too savory to escape mention, but the truth is that this is probably Tim Burton’s best movie, with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure being the one other possible contender for that crown. Besides, Ed Wood got Martin Landau a most deserved supporting Oscar for his portrayal of the twilight Bela Lugosi, whose best working hours were, of course, just a tad beyond twilight. What a run Landau suddenly had from the mid-’80s through the mid-’90s, what with Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Crimes and Misdemeanors and this capper (all made for auteur directors). 

Wood, generally regarded as history’s worst filmmaker was also an auteur in his own way, in that you can look at Glen of Glenda?, Jail Bait, Bride of the Monster (aka Bride of the Atom) or piece de resistance Plan 9 From Outer Space and instantly know who made them. This producer-writer-director befriended narcotic-addicted horror legend Lugosi all the way to the end, including his shooting of footage (a couple days before Lugosi’s death) that found its way into Plan 9 when filming of the project started for real a couple years later. As many have noted, the shots of the two performers didn’t match very well when a taller real-life chiropractor took over the role, but this is the merely abject pickiness of pedantic minds.

Johnny Depp has never been better (or likable) than in portraying a straight but transvestite filmmaker who, as portrayed, remains indefatigable until the very end when stress forces him to don his ex-girlfriend’s angora sweater to direct a scene in Plan 9. (The ex, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, was sometimes actress Dolores Fuller, who later wrote “Rock-a-Hula Baby” for Elvis, which dented the Billboard charts a tad, and “Do the Clam,” from Clambake, which kind of bounced off of them and dropped to the floor.) And, as portrayed, Wood maintains his cheery attitude throughout production ordeals that included no budgets to work with (and I mean no budgets) and Bride’s flaccid inflatable rubber octopus that just won’t inflate when Lugosi has to wrestle with it in a cold pond during nighttime shooting that requires alcoholic fortification.

Despite some continuity or anachronistic glitches recounted in IMDb.com by eagle-eyed specialists, EW’s verisimilitude (a fancy word to use in Wood context) is off the charts — down to the keen casting of Lisa Marie as ’50s L.A.-TV horror host Vampira, whose natural endowments spark a funny comment from Landau/Lugosi when he spots her and them on the tube. Vampira, straight out of a Charles Addams cartoon, was a key figure from my childhood back to the time I saw her on a network comedy show guest-shot roundabouts 1955 (she terrified me as much Carmen Miranda, who died the same year). The next time I saw her was when Plan 9 aired on one of my own local Ohio TV late shows around 1959 or ’60, when my cousin and I debated who was the creepier woman: Vampira or Joan Crawford, whom we had just seen on a telecast of 1952’s Sudden Fear. I’m still pondering that one.

The Scott Alexander-Larry Karazewski of trilogy of Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon is a biopic screenwriting treasure to behold, and the combination of dialogue, casting and remastering of Stefan Czapsky’s black-and-white photography with Howard Shore’s aptly bongo-ridden score makes this an upgrade (with many extras carried over from the DVD) I’ll watch again and again — more, perhaps, than even Plan 9, which is worth cranking up every few years when all else in life seems lost. It’s incalculable how much the movies have lost since audiences got programmed into rejecting black-and-white, which is certainly the only way a movie like this one could ever go (a la Psycho, Some Like It Hot, Kiss Me Deadly and so many more that also include, of course, Citizen Kane).

Kane’s king Orson Welles, played by Vincent D’Onofrio, even shows up at the end of this movie in a purely fanciful meet-up with Wood (though their discussions of financial backers would have been terrifically empathetic) at Musso & Frank’s. Of course, maybe it’s not fanciful to be beyond belief because a few decades ago, a friend of mine went into that Hollywood grill and ended up meeting the real Earl Scheib (“I’ll paint any car any color for $29.95”). It just goes to show that wonders never cease, and Wood’s career (semi-sustained as it was) is one of them.

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