Like Van Gogh and Mozart before him, Ed Wood died in poverty and is more famous now than when he was alive. But how come the man regarded as ‘the worst director of all time’ is the subject of Tim Burton’s latest work? Alan Morrison studies a legacy of bad movies, boundless enthusiasm and angora sweaters.
eally‘? Worst film you ever saw. Well, my next one’ll be better.’ Words attributed to director- producer-writer-actor Edward D. Wood Jr, whose admirable ﬂow of enthusiasm was matched only by his complete dearth of ability. Wood was one of a rare breed of cinematic artists who immerse themselves completely in each stage of the filmmaking process, but where Orson Welles gave the world Citizen Kane, Ed Wood gave us Bride Of The Monster, Night Of The Ghouls and the infamously derided Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Now, seventeen years after his death as a penniless alcoholic, Ed Wood is more famous and his ﬁlms more widely viewed (and enjoyed) than ever before. Much of his back catalogue is being reissued on video; a cult musical based on his life is having a short run in London; his biography has been reprinted and. to cap it all. he is being portrayed by heart-throb Johnny Depp in the latest film by the acclaimed Tim Burton. The film is produced by Touchstone Pictures. Part of the Disney Company. Right in the centre of Hollywood. Everything Ed Wood dreamed of, but never had the talent to realise himself.
Even those who haven’t seen an Ed Wood movie have some idea of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the man, usually
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along the lines of ‘he was crap and wore women‘s clothes’. Enough for some to embrace him and build a ‘so bad. it’s hilarious’ cult following; enough for others to dismiss him out of hand as incompetent pervert who shouldn't have been allowed to take holiday snaps. far less direct movies.
Ed Wood is someone you can approach only on a personal level. Sure. his films look cheap. the acting (usually by even less talented friends) is terrible and the dialogue so corny and contrived. it could be an art-form in itself. But you can‘t help nurturing some respect for a man who hung
‘Ed remained true to his work. He didn’t let technicalities like visible wires and bad sets distract him from his storytelling. There’s a twisted form of integrity to that.’ Tim Burton
on in there. holding onto his dream. despite continual rejection. As he said himself in his book of advice to beginners in the film industry. The Hollywood Rat Race: ‘lt’s a continuing terror
to me when hearing someone say about someone‘s work . . . “Ahh! that stinks . . . yet
the sayer probably couldn’t ink his way out of a paper bag. YOU put it on paper. Good. bad or indifferent. at least you had the guts to put it out there?
Angora Young Man
optimistic against the odds: Depp as Ed Wood
Fora growing band of admirers. it is clear that there‘s more to Ed than passing off hub-caps as flying saucers. ‘I really felt close to him,’ says Tim Burton. ‘There’s something beautiful about somebody who does what they love to do, no matter how misguided. and remains optimistic and upbeat against all odds. i grew up watching Ed Wood‘s movies on television. There‘s something poetic about them. Ed remained true to his work. He didn’t let technicalities like visible wires and bad sets distract him from his storytelling. There’s a twisted form of integrity to that.’
Ed Wood was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. in 1924. At the age of seventeen he enlisted in the Marines. eventually becoming a corporal and decorated war hero (the medals may have been on top of the uniform, but Ed would be the first to tell you that it was women’s underwear that kept him warm beneath the battle fatigues). After a short time studying art and drama under the auspices ofthe GI. Bill. he joined a carnival in Philadelphia. then tried his hand in Hollywood. working on the westerns that had fuelled his populist passion while growmg up.
It wasn't until 1952 that he successfully completed a feature. the extraordinary, semi- autobiographical Glen ()r Glendafl The film sensitively tackles — and unashamedly champions — two thorny subjects for the early