Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why I like Ed Wood

Why I like Ed Wood

1) It's real easy to tease Tim Burton these days. His reliance on specific cinematic signatures have been the subject of parody by funnier people than I. His work feels like one of the bands I've listened to thousands of times during my adolescence, where it's lost the sparkle after all those repeat viewings. Taking all those old movies for granted dismisses the fact that Tim Burton's best work is fucking awesome!

2) Out of all his work, I come back to Ed Wood most of all. As much as I love Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, they seem more like stylistic exercises and fairy tales. They establish his style. Ed Wood is a more adult story. 

3) I like Johnny Depp's portrayal of the character. Ed Wood reminds me of every good natured 1950s gee-whiz sitcom child. He doesn't get down or discouraged about his dreams. Every problem has a solution, every calamity can be worked around. His singleminded go-get'um attitude occasionally veers toward the selfish, and Martin Landau's Bela Lugosi is possibly worse off for having met him, but he's the kind of guy who gets things done. 

4) Sometimes enthusiasm makes up for a lack of talent. In the scenes where Ed Wood is actually filming, we quickly realize he has no idea what the fuck he is doing. He shoots in one-takes, he hires people with no real grasp of English, and he truly believes he can fool people into believing that a dentist with a cape over his mouth could pass for Bela Lugosi. The amateurishness would be contemptible, but it's paired with a genuine love of the medium. Ed Wood loves movies. He's the most enthusiastic amateur out there, and his rollicking seat-of-your-pants style makes his story compelling. Bad movies these days often fail due to a lack of inspiration. They feel made by committee, they play it safe, and they market-test all the flavor out of their stories. I have a copy of Plan 9 From Outer Space and I can't really bring myself to watch it again. But it's unique, goddamnit

5) One of the most admirable things about Ed Wood's personality is how accepting he is. He takes misfits under his wing, he works with religious fundamentalists for funding, he buddies up to a hammy old actor, and he manages to get them all to share his vision. Even better, he accepts himself. The man has an interest in gender-nonconforming behavior, which he reveals with very little shame. That leads to one painful rejection, but he eventually finds the right girl to share his life with. I like movies about people with winning personalities. They create the most interesting social networks. 

Conclusion: It's tough doing anything creative. You have to press back against tidal waves of inertia and apathy. There are a zillion stories of tormented creative types, but there are very few that capture the sheer iconoclastic joy of being a weirdo, celebrating your weirdness, and making something memorable with your friends. Ed Wood is one of my go-to feel good movies.        

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