Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Vincent D'Onofrio, Lisa Marie, George "The Animal" Steele, G.D. Spradlin, Mike Starr, Max Casella, Brent Hinkley, Juliet Landau
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, based on a book by Rudolph Grey
Directed by: Tim Burton
MPAA Rating: R for some strong language
Running Time: 127
Date: 23/09/1994

Ed Wood (1994)

4 Stars (out of 4)

The Best of the Worst

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I was really excited about Ed Wood, and saw it opening weekend. It got great reviews and won two Oscars, which it deserved. But it was an expensive flop, probably because the public: a) didn't know or care who Ed Wood was, and b) didn't want to see a black and white movie, which is sad.

I've since seen Ed Wood about six times, and it's brilliant. Anyone else but Tim Burton probably would have made fun of Wood, the "worst filmmaker of all time," but the movie is instead a loving tribute to an artist who got at least six films made (the movie shows us three), despite lack of finance and lack of talent. Burton had enough clout to use Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski's original first draft of the script, with no rewrites or doctors, a rarity for a high profile Hollywood movie. The final product is tough, uncompromising, touching, gritty and funny. Bela Lugosi's drug problem is faced, which would probably have been cut out by Hollywood meddlers.

By the way, even if you don't know who Edward D. Wood Jr. is, you should see the movie just for Martin Landau's portrayal of Lugosi. He and Rick Baker, who did his makeup, both won Oscars. It is utterly mesmerizing; very sad, funny and exciting. Johnny Depp also should have been nominated for his grinning, maniacal, energetic Wood. Thanks to Depp, we grow to love this eccentric and root for him to get his terrible movies made.

Speaking of Oscars, the movie should have also been nominated for Howard Shore's bongo-music score, Stefan Czapsky's beautiful black-and-white cinematography, and Tom Duffield's production design, which carefully re-created all of Wood's old cardboard sets to the most minute detail. The amazing partially-animated title sequence alone should have won something. Not to mention Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. There's no justice.

The movie veers into greatness in a scene where Wood storms off the set of Plan 9 from Outer Space (in drag), and goes to a bar, where Orson Welles (brilliantly played by Vincent D'Onofrio) is also having a drink. The two men talk about how hard it is to make movies. It's ironic, but touchingly real at the same time. Wood leaves the scene, his creative batteries re-charged. This is one of the great scenes of movie history. It's like a mini-My Dinner With Andre.

If that's not enough, Bill Murray is really funny as 'Bunny' Breckenridge (who, in real life, played the alien commander in Plan 9). Jeffrey Jones plays Criswell, Sarah Jessica Parker plays the amazing Dolores Fuller, Patricia Arquette is an adorable Kathy Wood, and George "the Animal" Steele and Lisa Marie (Burton's muse) make perfect re-creations of Tor Johnson and Vampira.

As far as bio-pics go, this is one of the best of all time, not so much because of its subject matter, but because of its treatment of it. Try and find another bio-pic that's not bloated, self-important or too long. Try and find one that's just very entertaining. I think Ed Wood would make a great double feature with Citizen Kane, the sad, fascinating lives of two men vying for greatness and almost achieving it.

DVD Details: This DVD has ironically had a great deal of trouble. It has almost been released several times, but everything has gone wrong. A few months ago, it was actually recalled for mysterious reasons. Thankfully it's finally here, and in a "special edition" that the movie really deserves. It comes with a commentary track featuring Burton, Landau, Alexander, Karaszewski, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky and costume designer Coleen Atwood. It also comes with a wealth of featurettes, including the vintage Let's Shoot This F#*%@r, a 13-minute on-set documentary that shows the cast and crew at work. There's also a 7-minute featurette on the Theremin used in the score, an 8-minute featurette about turning Martin Landau into Bela Lugosi, the 13-minute Pie Plates Over Hollywood, about the film's production design, a sexy music video starring Burton's then-wife Lisa Marie (who plays Vampira), 8 minutes of great deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer.

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