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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 15.07%
Average: 10.27%
Pretty Bad: 0.68%
Total Crap: 0.68%

6 reviews, 110 user ratings

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Ed Wood
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Sincerely felt, but overrated."
3 stars

Probably no director -- not even Hitchcock -- compels more affectionate devotion than does Edward D. Wood, Jr. A cult icon before his time (he died, destitute and alcoholic, in 1978 at the age of 54), Ed Wood wrote and directed some of the most outlandish movies ever made: "Glen or Glenda?", "Bride of the Monster," "Night of the Ghouls," and the immortal "Plan 9 from Outer Space" -- a film nobody who's seen it can talk about without giggling and highly recommending it.

Having seen some of Wood's output, I think his movies are certainly bad, but not really "the worst films ever made" -- a condescending label. What sets Wood's bad movies apart from other bad movies of their time (and there were many in the '50s) is that they're so surreal, so earnestly didactic, and so innocently unaware of their own badness that they're more entertaining than nine out of ten movies made with the necessary time, money, and talent.

If Wood had been a boring man in private life, he might today be a completely obscure figure -- like Phil Tucker, director of Robot Monster, a 3-D turkey that's at least as laughable as Plan 9. Wood, however, had definite quirks. Aside from the above-mentioned alcoholism (which got worse as his post-Plan 9 career bottomed out), Wood enjoyed dressing in women's clothes, favoring angora in particular. Legend has it that Wood, a decorated World War II vet, was terrified of being shot down: he didn't want the medics finding the silky underthings he wore under his uniform. Wood was a misfit and an outsider, the classic "misunderstood" figure, and his movies, chowderheaded as they are, argue fervently for tolerance of those who differ from the "norm." If you look at Wood's debut, Glen or Glenda?, you'll laugh your ass off, but you may also be saddened: This ridiculous plea for compassion was genuinely the best he could do; this man with so much on his mind and in his heart had so little talent to express it.

Ed Wood is an ambiguous figure of fun. It's easy to laugh at his movies, but it's tough to laugh at him: His is the depressing story of a man whose reach always exceeded his grasp. In Ed Wood, directed by Tim Burton, Wood is presented as a go-getter who may have moved heaven and earth to make piddly little movies everyone laughs at, but, hey, at least he got them made. Stylistically, this is the least daring movie Burton has ever made (though his insistence on filming in black and white is courageous); it certainly doesn't risk the excesses of Wood's films. Burton sticks with lush, basic, unfussy images throughout. Obviously, he identifies with Wood the obsessed, misunderstood filmmaker, and Wood takes a place in Burton's gallery of misfits alongside Pee-wee, the hapless ghosts in Beetlejuice, Bruce Wayne, Edward Scissorhands, and Jack Skellington. Yet Wood doesn't really fit in there, either.

As played by Johnny Depp, Wood has a smile for everyone and hardly ever loses his temper. He's a sweet guy with a deep soul -- if only anyone were sensitive enough to see it. This harmless-creative-martyr aspect of Burton's work -- James Dean as van Gogh -- almost wrecked Edward Scissorhands, and it drains out much of what should be striking in Ed Wood. This isn't Depp's fault. After a string of hazy slacker roles, he comes through with a clear-eyed, firm-handshake performance, and it's fun to see him so vibrant. Depp doesn't have Wood's bland, lumpen Errol Flynn handsomeness; his features are more delicate, and sometimes he uses them to great comic effect -- he employs a wonderful fixed grin of nervousness (it's meant to be a confident, reassuring smile) whenever someone gives Wood a reality slap. Ed Wood has abundant affection for its subject, and Depp is finally trapped by that affection. He can't make Wood much more than a nice guy.

We know from reading Rudolph Grey's book Nightmare of Ecstasy (a collection of anecdotes from Wood's friends and associates, upon which Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander based their screenplay), and from watching the documentary Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora, that most everyone who knew Wood considered him, yes, a nice guy, but also a little strange and more than a little self-destructive. Burton's Ed Wood is a sanitized view of Wood's most fertile period (the mid- to late-'50s), and it's most enjoyable when Burton recreates the cardboard sets Wood filmed on; the movie at its best is a loving ode to moviemaking fever. Yet from this film, you'd think Wood was only interested in monsters and angora. He also had a sensationalistic streak a mile wide, and some of his lesser-known films, which he either wrote or directed, have titles like Jail Bait and Orgy of the Dead and The Violent Years (about an all-girl gang) and The Sinister Urge (about the evils of pornography). He also, in the squalid twilight of his career, made hardcore porn — see Necromania, available on DVD from Fleshbot. (Or don't.)

Wood was caught in his own low-rent obsessions; they're the source of his enduring appeal -- his cheesy style is linked to his choice of subject matter -- but they also make his movies both funny and sad. His obsessions, which were definitely '50s-sexist, appear in one form or another in all his films but not particularly in Ed Wood. Burton's Wood is a gentleman who, we think, would never go on to direct and even appear in chintzy soft-core bondage movies (as the actual Wood did -- the footage in Look Back in Angora of a drunk and bloated Wood grovelling on the floor before buxom women is unbearably depressing). Probably with the best and kindest intentions, Burton gives us a Wood who never was. It's refreshing to see Burton in a relatively upbeat mood, but he picked the wrong story to give an optimistic spin.

Ed Wood does have an outlaw soul, but it has nothing to do with Wood, Burton, or Depp. Scraping for money to fund Glen or Glenda?, Wood meets the legendary Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), now a decrepit, all-but-forgotten morphine addict. Lugosi's involvement greases the wheels for three Wood movies, only one of which actually used Lugosi as a legitimate character. (Wood shot footage of Lugosi that he eventually used, after Lugosi's death, for Plan 9; for long shots, Wood used a cloaked chiropractor two feet taller than Lugosi.) Were Wood and Lugosi exploiting each other -- Wood for Lugosi's dimmed star power, Lugosi for a chance to act again (and the money to buy morphine)? To his credit, Burton allows that the Wood-Lugosi relationship began as mutual exploitation, but then he lets it deepen, and their odd friendship -- two outcasts clinging to each other -- is the real core of Ed Wood.

Raging against Hollywood, his rival Boris Karloff, his age and obsolescence, everything his life has become, Bela Lugosi is a great tragicomic character -- the kind of character Burton should have allowed Wood to be. Wisely, Burton lets Martin Landau take over the middle section of the film. Landau gives what I'm tempted to call the performance of his life (though he was equally powerful in Crimes and Misdemeanors and Tucker). In general, he refuses to soften or sentimentalize Lugosi (which may upset Lugosi's fans); he's not afraid to be pathetic, abrasive, and hammy. It's a fully rounded performance, almost Shakespearean in its extremes of emotion and rhetoric (his profane swipes at Karloff are wonderful). The scene of Lugosi delivering his corny Bride of the Monster speech on the sidewalk will go down as a cult-classic movie moment. Landau unleashes the inane monologue, flooding it with conviction and passion that cut right through the mawkishness of the scene (which is meant to sadden us with the irony of Lugosi's rediscovering his actor's zeal just before he dies).

Tim Burton has many gifts, but telling the truth isn't one of them. That's what makes him a great fantasist. Taking off with invented characters -- either his own (Edward Scissorhands) or others' (Pee-wee, Batman) -- Burton can spin webs of metaphor, phantom images that get around our rational minds and plug into our sloppy, masochistic feelings of being alone and misunderstood. Ed Wood doesn't give him many images to conjure with, and the movie's tone is wobbly and jokey yet reverent. Wood is probably the first (and, let's hope, the only) character Burton has ever had to tone down to fit his design. This subject and this director are not a good match, despite the surface similarities, and Wood's complexity as a person -- his messy, contradictory, wild inner life -- resists Burton's efforts to play it safe.

Wood himself would have loved "Ed Wood." That's what's wrong with it.

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originally posted: 12/25/06 08:04:29
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User Comments

5/03/19 Action movie fan Good period recreation provides some interest to this so so film 3 stars
12/28/09 Dane Youssef A unique movie about a unique man by an even more unique man. Ed Wood deserves an Oscar. 5 stars
1/26/09 Pamela White quirky look at a quirky man, sad Bella. 3 stars
12/21/08 Samantha Pruitt funny movie, very good looking movie! 4 stars
5/05/08 Nate Haven't you heard of suspension of disbeleif? 5 stars
1/13/08 art it's like one big halloween party 2 stars
4/27/07 Double M Dark yet hilarious. Burton's best. Depp & Murray are great, but Landau is just mesmerizing. 5 stars
4/20/07 Adrian Inspiring in its own quirky Tim Burton kind of way. 5 stars
3/03/07 Vip Ebriega Superb Tim Burton movie. Emotionally excellent. 5 stars
2/23/07 R.W.Welch Funny, oddy affecting story of a man who could not stop making bad movies. B+ 4 stars
11/28/06 Billy Backstabber yep, fun flick. More enjoyable than the films Wood made..more interesting.Great att2detail 5 stars
8/03/06 Nicole Wierd but cool movie. Great preformances 4 stars
6/27/06 Criddic2 Anyone who's seen an Ed Wood movie will enjoy the reenactments; Depp, Landau are Great 5 stars
12/19/05 Bree Brilliant film. Depp looks his best in angora. 5 stars
10/31/05 missjie86 This movie is hysterical... I cannot recommend it enough... SEE IT!! 5 stars
10/16/05 Person It's hilarious and heartfelt. I need to see it a third time. 5 stars
9/05/05 C Vega Suprisingly A good movie that makes you want to see Ed Woods Bad Movies! ha ha ha! 5 stars
8/06/05 Zack Excellent biography! 5 stars
4/18/05 Abbath Very niche movie for a niche director. 4 stars
4/15/05 Veronika Boyd "Karloff is a cock-sucker!" 5 stars
4/13/05 Indrid Cold Very well done, but not incredibly entertaining. 4 stars
2/17/05 SAKURAZUKAMORI fdwnfgsdafgdsfgd 5 stars
2/16/05 Wilt Chamberlin . 5 stars
2/07/05 deep in Depp not bad at all, boring in places, good in others 4 stars
10/25/04 Tom Ciorciari Burton's best film by far; it wasn't even nomintaed the year Forest Gump won! 5 stars
10/22/04 Daniel burton's best-ed wood wasn't the crappiest director, and this homage does him justice 5 stars
8/20/04 DM You'd never in a million years expect to like a biography of the worst director of all time 5 stars
7/07/04 EricDSnider Burton+Depp=wonderful 5 stars
6/20/04 Daveman A quirky, lovable biopic of an artistic outsider. 5 stars
6/11/04 T. Maj Tim Burton's best film--nice cinematography 4 stars
5/18/04 gray no bad but not great 3 stars
5/02/04 David Fowler Landau literally IS Lugosi. One of the most TRULLY deserved Oscars ever given. Brilliant. 5 stars
3/22/04 Tito Fantastic! Classic Burton, all the way, 5 stars
3/21/04 Peter I loved this movie and can watch it over and over 5 stars
3/15/04 DeppFan4Ever Great film! Johnny Depp & Tim Burton always make the best movies 5 stars
3/06/04 Andrew Dunn Johnny Depp is the king. Plain and simple. 5 stars
3/04/04 jdogg touching and wonderful-and didn't show wood's descent into porno. 5 stars
3/04/04 Jack Bourbon Well, if you think you may like it, you'll probably love it. Wacky stuff. 5 stars
3/04/04 Jack Sommersby A bit rambling, but it's mammothly entertaining and splendidly acted. 4 stars
3/03/04 y2mckay one of Burton's best, Landau fantastic, but film loses emotional core when Lugosi dies. 4 stars
2/26/04 Kyle Come on everyone, REVIEW!!! Push dumbass AJ off the list! GO! GO!!! 5 stars
2/20/04 AJ Bag of Gay Shit 1 stars
2/19/04 MP Bartley Burton's one true masterpiece and Depp's best role 5 stars
1/15/04 Betty White Lavish production values and fun performances all around. 5 stars
12/06/03 ashley goodspeed it was a good movie except for jeffrey jones being in it that sucked, but johnny depp rules 5 stars
12/06/03 Agent Sands Terrific acting and writing, and the black-&-white is very apt. 5 stars
11/30/03 john rates with (or maybe even above) DAY FOR NIGHT as the best movie about movie making ever 5 stars
9/28/03 AD dam this was great 5 stars
9/24/03 JC Very much in the style of Ed Wood actually! Depp, Landau, and Burton are brilliant! 5 stars
7/11/03 eleftheria gooooood 5 stars
6/08/03 earl hoffert burton's very best film, has yet to top it 5 stars
5/15/03 George Jung One of the best films of the 90s, if not ever. 5 stars
5/04/03 sleepy amazing film 5 stars
3/16/03 Maegs Come on, its not THAT good 3 stars
3/07/03 Glenn cool johnny the best 5 stars
2/08/03 mr. Pink Terrific! One of Burton's best films! 5 stars
2/05/03 Silverline Not that great 3 stars
2/01/03 dionwr Okay, low-key effort from Burton 3 stars
1/28/03 The Aussie Film Reviewer A hilarious, dark and moody few hours. 4 stars
11/25/02 Mason Not burtons best work (Pee-Wee!) but honorary enough to be on the top 20 5 stars
11/22/02 Angel This movie is a true gem 5 stars
11/10/02 asina my favorite film.... 5 stars
9/22/02 Morally Sound I love this movie. 5 stars
9/21/02 Buddha It's funny, but it also takes a little liberty with the truth. 3 stars
8/23/02 Naomi A superb, well- crafted film. Depp is great, as always, but Landau's Bela steals the show. 5 stars
8/17/02 Scott Brilliant, very funny film 5 stars
7/30/02 The Little Cock-Smoking Tramp Modern black-and-white cinematography is so beautiful it makes me cry 5 stars
6/24/02 blake i loved it 5 stars
6/03/02 Poumpus and better than you Depp was Hilarious as Ed Wood! 5 stars
5/28/02 gj ty mmmmmmmmmm it was okkkkkkkkkkkk, perhaps a touch too weird 4 stars
5/20/02 siro My all-time favorite film.... 5 stars
4/02/02 lauren mccreight a movie for people who love movies 4 stars
2/24/02 Aiken Drum Every time I even think about this movie I cack myself. 5 stars
2/20/02 Andrew Carden Ok As An Autobiography, but Very Mediorce and Fourth Rate As A Movie. 3 stars
2/19/02 Goombah Landau is masterful, Depp fantastic, but the story is sometimes a little cartoony. 4 stars
1/26/02 Phil Z. Excellent, clever, moving. 5 stars
1/02/02 Foufie Cannot be explained : just watch it ! 5 stars
8/29/01 Gary Very funny and well made. Depp is magnificent. Parker is a great presence here, too. 5 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk The perfect tribute from a master of the craft. Beautiful and flawless. 5 stars
8/02/01 KC Au One of my favorite movies!! Very funny and some scenes were very touching. 5 stars
8/01/01 Michael S. Browne I wish there was a Beyond Fucking Awesome rating. This is the best movie I've ever seen 5 stars
7/26/01 Edgar Delicious, funny, incredible! I'd see it again and again! 5 stars
6/30/01 Monster W. Kung It's not a masterpiece, but the re-creation of Plan 9 is masterful. 4 stars
5/21/01 Ray McCoy An auspicious beginning to the second Burton era. 5 stars
3/28/01 Jesse L Depp is brilliant. Pass the angora sweater. 5 stars
12/15/00 viking The most human of Tim Burton's movies 5 stars
9/07/00 Gray Depp was perfect choice. Beautiful film. Fantastic. 5 stars
7/29/00 Jinx Depp is great, Wood was weird and sympathetically pathetic. Truth is stranger than fiction. 4 stars
6/10/00 Mike Farwell Very well directed, by the one and only TIM BURTON!!! 5 stars
6/03/00 PJ Absolutely beautiful, I absolutely loved it, Depp and Landau were perfect 5 stars
4/04/00 Casper A Burton masterpiece and one in which you'll laugh out loud! What a great movie!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
4/02/00 perverted pixie Watch this! Watch "Plan 9"! Watch "Glen or Glenda"! They all rule! 5 stars
2/27/00 Judy57 My favorite movie, so lovingly done. 5 stars
1/23/00 Dr. Dolittle A Masterpiece 5 stars
12/06/99 JonnyAngel I only saw it recently, boy was I missing out. 5 stars
9/05/99 Weird Andy Magnificent. 5 stars
6/21/99 Ed Wood I, of course, loved it 5 stars
1/03/99 Charles Dubé Absolutely hillarious and even touching film. Burton's absolute best. **** stars 5 stars
12/15/98 Binky What a great film. Depp and Landau are wonderful. 5 stars
12/05/98 tj oh dear lord this is good 5 stars
12/01/98 Mr.Pink SO BEAUTIFUL AND VERY FUNNY!! 5 stars
11/25/98 DrEvil Touching tribute to a man of skewed vision, whose determination exceeded his talent. 5 stars
11/17/98 little jerry this is a beautifully balanced film.Tender and strange. 5 stars
10/27/98 Silent Rob You can see the love on the screen. 5 stars
10/24/98 Vincent Burton's best film- a treasure that will be remembered 5 stars
10/19/98 Kwyjibo Anyone who doesn't think this is a fine film is so clearly not thinking straight. 5 stars
10/01/98 {{{OZ}}} Fucking awesome film, especially for b-grade sci-fi freaks. Landau is incredible. 5 stars
9/24/98 Johny Oz is right. Depp and Burton's finest hour. 5 stars
8/29/98 Miss Stress i'm sorry, johnny depp didn't sell me on this one. 3 stars
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  28-Sep-1994 (R)
  DVD: 19-Oct-2004



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