After his death, Edward D. Wood Jr. was voted Worst Director of All Times. Since there are tons of bad movies, to be named the worst there’s gotta be a certain quality about your work, some imagination through the mediocrity. The thing with Wood seems to be that he was so much in love with cinema that he lost all perspective. Just the act of shooting a scene, of seeing actors playing out a story he created fascinated him. To the point where “details” like sets, sound, continuity, logic and good acting didn’t even matter to him. Wood never made a shot he didn’t like. Its this naive enthusiasm that gives his films their longevity and that makes this biopic so endearing.
Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and director Tim Burton made the right decision of less mocking Wood than gleefully celebrating him. We really feel we’re watching a real person despite (maybe BECAUSE of) his quirks, and you also have to credit star Johnny Depp for that. His performance is warm, comic and even touching. I actually felt affection for the guy, how even though he has zero talent he puts all his efforts into realizing his dream of making movies, comparing himself to that other writer-producer-director and actor, Orson Welles. Wood is like a kid trapped in a man’s body who can’t quite fit in the mainstream and finds refuge in comic books, B-movies and his girlfriend’s angora sweaters!
Tim Burton’s movies often follow outsiders, whether it’s a playful ghoul, a young man with scissors in place of hands or a tortured crimefighter. But Wood wasn’t really lonely, as he surrounded himself with colorful misfits. There’s Sarah Jessica Parker as his girlfriend who has a hard time living with his oddities, Patricia Arquette as a girl who doesn’t fully understand him either but who accepts it, a zany queer desperate for a sex change delightfully portrayed by Bill Murray, a Swedish wrestler (George “The Animal” Steele), gothic TV hostess Vampira (Lisa Marie, Burton’s femme fatale girlfriend), a phony psychic (Jeffrey Jones)… But Wood’s closest companion is none other than Bela Lugosi, once a studio star famous for his turn as Dracula but now a washed out, morphine-addicted has-been. Even then, Wood is in awe before him and puts him back in movies again, while becoming his confident. He’s incredibly portrayed by Martin Landau, who totally becomes Lugosi. It’s a powerful, bittersweet performance, the stuff of comic gold AND wrenching tragedy.
The film is also a visual marvel. I love how Burton balances satire and realism, making a movie about the world of 50s B-movies without turning it into a caricature. The film was shot in glorious black & white, and with the lounge soundtrack and the kitshy production design, it gives the film a wonderful retro feel. Wood’s movies might have been the worst ever made, but they inspired true brilliance. This just might be Tim Burton’s masterpiece.