"This isn't the real world! You've surrounded yourself with a bunch of weirdos!"
Anybody that doesn't love "Ed Wood" has some kinda chemical imbalance. Didn't like it? Go to the Doctor, get some medication. Still don't like it? Go get some electro shock treatment. Still no good? Just go throw yourself in front of a subway train before your sick ass winds up in a university bell tower sniping at people or you sign up to do volunteer work for the Wesley Clark campaign.
We all know about Ed Wood, the internationally notorious nutcase, transvestite, and the alleged "Worst Movie Director Ever". Worst EVER? That's just mean - When sports fans gather and the conversation turns to the Worst Football Player Of all Time, do you think anybody nominates the little skinny guy who was always sitting on the bench with their High School team and when the Coach finally sent him in he fell down and broke his leg just getting up off of the bench? No wonder I couldn't get a date to the prom. Of course not! They pick some doofus who played professionally in the NFL and was at least good enough to disgrace himself in front of everybody in the whole wide world, right? So why are all the movie fans always picking on poor ol' Ed Wood? Next thing you know The Most Powerful Nation On Earth will be attacking some little poverty stricken country like Afghanistan or Iraq. (Just practicing for my gig in Berkeley next week.)
So why is everybody picking on Ed Wood all the time? How many people have even seen "Plan Nine From Out Of My Behind" or whatever that Ed Wood movie was called, anyway? The Worst Movie Of All Time has gotta be something that practically everybody's seen, like that one "Lethal Weapon" movie with Joe Pesci and Chris Rock and somebody's stupid wife having a baby at the end. I bet you if Ed Wood had all the money it took to make that movie plus Mel Gibson and Danny Glover he woulda made one hell of a better movie than that pile of crap. But nobody's sitting around telling funny stories about whoever the hell directed that "Lethal Weapon" thing cause he's a Hollywood Big Shot and he'll get on the phone, declare "You'll never work in this town again!!!", and say good bye to ever getting a piece of ass off of Jessica Biel for as long as you live. The very worst Ed Wood could have done to any of his critics was get drunk and vomit on their front porch.
Since I was writing an article about "Ed Wood" I thought I'd be all journalist-like and look at one of Wood's movies, see what the fuss is all about. Boy, is that ever the last time I try that! Saw "Glen or Glenda" also known as "I Led Two Lives", "I Changed My Sex", "He Or She", and "The Transvestite" and all I can say is, "That Guy Was A Nut!" also known as "He Needed A Shrink", "Get Him On Medication", "Crazy, Man, Crazy", and "He's Got Bugs Living Inside is Head". It's a mess, but I gotta hand it to Wood (And I gotta wash my hands right after), it's an honest, ambitious attempt at presenting his personal experience as a human being trying to lead a meaningful life in this crazy, mixed up world and that's one hell of a lot more than we'll ever get out of Mister Robert Zemekis or whoever made that "Gladiator" thing. Hell, no wonder Wood died broke.
So you can't blame me for expecting the worst when I heard that Hollywood was making a Major Motion Picture based on the life of Ed Wood. I'm no moron, I expect the very worst from Hollywood no matter what they're up to. And when I found out Tim Burton was going to direct it, Mon Dieu! Sure, Burton made some good movies like "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorshands" but what about those "Batman" movies? No, seriously, I'm really asking you - What about those "Batman" movies? Haven't seen em. Were they any good? Isn't it bad enough I made an ass of myself running around with that "Batman" lunchbox when I was in kindergarten? Then when I got a "Monkees" lunchbox like all the cool kids they suddenly had "Hendrix" lunchboxes and I got into glue. So, to hell with any "Batman" movies. They made so many of em it's a miracle they didn't throw in Joe Pecsi, Chris Rock, and have Bat-Woman having a baby. And "Plan Nine From Outer Space" (Okay, I looked it up) can't be any worse than Burton's "Mars Attacks", can it? It can? Whoa!
I was relieved when Burton hired Johnny Depp to play Ed Wood. I'm not much for movie stars, but Johnny Depp is great and I'll go see him in anything. The only other movie star I get all giddy like that over is Bill Murray. Interestingly enough, both Depp and Murray have played the same character in two different movies - Hunter S. Thompson. And if neither one could make a good movie outta that yahoo no one should ever make another one about him from here to eternity - Not even Matt LeBlanc!!! But Depp rules and I'm glad that pirate movie he was in turned out to be such a big hit. I didn't go see it because I heard he'd based his entire performance on Keith Richards and I've already seen enough of that with Aerosmith. (ed note - John, just wanted to warn you that you are dangerously close to using up your quota of yearly Aerosmith references.)
Depp's performance as Wood is so maniacally upbeat in the face of the most gloomy circumstances that he is the closest thing you'll ever see to a live action Looney Tunes character. Burton is the most distinguished member of The Frank Tashlin School of feature film directors who have backgrounds in animation (Joe Dante? I leave a brown paper bag full of doggie poo and an atomic bomb on Joe Dante's front door step, set fire to it, ring the door bell, and run away so when Joe Dante opens the door and jumps up and down on the fire to put it out he gets doggie poo all over his shoes and sets off the atomic bomb destroying the entire city of Los Angeles. But it's cool - Tim Burton lives in London, Johnny Depp lives in France, and I'm in Baghdad covering the war for Acid Logic although, considering I just blew up everybody in California, I should be covering it for Al Jazeera.), but in "Ed Wood" his cartoon effects are achieved entirely through Depp's abilities as an actor. Depp is as fun to watch in this movie as Flea thinks he is in all those stupid Red Hot Chili pepper videos. Throughout the movie Wood is forced to agree to things he doesn't want and Depp does this crazy "Nodding His Head 'Yes' And Turning It Left And Right 'No' At The Same Time" thing that has just gotta be seen to be believed. (Jim Carrey saw him do it and got so depressed he blew it with Lauren Holly. Saw a cable rerun and blew it with Renee Zellwegger! Whatta homo!) "Ed Wood" may be a black and white movie shot in fifties B Movie style but any shot with Depp in it has more BANG! ZAP! POW! than an afternoon of The Cartoon Channel. And halfway through the movie Depp grows a mustache so HE LOOKS JUST LIKE ERNIE KOVACS!!!
Martin Landau, star of "Mission Impossible", plays Bela Lugosi and . . . Oh, I'm the only one around here who remembers "Mission Impossible"? (ed note - John, you might be the only one who remembers Bela Lugosi.) Landau won the Academy Award for his performance and if Paul Lynde had gotten one
"Ed Wood" presents Bela Lugosi in his final days as a broken down yet lovable old wreck of a drug addict and is so realistic I suspect Keith Richards had an influence on Landau's performance as well. Oh, wait - I forgot - Bela Lugosi was a real human being playing a vampire and Keith Richards really is the Living Dead. Landau's role is at the heart of "Ed Wood" because, despite all the crummy movies, cross dressing, and show biz scumminess, "Ed Wood" is a film about Friendship. Yes, Friendship - That special relationship between two people that has nothing to do with sex or money and happens all the time in the movies although I've never actually come any closer to it than being chased across Texas by a fat cannibal with a chainsaw. When Ed first meets Lugosi he is in a coffin store trying out a casket for size the way you would a windbreaker. "I'm planning on dying soon!" There's no hope for the guy but, thanks to Ed Wood, he goes out like a Real Movie Star. It's Wood's determination to make his friend's last days a little dignified that motivates him to get off his butt and become a real Hollywood operator. "Don't worry, Bela - I won't let you down!"
Landau's Big Scene comes the morning after the disastrous premier of Wood's "Bride Of The Atom", an all-out teen riot from which Wood and his players are lucky to escape with their lives - Not that they don't enjoy every second of it. Wood and Lugosi are staggering down the sidewalk as Ed apologizes to Bela for not getting to see the movie. Lugosi, cheerful as ever, says he doesn't need to see the movie, he has it memorized, and proceeds to recite his Big Speech from the film, a monologue which Wood was moved to write after the old man's superhuman effort during an old night shoot - "Home? I have no home! Hunted! Despised! Living like an animal! The jungle is my home! But I shall show the world that I can be its Master! I shall perfect my own race of people - A race of atomic supermen that will conquer the world!" And as Landau completes this stirring address, Burton cuts to Lugosi's point of view and we see that his performance has drawn an applauding crowd of autograph seeking admirers giving the old guy the kind of adulation he was accustomed to at the height of his celebrity twenty five years earlier. It's a thrilling moment - Ed's love for Bela has performed a One Hundred Percent Miracle , not in a movie, but in REALITY. When we learn of Bela's death later in the film there is no doubt that, instead of some pussy stunt like blowing his head off with a shotgun or shoving a knife into his chest, he went the way a little old Hungarian intravenous drug addict horror motion picture star is supposed is supposed to go. My guess is that his castle was beseiged by the Mongol Horde or something like that. Yeah.
"Ed Wood" is all about the private triumph that leaves all worldly failure meaningless. (ed note - Waitasec, I thought is was about friendship?) While Bela is still threatening suicide, Ed checks him into a rehab clinic where - Lo And Behold - the Cutest, Nicest, Most Wonderful Gal In The whole Wide World is in the Waiting Room knitting "Booties" for her father, who is also a patient. This girl, Kathy, is played by Patricia Arquette and, even though I have been cold to the Arquette family ever since Roseanne let James Spader hump the scars on her leg in "Crash"* and David gets to do God only knows what to Courtney Cox every night, once she knits some black booties to match Bela's cape we know she is The Cutest, Nicest, Most Wonderful Gal In The Whole History Of The Movies.
*Have any of these people who call "Plan Nine From Outer Space" the worst movie ever seen "Crash"? Would anybody ever want to see a movie called "David Cronenberg"? Not me!
After the black booties scene . . . No, I don't have a joke about that. Should I? . . . After that "Ed Wood" gives us the most romantic Date scene since Tommy took Carrie to the Prom - No bucket of pig blood, but Ed and Kathy are the kinda couple who could take the joke. Ed takes Kathy to the Carnival and as they stroll down the Fairway eating cotton candy and sharing happy memories of comic books, scarey movies, and spooky radio shows Burton returns this lovable coupla kids to the innocence and simplicity of childhood allowing us a glimpse of Ed's earlier days - Before "Twenty Four Jump Street" even! Then - "The Funhouse!!!" Ed shouts and the cares and worries of the world are left behind as they travel through a fantasy land of Demons and Monsters, Ghouls and Goons, speaking only to find that the very first movie both of them ever saw was "Dracula" starring their poor ol' friend Bela. But then there's a power failure and, alone with this wonderful girl in the dark, Ed summons the courage to reveal the secret that has already cost him the love of a girl earlier in the film (Played by Sarah Jesica Parker so GOOD FOR YOU, ED!!).
"I like to wear women's clothes." he says after an awkward build up and Kathy tilts her head, thinks for a moment, and says "That's okay."
And Our Boy finds Success, if not in Hollywood, but in Love. It's a beautiful sequence and a great inspiration for everyone who has a secret they have to share with someone they want in their life. Because of "Ed Wood" the next time I am on a date I will have the courage to tell her, "Home? I have no home! Hunted! Despised! Living like an animal! But I shall show the world that I can be it's Master! I shall perfect my own race of people - A race of atomic supermen that will conquer the World!" and she will tilt her head, think for a moment, and say "That's okay."
So I think it is just ducky that somebody with real heart made a movie about Ed Wood instead of the usual comedy wise-asses. Geez, just imagine the kinda ugliness we'd be in for if the pricks at Comedy Central made a movie about Ed Wood. Shit, not even Spike Lee deserves that. I hope someone as nice as Tim Burton directs "John Saleeby" in fifty years when the make the movie about The Worst Comedy Writer On The Internet. Hey, by then Johnny Depp will be old enough to look as bad as I look right now! Yeah, you keep right on smoking them French hand rolled cigerettes, Johnny Depp. I don't know what's in em, but maybe we should send a truckload over to Comedy Central - Those people need all the help they can get.
"Music swells . . . Cut and Print!!"
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John Saleeby wrote for The National Lampoon while he was in high school, was a stand up comic in New York, and has contributed to the net humor zines Schmuck.com, Campaign Central, and the legendary American Jerk. He's on medication now so he's probably a little nicer now than he was when you met him earlier. Email - mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org