Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Love Affair with the Obsure: ED WOOD

If Edward Scissorhands is a love letter to Tim Burton than Ed Wood, Burton's dramedy biopic of the late director Edward D. Wood Jr, is a love letter to the artists who work with the film medium. Again, as in Scissorhands, there are similarities between Burton's life and that of Ed Wood, both in regards to his imagination and precise insistence on creative control of content and artistic flourish. Burton's film, although I believe it to be his least interesting, focuses on the two major features that Edward made, now celebrated as cult classics, Plan 9 From Outer Space and Bride of the Atom (renamed under a re-released title Bride of the Monster later in the film). It also chronicles Edward's professional and personal relationship with Bela Legosi, which mirrors the relationship Burton created with his long time idol Vincent Price.

The film follows Edward on his journey to gain film recognition and fame and creates a sub narrative about his quest for love of women, despite the fact that he likes to wear women's clothing (he is especially fond of angora, used thoroughout the film as a constant reminder of this strange fetish). The most endearing qaulity of Burton's Edward is Johnny Depp's protrayal. Depp, perfectly cast as a the blissfully ignorant artist who truly believes that quaility and depth is overlooked by the audience in favor of the larger story, plays Edward to a tee. He creates a character we fall in love with for his naive nature and endless optimism, even in the face of muliple failed film financing, limited budgets, small crews, and limited production supplies. Edward and his crew could crank out a picture in only a few days, shooting almost fifty scenes in the same time it took other studios to shoot a meager three or four. At the end of the day, Edward just wanted to make pictures and he wanted people to sit in the theater and enjoy watching them.

Even though it never happened in real life, the scene at the end of the film where Edward meets his idol; writer, director and producer Orson Welles, provides the fictional Ed some solace and joy amongst his numerous failed films. Welles reminds Edward, and the audience, that the business of making pictures should always begin with personal integrity and a willingness to stand by your story, no matter what the reaction of the audience or the critics might be.

The realtionships, in the end, are what holds this film together and why I found some joy in it's conclusion. Ed, admist his professional follies, never lost faith in the people in his life and never sought out to make a movie he couldn't defend. This makes Edward like Burton in more ways than one. Burton fought long and hard to get the funds to make this film in black and white. He was convinced that Edward's story could only be told within the world of black and grey, the same medium in which Edward made his. It was a tough sell to the larger studios and after failing to get this movie finianced, Disney finally stepped in and told Burton they would not only allow him control over the film stock but also allowed him full creative control over the content of the film. Burton, like Ed, sought the difficult route to make the movie he wanted but in the end wouldn't compromise for his artistic vision for anyone.

I wouldn't recommend Ed Wood to the general film viewer but if you have seen the Burton canon, sans this film, you should really give it a watch. It fits within his larger eerily romanticized world but remains the most restrained of Burton's works.

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