This is really one of the best films about filmmaking. It shows the highs and the lows of a life in film. Ed (played by Johnny Depp, in my favorite performance of his) has an passion for film that knows no bounds and dreams of becoming a legend like his hero Orson Welles, but his talent is lacking. He rushes through the movie making process (churning out scripts in a matter of days, doing everything in one take, paying no attention to details) and is forced to cut corners due to budget constraints (with each film, he makes major casting decisions based on who putting up the most cash). However, his perseverance did eventually lead to him becoming a film legend… the worst director of all time.
This is also a movie about friendship. Ed runs with a colorful crew which includes a faux psychic, a man who dreams of becoming a woman, a horror movie host, a wrestler from Sweden, and Dracula himself – Bela Lugosi. It’s a group of people who appreciate each others’ eccentricities. Ed always finds a role for each of his friends in every one of his films, including finding a part for Bela in his ode to cross dressing, Glen or Glenda. He also, is always there for a friend in need. Bela fought drug addiction at the end of his life and could always count on Ed to comfort him when he had a bad night. Ed eventually encouraged him to enter rehab. Their friendship is the emotional core of the film and Martin Landau won an Oscar for his performance.
Johnny Depp is one of the greatest actors of his generation and he was under-appreciated for much of his career due to his unorthodox choices. I worry that he has reached that stage of his career where he keeps playing the same type of character. I can it Al Pacino syndrome. Ever since Depp truly broke out as an A-lister with Pirates of Caribbean, his characters are more defined by excessive make-up and funny voices than actual heart. But he is so much more effective when he is being a real person. He said his inspiration for Ed Wood was to mix the blind optimism of Ronald Reagan, the enthusiasm of the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz and Casey Kasem. It’s a subtle portrayal of an over the top person and he is very lovable as this oddball.
While Burton definitely took liberties in telling the story of Ed Wood (why let facts get in the way of a good story?), you walk away from the film feeling like you really knew these people. They become your friends over the course of the film. I’ve had to stop myself from learning too much about the real Ed Wood because his forays into soft-core porn conflict with the lovable dreamer I’d prefer to think of him as. This film is also a little hard to watch at times because Ed Wood is kind of every filmmakers worst nightmare. Every creative person has moments where they question their skill and wonder if they are nothing but a joke. I think I would rather never have my work seen by a single human being than be remember as a talentless hack, but hey, at least Ed got to be played by Johnny Depp in a movie, so I guess going after your dreams is the way to go.
[Bride of the Monster wrap party. Mariachi band plays “Que sera sera”]
Tor Johnson: Mister Bunny, what’s wrong? I heard you were becoming a lady.
Bunny Breckinridge: Oh, that. Mexico was… a nightmare. We got into a car accident… he was killed. Our luggage… was stolen. The surgeon… turned out to be… a quack. If it hadn’t been for these men…
[gestures to the Mariachi band]
Bunny Breckinridge: I don’t know… how I would have… survived,