I first saw Ed Wood at a midnight screening on opening weekend. Even 13 years ago, I was not much of a midnight-movie person, but I thought the late-night audience would be a lot more fun and responsive to a Tim Burton film than, say, the matinee crowd. It turned out not to matter much. Ed Wood isn't a movie that needs a packed house; although the black-and-white images look fabulous on a big theater screen, the movie is equally enjoyable at home, curled up on the sofa with the one you love and some popcorn or beer, and trying to mimic the Bela Lugosi love-spell hand movements along with the title character, as in the photo above.
Ed Wood is a sweet, touching movie about a guy who likes to make low-budget movies and wear women's clothing -- often at the same time. The movie was released in 1994, back in the day when Johnny Depp had a much smaller cult following of women who swooned over him ... and Ed Wood probably didn't do much to increase that cult unless you liked the look of a guy in angora and lipstick. Tim Burton directed -- his second time working on a feature with Depp. Currently, it is my favorite of all the Burton-Depp films. The script was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, who also worked together on the biopics The People vs. Larry Flint and Man on the Moon.
The movie follows the always-optimistic filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Depp) from his days as a post-war playwright to his first movie, Glen or Glenda, and through his work on the notorious Plan 9 from Outer Space. He wants to be an original filmmaker just like Orson Welles, his idol. His girlfriend Delores (Sarah Jessica Parker), is not at all happy to learn that her angora sweaters are all stretched out because her boyfriend has been wearing them, and she can't stand the crazy cast of characters orbiting Wood as he becomes more engrossed in filmmaking.
I'm not kidding when I say the movie is sweet. The relationship between Wood and Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) is touching -- these are the few scenes where we truly seem to get an idea of Wood's personality. Landau is amazing as Lugosi, a performance for which he won an Oscar. I also like Patricia Arquette as Kathy, who knits black booties for Lugosi while he's in rehab, and who accepts Wood's predilections in a scene that nearly makes me cry every time I see it. I never expected heartfelt romance from a biopic about a man some people consider the worst director ever.
The sweetness blends nicely with the weirdness in the film, as seen in the unconventional characters whom Wood accepts as friends, and who eventually form a bizarre type of family (they're even baptized together!): Bill Murray as transsexual Bunny, George Steele as Tor Johnson, Jeffrey Jones as Criswell, and Lisa Marie as Vampira.
In the opening scene, Criswell intones, "Can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood, Jr.?" I found very little of the film shocking, myself. In fact, Ed Wood is the perfect Halloween movie to watch if you don't like being shocked or scared, with its loving look at a number of characters who have contributed to many a great horror-movie (or cult movie) experience. Plus, it's got one of the funniest trick-or-treating scenes in film, which I won't spoil for you. It's easily available on DVD and would make a nice double-feature with an old Lugosi film -- or one of Wood's famously awful films, if that's to your liking.