Wednesday 6 February 2013

Tim Burton's 'Ed Wood' (1994)

‘Ed Wood’ is perhaps Tim Burton’s most underrated film commercially but it was released to critical acclaim during the directors golden period of filmmaking in the 1990s. The story of Hollywood’s ’Worst Director’ was a perfect fit for Burton’s love of oddball characters and while ‘Ed Wood’ may not be completely accurate historically, it features a brilliant madcap performance from Johnny Depp as the filmmaker who longed to create the next ‘Citizen Kane’ but only ended up producing trash. Rather than portray his entire life, the film chooses to focus specifically on the production period of Wood’s most famous films and his relationship with the actor Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau.
One of the key challenges that Burton faced was to ensure that the two main performances could successfully capture the essence of their real life counterparts. Landau won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his part as Bela Lugosi and Depp snagged a nomination from the Golden Globes for playing the title character, but does this mean that their impersonations were accurate on any level?

Depp studied a range of performances for the role, including the Tin Man from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and even former President Ronald Reagan, reportedly for the blind optimism of his political speeches. Depp brings an endless enthusiasm to the role which may not represent the reality of Ed Wood’s life entirely but is nonetheless very effective in presenting us with a likeable protagonist who keeps fighting to produce films, against all odds. 

So does it matter that Depp’s portrayal of Ed Wood may be a little bit caricatured as long as it conveys the key essence of this beloved madcap filmmaker? And can any impersonation of real life figures ever become more than just that, an impersonation? Landau might have thought so, as his research took the more conventional approach of studying the man he wished to impersonate through a number of his films and interviews over the years. To enhance Landau’s performance further, Burton used makeup to alter his appearance and the resemblance between him and Bela Lugosi is uncanny, rightly earning the makeup team an Oscar as well.

For Burton’s film to succeed, the acting of course had to be of a certain calibre but ironically, Ed Wood’s latter day standing as a cult figure of cinema is derived in large part from the just plain awful acting that became a key staple of his many films. From TV horror host Vampira and psychic entertainer Criswell to Swedish professional wrestler Tor Johnson, Ed Wood’s films are literally brimming over with horrendous acting talent. Another challenge for Burton’s film was to portray these terrible performances in a way that rung true to fans of the original movies, which includes such ‘classics’ as ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space’ and ‘Bride of the Monster’. You know an actor is good when they’re playing the role of terrible performers convincingly and Burton’s ‘Ed Wood’ does a brilliant job of showing hammy acting at its finest. 

The lack of quality acting on display in the original B-movies highlights the difficulties that Ed Wood faced in generating funds. Burton’s film does a fantastic job of showing Wood struggling with producers who had issues with his bizarre circle of friends and an unusual interest in transvestite performers. Here's Depp in full drag on the set of the film.

Despite these problems though, Wood successfully managed to create some of the worst films of all time, yet it is this very lack of talent that makes him such a likeable and enduring icon of cult cinema. The question remains however. Did Ed Wood know that his films were terrible or did he truly believe that he was making a new ‘Citizen Kane’ with every picture? Perhaps it is Wood’s blind optimism and self-delusion that is really the most fascinating performance in the entire Burton film. 
So what do you think? Is 'Ed Wood' really one of Burton's best films? And does it really have anything to say about the nature of performace? Let me know by liking, commenting and sharing below.

No comments:

Post a Comment