Saturday, May 14, 2011
#119: Ed Wood
A Tim Burton movie nine times out of ten will be a experience akin to that of going to a carnival. It typically will be an agglomeration of fairy-tale characters, crazy rides and a whole load of fanfare. One can watch any number of movie classics and yet if one hasn't seen a Tim Burton movie it's only fair to say that such a film lover's resume is all but incomplete. Though not yet on the same platform as a Hitchcock or a Scorcese, there's no denying that over the last 15 odd years, his signature style of filmmaking has left fans over the world more than impressed. And Ed Wood is yet another proof of his acute understanding of the craft of filmmaking.
Based on the life and times of erstwhile filmmaker Edward Wood Jr., Ed Wood has Johnny Depp essaying the protagonist. Conventionally biopics are based on men or women who have achieved extraordinary things, been successful in their lifetime or been very talented. Ed Wood is the antithesis of that theory. For if ever there was a title to be conferred for Hollywood's least successful and worst director of all time, Edward Wood would beat everyone else in that race. To sum it up in a line, not only did each of his movies make a loss but he also did enough to win the Golden Turkey Award for the worst director of all time. The movie begins with a media screening of Ed Wood's latest play where the theater has all of 4 people. The next morning the cast members that include his wife (Sarah Jessica Parker) gather around to read the plays reviews. When it turns out to be a scathing indictment, everyone else is heartbroken but not Ed Wood. He sees enough in it to nurture his dream of making a film. A chance encounter with the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi feeds his hope that he can make it big in Hollywood. Except that no one in Hollywood knows if the antiquated actor Lugosi is even alive. What Ed Wood lacks in his filmmaking sense, he makes up for with his persuasive skills with producers who open doors for him to release one bad movie after another.
Shot aptly and entirely in black and white, Tim Burton handles this chronicle with a subtlety seen only rarely in Hollywood and probably never in Bollywood. Johnny Depp is so much on top of his game while displaying the mind-numbing stupidity of the choices Ed Wood made as a filmmaker, you could be forgiven for thinking this is a fictional story. In director Ed Wood's world every scene is perfect, there isn't any need for a retake and footage of elements however disconnected can always be joined together to complete a movie. Martin Landau plays Bela Lugosi, the man who was once popular as Dracula and who in real life was happy to join the mediocrity of the movies Ed Wood made. Landau's performance while invoking peals of laughter is also sensitive enough to not reduce Lugosi to a joke. The Best Supporting Actor Oscar Landau gained for his performance was well deserved to say the least. The warm friendship and mutual admiration that Wood and Lugosi have for each other grows deeper in spite of one bad movie after another. It is funny but and yet you find yourself sympathizing with them both.
The understated and linear approach that Burton takes in telling us the story of Edward Wood Junior is in sharp contrast to Ed Wood's own flashy and whimsical style of filmmaking and the irony is not just befitting and but also a delight to watch. For as bad a filmmaker Wood Jr. might've been, his story is extremely absorbing and Burton takes that story a notch up to serve it like a refreshing cocktail. The effect is what any good cocktail should deliver - a happy high feeling !