Films can be a lot of things; they can be entertaining, they can be aggravating, they can be heartbreaking, and they can be motivating. Motivation is a key element to a lot of films. Sometimes you just see something on the screen, and it awakens a drive in you, a desire to do something immediately. Does Pain and Gain make you want to work out? Does Gandhi make you want to change the world? Does Norm of the North make you want to die? Well, Ed Wood makes me want to make movies.
I know what you’re thinking “Ed Wood? He was the worst filmmaker of all time!” Yes, it’s true, Ed Wood was not a good filmmaker whatsoever. It’s a beautiful irony that I’d be inspired to pick up a camera from watching a man fail time and time again at what he loves most, but this is a film full of passion and art that makes me want to be a part of it. Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is an aspiring filmmaker who can’t seem to catch a break. He wants to tell stories, and makes several attempts with his group of loyal collaborators, including his girlfriend Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker), cross dressing actor Bunny Breckenridge (Bill Murray) and famed horror star Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). Ed is hungry for fame and success, and absolutely nothing will get in his way…Not even a lack of talent.
Ed Wood is the absolute pinnacle of Tim Burton’s career; no other film of his is as wondrous, or enthralling, or inspiring. He pretty much struck gold. The decision to shoot in black and white (one originally disputed by producers) was perfect. It heightens the old Hollywood feel of the film, and adds a certain charm and originality to the tale. The performances are also wonderful, with Johnny Depp in particular stealing the show in the titular role. Do you remember when Johnny Depp actually vanished into his roles? Nowadays we know what a Johnny Depp performance is; it’s silly, over the top, weird, and usually plastered in make up. It’s become a common source of criticism for the actor. But this film features the most un-Johnny Depp performance that he’s ever given. The only person you see on screen is Edward D. Wood Jr., and he is just riveting. He brings so much energy to the role, so much excitement and life to it, that it carries the film along so smoothly. It’s a very fast paced film, and that’s largely the reason why. Bill Murray gives perhaps his most reserved and subtle performance, and of course, Martin Landau as absolutely kills it as screen legend Bela Lugosi, bringing a real sensation of pain and depression to the role. Some people are still annoyed that he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor over Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, but it was certainly well earned.
So what is it about this film that’s so inspiring? It’s Ed Wood himself. There’s not a single moment where the character isn’t switched on; he has a constant passion to him. Despite any setbacks, he’s always ready to bring his vision to the big screen. He has the time of his life, a real love for it that is prominent in every line of dialogue. This is such a joyous film to watch. Just sitting there, witnessing his band of friends like Tor Johnson, Criswell, Vampira and Lugosi, getting into all sorts of escapades on their movie making journey, it’s riveting entertainment. Perhaps the most enticing aspect of the film is the deep friendship between Ed and Lugosi, which happens almost by accident and becomes something very real. You always feel the connection between these two, the actor with his best days behind him, and the filmmaker with no future ahead of him. It’s so beautifully done.
Edward D. Wood Jr.’s optimism, passion and excitement is what makes this such an inspiring film. Every time I watch it, I’m ready to sit down, write a script, shoot a film and just pray that I have as much fun as he did. Ed Wood is an inspiring, invigorating, and simply triumphant masterpiece that serves as not only Tim Burton’s best film, but arguably the best biopic ever made.