1994, 121 Min. / Directed by Tim Burton / Reg. 1 NTSC DVD / Buena Vista 16:9 / Dolby Digital 5.1 / 2-4-2004 (delayed indefinitely) / $29.99
Edward D. Wood is a struggling actor/writer/director barely able to meek out an existance on the lowest rungs of 1950's Hollywood, but despite his position he dreams of creating his own classic film on the level of "Citizen Kane."He thinks he's finally found the vehicle for his success when he read in the trades that the Christine Jorgenson sex change story is about to be made into a film; Ed feels himself to be the qualified to helm such a project because of his own crossdressing frilly Angora sweaters. After striking out with low-budget producer Howard K. Weiss, Wood has a chance meeting with his idol Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) who is by now a forgotten burn-out with heavy drug addictions. Bela's help along with a ragtag group of wives, girlfriends, fortune tellers, body builders and other assorted dreamers allow Wood to follow through with the creaton of his personal opus Glen or Glenda?, the timely atomic-age thriller Bride of the Monster and his all-time classic Plan Nine from Outer Space, the Citizen Kane of b-movies.
The primary basis for Ed Wood was the Rudolph Grey biography Nightmare of Ecstasy, a book which isn't so much a straight narrative as it is a long and rambling collection of quotes from surviving Wood devotees and business partners. Grey often lets his interviewees contradict each other and the whole book is chock full of the weird incidents in the life of Eddie (promoting films in hearses, stealing unsuspecting rubber octopi) which screenwriters Alexander and Karazewski were somehow able to effortlessly weave into the narrative of Ed Wood even in modified form. It's this authenticity which is one of the film's strengths because the real-life world of Wood is both more tragic and incredible than any fictionilized sterile bio-pic where names, places and entire incidents are shifted around carelessly. Even the liberties which the screenwriters take in compressing the Wood/Lugosi working relationship (Ed worked on a number of films between Glen.. and Bride..) and manufacturing Ed's hospital encounter with his last wife Kathy Wood are compartmentalized and don't detract from the film's primary focus of showing Wood as a dedicated and stubborn artist. Both screenwriters tackled another controversial figure in The People Vs. Larry Flynt with a degree of success but when they attempted to tackle another cult entertainer's life in their screenplay for Andy Kaufman's Man on the Moon they seemed to had totally forgotten what made the Wood and Flynt films work. Maybe Ed Wood is a far more approachable subject because first-hand accounts of the man tell of a magnetism and personality which is natural for a cinematic hero unlike the often enigmatic persona of Kaufman. Man on the Moon also featured another manufactured romantic subplot but whereas Kathy's devotion to Ed Wood's eccentric habits seem respectful and true-to-life, Jim Carrey's Andy character is softened by his encounters with Courtney Love's Lynne Margulies which reek with of a Hollywood love story. The writing of Ed Wood was far more straightforward and preserved the memory of it's off-beat subject matter in more appropiate way. Also on hand to insure the integrity of Wood and his hallowed b-movie adventurers is director Tim Burton, whose obvious enthusiasm for the subject matter pours onto the screen throughout the scenes of lovingly-composed black and white imagery which celebrate both vintage Hollywood and it's more subturranean low-budget counterparts like Wood. The choice of Black and White serves both as the perfect way of putting the reality of the situations by using the classic black and white cinematic backdrop and it's given Ed Wood's own idiosyncratic style it's only natural for Burton to try something as unconvential as making a monochromatic film in the 1990's. Along with Burton's own mindmeld with Wood's unconventionality, every member of the cast seems to fit like a glove in their recreations of classic Wood weirdo and Depp himself seems to embody the the most positive aspects of the man and his legacy.
Ed Wood's arrival on dvd has been much-anticipated for years as various rumors of an imminent release began to surface. After a US DVD was cancelled, the film eventually found it's way to special edition DVD via Buena Vista's Region 2 PAL release. The 2004 Region 1 DVD replicates the earlier release almost entirely, from the brand-new 16:9 transfer and revamped 5.1 Dolby Digital track down to the exact same menu screens and extras produced by Three-Legged Cat Productions which include five informative featurettes:
Let's Shoot This F#*%@r!: This documentary starts off with a crazy introduction from Johnny Depp in the meat locker set and then spins off into both color behind-the-scenes video footage combined with some weird black and white film vignettes of Depp, Burton and the rest of the crew filming on the set and at the giant Octupus outdoor location at Griffith Park.
The Theremin: Composer Howard Shore discusses the influences on his vintage-sounding score and goes into detail of the problems involved in getting Russian Theremin player Lidia Cavina (who is Theremin's great niece) to record for the film. Theremin expert Mark Segal also demonstrates the eletric principles behind the machine and how it's played.
Making Bela: Martin Landau shares his approach to re-creating the classic Lugosi persona and Make-up Effects artist Rick Baker discusses the academy award-winnig prosthetic makeup he used to physically transform Landau.
When Carol Met Larry: Interviews with Mary Keller (Executive Director of the Los Angeles Gender center) and real-life crossdresser and publisher of Girl Talk magazine Gina Lance and his wife Carole Gendler.
Pie Plates Over Hollywood: Production Designer Tim Duffield talks about his approach to re-creating classic Ed Woodian sets, creating the color schemes for Black and White along with designing the intricate model set of Hollywood.
The sole new addition to this set is a series of six deleted scenes which were also slated to appear on the first cancelled Region 1 DVD. In Dinner At The Johnsons, Wood visits Tor Johnson's family in a story which came direct from Gray's book. Bill Murrays enjoys a musical interlude where he sings Cae Sera Sera with his merry band. Ed and Dolores get evicted from their apartment in the Sleep Over delted scene and in the Breaking In and Escape selection the beginning and ending moments of Wood and company's Octopi theft are detailed (Tor breaks more locks and a Octopus leg breaks off as the run away). If you keep pressing the right cursor in the Deleted scenes menu you can highlight a thunderbolt and press enter to view the sixth deleted scene where Wood ponders a possible new Dracula film starring Lugosi.
Besides the featurette and deleted scenes, another fascinating extra comes in the form of a commentary track featuring writers Alexander and Karaweski, Landau, Burton, Director of Photography Stephan Czapsky and costume designer Coleen Atwood. The track is dominated by the two wrtiers who make some interesting remarks about the genesis of the project but Burton perdiocially interjects some comments about the approach he took when dealing with Wood and some Landau talks about the formation of a world-weary Lugosi (man of his comments seem flown-in from his featurette interview). Also included is a Burton-directed Music Video of the film's title theme starring Lisa Marie and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Despite a few minor technical problems (the video at the beginning of some chapters stutter for a moment on certain DVD players and the motion video on the chapters menu takes a moment to load), The story of Ed Wood and Tim Burton's ingenious recreation of it are well-represented on this DVD. Just as the original theatrical release of this quirky film brought Wood's madness to a whole new generation of moviegoers, perhaps now ten years later this DVD can bring some of that good will into the new millenium and hopefully in a few years some of Criswell's fantastic predictions will come true!