Ed Wood, the 1994 Tim Burton film about the much-maligned B-movie director isn’t just a biopic about a guy who never made it. It’s everything that Tim Burton loves thrown into a blender. Charming rogues, 1950s science fiction, and horror icons mix together to tell the story of a man with a dream... a dream to make incredibly cheap films starring all of his friends. It’s a love letter to the Hollywood misfits of the 1950s and it’s the best film Tim Burton made in the '90s.
This movie may look and feel different than all of Burton’s previous work (and most of the movies that came after) but his unique take on life and his love of the macabre are so baked into the DNA of the film that it’s a must-see for Burton heads. If you haven’t seen Johnny Depp in Ed Wood, then you must seek it out. He’s vulnerable, courageous, and chipper to the final frame. Ed Wood asks the audience to side with someone who was considered a joke for years, and by getting into the world of Ed Wood, it’s easy to see yourself in Burton’s oddball biopic.
Burton Didn't Take A Paycheck For The Film
While he's probably made a couple of bucks off of Ed Wood by now, at the time of production, Burton had to use every bit of leverage he had to get the film made. Not only was he angling to make a movie about a director who made famously bad movies, but the general public also had no idea who Wood was, the script was 147 pages long, and Burton wanted to film in black and white.
Initially, the film was going to be distributed by Columbia Pictures, but when Burton refused to budge on his vision, they dropped the movie and it was picked up by Touchstone, a Disney subsidiary. He was given a budget of $18 million, which wasn't even a lot of money in the '90s - especially with a hit director and Johnny Depp in the lead role.
Burton went without a paycheck to keep the picture moving forward, proving that Ed Wood is a labor of love.
The Story Reveals The Neurosis In Every Creative
The best decision that Burton makes in this film is his insistence that Wood isn't a bad filmmaker, just someone whose dreams were never realized. Throughout the film, Wood is optimistic, but he also hears that nagging voice in the back of his head that asks if he's made a huge mistake by following his dreams.
After a particularly bad performance of one of his plays, Wood asks aloud if he is missing "it," that intangible quality that makes someone a talented artist. He notes that Orson Welles was only 26 when he made Citizen Kane and he wonders if he'll ever get anywhere.
Burton makes sure the audience knows that it's not just Wood who feels this way, but almost every creative person on the planet. He underscores his point when Wood meets his hero, Orson Welles, in a bar during a particularly rough period of production. Welles tells him about the issues he ran into on Citizen Kane and A Touch of Evil, and the two bond over the injustices of being an artist in an industry that doesn't care for them. It's not only a narratively satisfying moment (and humorous as Wood dons a cardigan and skirt combo), but it's something that everyone watching understands.
Martin Landau And Makeup Legend Rick Baker Both Won Oscars For Bringing Bela Lugosi Back To Life
Ed Wood is full of transformations, but Rick Baker's metamorphosis of Martin Landau is by far the most impressive. The actor's normally angular face was softened to look closer to the cherubic features of Bela Lugosi.
If you've just seen the movie and nothing else that Landau has done, the makeup doesn't look all that special, which is why it's such an amazing transformation. It's not all makeup in this performance; Landau changes his mannerisms and voice until he looks just like the reincarnation of Lugosi. It's seriously uncanny.
Both Baker and Landau won Academy Awards for their work.
The Entire Cast Is Fantastic
One of Tim Burton's many strengths is his casting. Every single one of his films is so exquisitely cast, but the actors in Ed Wood embody their roles in a way that feels special. Johnny Depp and Martin Landau get the most screen time, naturally, but it's the supporting cast that makes the film shine.
Lisa Marie as Vampira and Bill Murray as Bunny are hypnotic. Marie expresses the exhaustion that the destitute Maila Nurmi had when she took her role in Plan 9, while Murray portrays one of the few openly homosexual performers of the 1950s. He brings pathos and comedy to a role that could have been a disaster in the wrong hands.