The film “Ed Wood,” is a biopic telling the story of a Hollywood director who aspires to greatness, yet in actuality, he writes and directs terrible, critically panned movies. While the plot of the movie is intriguing and the performances of Johnny Depp and Martin Landau are exceptional, the reflexivity throughout this film is fascinating and gives the audience a deeper look into Hollywood and the people involved in the movie business. The film calls attention to its technique, using various traits of film noir with the distinct use of shadows and lighting.
Tim Burton, the director of this film, also explains how celebrities do not have a long shelf life in Hollywood and that the majority of actors and actresses will eventually be forgotten. I found myself having more fun making connections to the other films we have seen in the second half of this semester and making note of the reflexive elements throughout the film rather than focusing on the story itself. Towards the beginning of the film, Ed catches a conversation between two female workers discussing an article in Variety saying that Christy Jorgensen was going to get his/her own biopic.
Hearing this, Ed takes an interest in directing this film and decides to go to meet movie producer George Weiss. The reflexivity here is that the movie Ed Wood itself is a biopic and here we see Ed in his own biopic taking an interest in another celebrity’s biopic. There are numerous similarities between “Sullivan’s Travels” and “Ed Wood. ” The most obvious comparison between the two is that both movies are centered around a director in Hollywood trying to make a movie.
There are different circumstances involving the issue of making their own movies (Sullivan wanting to experience the life of a hobo and Wood always in need of financial backing) but both exhibits the extremes directors will go to create a film. Both movies also have a strong Orson Welles and “Citizen Kane” influence. In the beginning of “Sullivan’s Travels,” we see the big finale of a movie and, like the newsreel scene in “Citizen Kane,” find ourselves in a projection room with shadows and dialogue in the way of the projector. However, there are far more references to “Citizen Kane” and Orson Welles used in “Ed Wood. Ed is constantly name dropping Orson Welles throughout the movie and his admiration for the man is obvious when we see a shot of a “Citizen Kane” poster in Ed’s house. There is also an actual scene of Ed meeting Orson Welles in a bar after throwing a fit on-set where they discuss the difficulties of being a Hollywood director, which includes Orson mentioning Universal wanting Charlton Heston to play a Mexican in one of his movies (a clear “Touch of Evil” reference. ) The movie calls attention to film technique during the course of the movie, mostly in its film noir style.
Not only is this a movie released in 1994 that is entirely filmed in black and white, but it uses the same elements of film noir used in the Golden Age of Hollywood. There is a parallel from the movie Bad Education when Father Manolo and Juan come out of the movie theater after murdering Ignacio and are caught in the rain (a common trait of film noir), Ed Wood and Kathy O’Hara are going into the theater to see the premiere of Plan 9 From Outer Space while it is pouring rain onto them. But what struck me in this movie was the lighting and the angles that are used.
The contrast of black and white is so incredible and the use of smoke and shadows make for some fantastic shots. When a scene was calm or was kept cheerful, natural and bright lighting, and when a scene was serious or wanted to convey a horror movie-like setting, the lighting is darkened. Ed Wood provides a commentary about being a celebrity and how fast the fame can disappear. The one line in the movie that summarizes this reality is when Bela Lugosi’s character says to Ed Wood, “This business, this town, it chews you up and spits you out. Throughout the movie when Ed Wood pitches to producers that Bela Lugosi will be starring in his film, it is met with the morbid question of “Isn’t he dead? “?. I think Tim Burton is trying to tell us that being a celebrity only lasts but so long and it is inevitable that specifically actors and actresses will eventually be forgotten and never to be used again. One of the connections between “Ed Wood” and “Targets” is that both directors in each movie befriended an aging monster movie actor in order to make their movies. Both Ed Wood and Sammy admire Byron Orlok and Bela Lugosi’s work and attempted to cast them into their next movies.
The ironic parallel between the two movies is that Bryan Orlok is played by Boris Karloff, the actor who Bela Lugosi is constantly furious at when others bring his name up in a conversation. When shooting a scene for Glenn and Glinda, one of the workers on set casually said how he enjoyed Lugosi being Karloff’s sidekick in “The Invisible Ray. ” This infuriated Bela, saying that he wasn’t Karloff’s sidekick and that it is not hard to play Frankenstein. Also in both films, Orlok and Lugosi criticize current movies and favor the way older movies were made.
Byron tells Sam “all the great movies have been made already ? and when watching Lugosi’s Dracula, Bela and Ed have an exchange talking about how the current monster movies aren’t believable. I believe Tim Burton uses Ed Wood to tell the audience that directors will do whatever it takes to secure their spot in making a movie and getting the financial backing they need to create a film through Ed Wood’s actions. This is similar to Juan’s actions in Bad Education by impersonating his deceased brother in order to be cast in Enrique’s film.
Wood lies to George Weiss about being qualified to direct the Christy Jorgensen biopic and even though Weiss doesn’t buy it, he still hires him so he can “quickly film a movie and make a profit, which could also be a comment that some producers solely care about whether the film makes money or not. When struggling to get enough money to make Bride of the Atom, he compromises his integrity by accepting a young actress’s money in return that she receive the leading female role in the movie and when that fails, he makes the same deal with a meat packing businessman to put his son into the leading role in exchange for the funding.
He also takes advantage of his landlord (who happens to be a church leader) to finance his new movie “Grave Robbers from Outer Space. ” However, to have this happen, Ed must change the name of the film to “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and have the entire cast be baptized. The voyeuristic nature in film was addressed in this film almost as much it is in David Holzman’s Diary. When Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi are in Lugosi’s house watching Dracula, Ed is “annoyed when (Vampira) interrupts the picture, ?but Lugosi doesn’t mind because “(he) only cares about her jugs. ?It is fascinating that Bela is not watching his movie to re-live his glory days as an actor, but to stare at the female host’s breasts when she cuts in. This is not the only time breasts are mentioned as a way to keep one’s attention. Ed asks George Weiss what to put in a movie to make it successful, and Weiss responds with one word: tits. Hollywood intentionally casts good looking women into movies as eye candy and sees that to be a big reason why people pay to see films.
I would consider Vampira to fill this need in Ed Wood and she actually accepts this role by telling Ed that she didn’t want any speaking parts in “Plan 9 of Outer Space. ” Like David Holzman found his neighbor Shondra to be more interesting while filming her than in actuality, Vampira accepts that she is nothing more than a sex symbol and is strictly a visual object like Penny in David Holzman’s Diary. I really enjoyed Ed Wood and the reflexivity of this film was more appealing to me than any other movie we saw this entire semester.
I would say that this is one of my favorite Tim Burton movies solely because there are so many layers to this movie that are arguably more enjoyable than the story itself. I am partial to the film noir style and I was very surprised at how well Burton incorporated the angles and lighting to add to the emotion of select scenes. The casual movie-goer may not notice the reflexivity that Burton incorporates into this film, but for someone who studies the subject and has a deeper appreciation for movies, “Ed Wood” delivers an outstanding movie watching experience.