ED WOOD – The Blu Review
”My girlfriend still doesn’t know why her sweaters are always stretched out.”
Of the eight collaborations between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, most of my movie buff friends will choose ED WOOD as their favorite, yet it was the least successful at the box-office, grossing less than 6 million dollars in 1994. Chronicling the man’s rise to “personal success” and his overwhelming desire to become the next Orson Welles, ED WOOD charted the director’s fascinatingly manic career; from GLEN OR GLENDA, to BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, to PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. These were three of the most shamefully undesirable disasters “Hollywood” has ever produced, but to Ed Wood they were gold. Wood was a man who had the utmost level of zest for his so-called “art” and would never back-down to the barrage of criticism he would constantly receive. To him, GLEN OR GLENDA was a highly personal film, which was supposed to tell the world his desire to wear women’s clothes, instead it made him look entirely foolish. This pretty much defines the career of the “world’s worst director.” Strangely enough, Ed Wood is not a biopic which bashes the man, or makes fun out of him. Instead, Tim Burton created a loving homage to the man that was touching, funny and heart-breaking. It’s a multi-faceted love story focusing on Wood’s passion for making movies, his love for the then-over-the-hill Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau in an Oscar-winning perf), and a funky look at a certain seedy side of Hollywood in the Fifties. The movie wisely ends just as Ed has his greatest success at the opening of his forgotten, then rediscovered PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
Since ED WOOD was such a bomb, I assume most of its many fans discovered it on home video and DVD and now Disney/Touchstone will be releasing it in all of its hi-def glory on September 18th on Blu-ray.
Disappointingly, all of the extras on the Blu-ray are carried over from the DVD that was released a few years ago. Here’s that rundown:
Audio Commentary – The very informative audio commentary track includes Tim Burton, Martin Landau, cinematographer Stefan Czapsky, costume designer Colleen Atwood, and co-writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Burton’s solo commentaries are usually a snooze and he adds the least to this one but the others contribute well as they chronicle the project from its inception through its development and shooting. The writers talk about Ed’s passion and their themes, and mention that Michael Lehman (HEATHERS) was originally intended to direct. They also try to defend the profanities they inaccurately put in Lugosi’s mouth.
Music Video (3:28) choreographed by Toni Basil (“Hey Mickey”) and co-directed by Burton. This Ed Wood A-Go-Go oddity uses Howard Shore’s main title music straight up and gives it to a Vampira-like, hair-swirling dancing girl on a Woodian graveyard set. She’s accompanied by period-cheesy video effects and clips from Wood’s films and Burton’s feature.
“Let’s Shoot This F#*%@r!” (13:56) — Not your typical behind-the-scenes featurette. With no post-production gloss and no talking heads, we get instead long home-movie takes of Burton at work with Depp, Landau, and others shooting scenes such as the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE recreation and Landau’s wet rubber-octopus fight. It’s scored with Shore’s title theme. Wearing his “seven veils” drag garb, Depp steps up to the camera for an impromptu intro and closing hosting and seems to be channeling Ed Wood. Just raw footage with no promotional slickness, this one’s a welcome change from the usual over-produced “making-of” marketing fluff.
“The Theremin” (7:23) — is an interesting look at one of the oddest musical instruments I’ve ever seen. Composer Howard Shore gives us a primer on his score and how he used the bizarre 1920s electronic instrument that provided the ghostly oooo-weee-ooo vibe of so many 1950s sci-fi films. Theremin expert Mark Segal demonstrates how the instrument is played by moving your hands through the space between two metal rods.
“Making Bela” (8:14) — Here’s a tribute to Lugosi from Ed Wood‘s two Oscar-winners. Actor’s actor Martin Landau discusses his studious approach to the character of Bela Lugosi. Intercut with Landau, makeup supervisor Rick Baker tells us why he would have worked on this “labor of love” for free if he had to. We also get footage of the real Bela and a peek into Landau’s dressing room while the layers of makeup are being applied to his face.
“Pie Plates Over Hollywood” (13:49) — This is a misleadingly-titled extra since it’s been proven that those were not pie plates flying over the set pf PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE but a UFO model kit that was available for sale at the time. Production designer Tom Duffield hosts this look through his production sketches and Polaroids. He addresses the difficulties of shooting in black-and-white with enough depth to make this extra useful for burgeoning art directors.
Five deleted scenes (7:50 total) — Not much was lost in these cuts, with two just trims from the octopus-stealing scene. Footage of Bill Murray’s march with his mariachi band while singing “Que Sera Sera” through a meat-packing plant is crazy but doesn’t add to the story of Wood. Other cuts give us more material on Wood and Lugosi, plus Eddie having dinner with Tor Johnson’s disapproving family.
This leaves you the dilemma of forking out your 20 hard-earned clams for the new hi-def transfer. Is it worth it? You bet you angora sweater it is! Though it’s just 18 years old, ED WOOD seems like a film from Hollywood’s Golden Age, a film whose visual radiance is ageless, and you have never seen it look as good as it does here, in Disney/Touchstone’s newly restored, 1080p, AVC/MPEG-4 transfer, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. All the jaw-dropping richness and contrast of Stefan Czapsky ‘s brilliant black-and-white cinematography–its chiaroscuro light and shadow play, its deep-focus clarity, its evocative compositions and movements–is so well-presented with all its texture and contrast intact. It’s remarkable. Buy it.