Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ed Wood has proven that he is "All right"!

This is the 3rd and final entry in my series of Ed Wood memorial posts. Starting on Saturday, December 10 (the 33rd anniversary of Ed's passing), I've posted two entries here on JAVZILLA about Ed's life & death and post-mortem fame.

One thing I didn't mention on the previous post was that in 1998, filmmaker Aris Iliopulos directed a film based on a then-recently discovered Ed Wood script called "I Awoke Early The Day I Died". The film, starring and produced by Billy Zane was titled I WOKE UP EARLY THE DAY I DIED. Not unlike Ed's luck in his heyday, the film was never really seen by the public, screening at the '98 Toronto International Film Festival (where it didn't get picked up by any distributors) then it played and closed within a week at a New York theater in 1999. Apparently, the studio which made the film went bankrupt soon after and the film has been in limbo ever since, although it did manage to get German and Japanese video releases.

What's the film about? Well, Ed's script involved a madman escaping an insane asylum by wearing a nurse's outfit (!) then robbing a loan office. He inadvertently loses the money while witnessing a strange cult funeral for the loan officer he shot. From there the madman goes on a murder spree, killing everyone who attended the funeral, his thinking being that one of them must know what happened to his money. The ending takes place back in the cemetery and involves bagpipes, and open grave and an Ed Woodian twist ending. The real interesting thing about the script was that it was created as a silent movie, no dialogue whatsoever. (Which is pretty ironic, as so much of the Ed Wood magic comes from his often mumbo-jumbo dialogue!). The trailer's a doozy:


Zane is fearless in his portrayal, playing it like a classic silent film star with all the jittery exaggerated moves he can muster. The film is played with campy laughs, but at the same time there are lots of great atmospheric moments in it. Most of the critiques I've read about the film is that the director doesn't mimic Ed's style, but then, why does he have to? He's not Ed! Plus the film has no dialogue, so naturally Iliopulos isn't going to be able to capture any moments of wacky dialogue. What he does give the film is an original mash-up of silent comedy, slapstick, cartoon action and an excellent soundtrack built around Ed's decades old screenplay. Plus, there are a large amount of cameos by a diverse group of actors/celebrities including Cristina Ricci, Ron Perlman, Sandra Bernhard, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Rick Schroder, John Ritter, Tippi Hedren, Will Patton, Karen Black, Andrew McCarthy and even Ed Wood's wife Kathy and Vampira herself! There's also a neat appearance by Eartha Kitt performing a great song in a nightclub scene. Eartha Kitt's name was seen on a marquee in a scene in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, so it's cool to see her finally appear in an Ed Wood film almost 40 years after the fact!

You probably have to be an Ed Wood fan to like the film, and even then you might still hate it! I think it's a unique, wild experience, and I'm glad it got made, as the script was a favorite of Ed's in his later years. The film is currently available to watch on Youtube from a German print, and also apparently to purchase from at least one source online (I haven't bought from this site myself, so I can't vouch for the service). 

Since 2000, there's been several new books worth mentioning. In fact, I literally just got one in the mail Monday afternoon!

MUDDLED MIND: THE COMPLETE WORKS EDWARD D. WOOD JR. by David C. Hayes was originally published in 2001 and then updated in 2006. As I mentioned, I only got this book in my hands a day ago, but I've read some bits of it so far and it looks like a great book. MUDDLED MIND deals with Ed's literary output, from all accounts a staggering amount of novels and magazine articles he wrote during his lifetime. Granted, most of these were for the porn book & magazine market (although he's got some dealing with horror and crime), but the man was a prolific writer (in addition to a large number of scripts that were never filmed). There are a few short stories printed in the book, and one of them, THE NIGHT THE BANSHEE CRIED is just over 3 pages, but it's an amazing well-told, atmospheric ghost story. I really wish more of Ed's writing could be published, as he had some really creative ideas in his head. As I mentioned in my previous post, it's really a creator's ideas and imagination that first appeals to me, prior to experiencing the final execution. Of course, a poor presentation can stifle the idea, but then we get into the subjective matter of personal taste. I ordered my copy from LULU's print-on-demand service, and got the book within two weeks. I'll certainly be reading the book for the next few days.

Another book that I actually just finished reading a few weeks ago is Rob Craig's ED WOOD: MAD GENIUS. Published in 2009, I only recently got around to buying a copy, and I'm glad I did. This is the first critical analysis of Ed's entire film output. The author's approach is interesting in that he looks at Ed's work not only as the low budget, exploitation B-movies they are, but actually feels that Ed's work was produced with perhaps way more thought than most everyone has ever given the director credit for. Craig presents his theories that Ed was not only consciously working in the tradition of Absurdist Theater, but often drew direct inspiration from ancient mythology and even Biblical stories. Certainly Ed's obsession with life, death & resurrection, sinners and saints, reflects some tenants of religious doctrine. While not a saint himself, Ed's work would sometimes reference the Almighty, religion and an understanding of an afterlife, so I don't think all of Craig's parallels are unfounded. There were instances when I wouldn't agree with some of his conclusions regarding the source or intent of Ed's ideas, but I think the book is an important resource for those interested in Ed's work.

It's just very interesting to see an author really explore Wood's themes and obsessions as a filmmaker. Craig doesn't try to rehabilitate Wood's filmography to the level of an Orson Welles or Christopher Nolan, but he does make the case that even an outsider artist like Wood had deep, personal ideas he often explored in his work. That Eddie would often trip over his own written words or rush through a production with little money and resources, well, that's what helps defines his work as his own. If it wasn't interesting, it wouldn't be captivating people's attention half a century later. Even today, Ed's work is inspiring new generations. There's a movie called PLAN 9 currently in production, a remake of some type. Only time will tell... 

Two months ago, I had a the great fortune of finally seeing PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE on the big screen. The Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA, a palatial movie house dating back to the 1920s, ran a screening of the film on October 22. Walking up to the theater and seeing the name PLAN 9 on the marquee was a thrill. I took a seat in the huge balcony of the theater, which alone seemed as big as some modern theaters I've been to! It was really cool to sit with an audience of fellow Wood aficionados and catch the screening. The most exciting part was the opening titles, with the famous score blasting through the speakers. The applause as the credits flashed was heartening, with the loudest ovation upon seeing Ed's screen credit.

What was really amusing was that everyone laughed at the exact same parts, the same famous gaffs and blunders we've all come to know and love. It was a true fellowship of Ed Wood.

When PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE received it's release in 1959, it was part of a double-bill with a British film called TIME LOCK. Like me, you've probably never heard of that film either. (It featured a pre-James Bond Sean Connery, so it has something going for it!). Yet, decades later, despite being voted on as the so-called 'Worst Film & Worst Director of All Time", Ed and PLAN 9 continue to be written about, discussed, viewed and kept relevant. 

Some people no doubt consider themselves fans of Ed's films while still calling him an incompetent and untalented director. I've always thought of his films as extremely entertaining, with an unforgettable mixture of clunky writing, over-the-top or underwhelming acting, clever ideas, not-so-special effects, atmospheric settings and a go-for-broke run for the finish line, having a ball the entire step of the way. 

There's that terrible tragedy of his life, how beginning in the 1960s he slipped into heavy alcoholism and obscurity, working in the porn industry while always trying to get back in the game. In one letter to a friend in 1978 (9 months before he died), Ed talked about a new project called THE DAY THE MUMMIES DANCED, and how he hoped to film it in Mexico at the famous Caves of Guanajuato. "I feel", he shared in the letter, "this might be the vehicle to put me back in the field". 

There's a scene in BRIDE OF THE MONSTER, where Bela performs a famous speech. He's playing Dr. Eric Vornoff, the proverbial 'mad scientist'. He's visited by a colleage, Prof. Strowski. Strowski is sent by Vornoff's former countrymen to get him to return and use his knowledge in atomic science to create an army of supermen. Vornoff scoffs because years ago his own government rejected his theories, and now they wish to call upon him when they realize his experiments in creating super beings have succeeded.

"My dear Prof. Strowski, 20 years ago I was banned from my homeland...I was classed as a madman, a charlatan...Now here in this forsaken jungle hell I have proven that I am all right!"
Ed wrote that in 1955. Years later, I feel it's a poetic epitaph for him.

So, while Ed Wood Jr. has been long gone, his work continues to find new audiences, new fans, new life. That's really the ultimate vindication of any artist. As an artist myself, I look at his work, and how he created it, and take a few lessons from there. One is to keep my ideas as directly transplanted from my head to the paper, keeping my gut instincts in control, making sure the work retains it's visceral quality. Also, be your own critic. Change what you think has to be changed, if anything. Use your own discretion in judging your work. Also, get the work out there, let it stand or fall on it's own. There are always the following projects to work on. Each work won't be a masterpiece, but overall leave behind an interesting body of work that says what you want to say.

Here's a series of 6 sketchcards I created while working on these blog posts, as my own artistic tribute to Ed Wood. Featuring characters from Ed's movies. 

Starting at the top row, left to right:
Tor Johnson "Inspector Clay" from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Maila Nurmi "Vampira" from PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Bela Lugosi "Dr. Eric Vornoff" from BRIDE OF THE ATOM, Jeannie Stevens "The Black Ghost" from NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, Ed Wood "Glenda" from GLEN OR GLENDA and Captain DeZita "The Devil" from GLEN OR GLENDA.

*As of Tuesday, December 13, 2011, I'm listing all 6 cards as a lot on Ebay! If you wish to bid on this set, please follow this link. Auction ends on Dec. 16.


Greenblatt the Great! said...

Nice write ups on Ed Wood, Jav! Hey, how'd that Coma wannabe sneak into that "Jail Bait" poster? Suddenly, the head bandages are all the rage!

Javier Hernandez said...

Ha! I was going to try to start a rumor that the Coma was an aborted Ed Wood project from the 50s! His adversary...The Amazing Criswell!!