Before there was Tommy Wiseau, M. Night Shyamalan or David Ayer, there was Ed Wood – the “Worst Director of All Time.”
Nowadays Johnny Depp is officially the most overpaid and unofficially the most objectionable actor in Hollywood, but his affectionately offbeat turn as the eccentric, transvestite protagonist reminds us why people liked him in the first place. The same goes for Tim Burton, whose often predictable, stylised ticks are a perfect fit for this ode to bad movies. Burton exhibits a palpable affinity with the misunderstood filmmaker, idolising Wood so much that he’d eventually adopt his disregard for quality control.
But not here. Compared with the so-’80s-it-hurts Beetlejuice, this 1994 picture is granted a timeless quality by loving production design and rich black-and-white photography. The script is as funny as it is insightful, highlighting the bizarre things that can happen in the strange world of budget filmmaking. As a director Wood keeps insisting upon suspension of disbelief, the kind required of his own life – particularly when he has his cast and crew baptised in order to secure film funds from a baptist church.
These oddball characters are quirkily played by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray and Martin Landau, who bagged an Oscar for his inspired performance as a broken Bela Lugosi. His friendship with the Plan 9 From Outer Space director forms an emotional core seldom seen in Burton’s movies, displaying a romance for cinema that transcends occasional shortcomings in the plot.
Where The Disaster Artist became an obnoxious vanity project for its stars, Ed Wood captures the heart of its subject and has something to say about art – including the idea that one person’s artistic vision is likely better than compromise, even when that vision is flawed. Which explains why Plan 9 From Outer Space is better than Fant4stic.