Friday, March 5, 2010

Burtonfest Day V: A Vision Worth Fighting For

I am not the first to point out the fact that there is some irony in the fact that Tim Burton made Ed Wood’s Biopic. After while Ed Wood was one of the least successful filmmakers, because of his commitment to a personal vision (not to mention a fair dose of incompetence and “the batshit crazies). Burton on the other hand has become one of those few directors whose a sure thing for more or less the exact same reasons. It’s kind of like Warren Buffet delivering a hobo’s eulogy. Do we really expect this guy to understand where Wood was coming from, when the only two speeds he knows are “Wildly successful, and slightly less wildly successful then expected.”

To say that I’m can relate to Ed Wood is uncomfortable for me to say only because its starting to become untrue. I’m beginning to envy the bastard. Now yes I know that Burton’s Biopic is to a certain extent a white washing of Wood’s life, but damn it the man got published and made movies, that’s gotta count for something.

The sad fact is, I’ve gotten to the point where I have stopped taking the success stories of young filmmakers (Including ironically Burton’s own) as inspiration and have started taking them as a taunt. To quote Palahniuk in one of his finer moments “When did the future stop becoming a promise and start becoming a threat?”

Now before, you unbookmark this blog forever in disgust from this morbid display of self pity, I assure you the point is just around the corner. What Ed Wood so perfectly captures is why you have to do it anyway. Why it is worth fighting for your vision even when your vision involves water buffalo and Bela Lugosi. Because… well what the fuck else are you going to do?

Wood is maybe Burton’s most beautiful film to look at (odd since its easily his most restrained as well) thanks to its austere black and white photography by Stefan Czapsky. Howard Shore turns in some of the best work of his career as well with his inspired Theremin based score.

Wood of course follows Johnny Depp, a studio factotum putting on terrible plays while trying to get his films off the ground. The film follows Wood through the course of three films, exiting out before the proverbial nightmare descent into booze, pills and pornography. Depp’s Wood is boy scout straight and enthusiastic, despite his panache for cross dressing and lackadaisical attitude towards film production (In one of my favorite gags, it turns out his long time cinematographer is color blind. Its funny not because of he’s color blind, but because this has somehow never managed to come up before).

Burton drops in comedic ringers right and left, including a pitch perfect performance by Bill Murray as a sly would be transsexual (The way he delivers the line “Goodbye Penis” never fails to make me laugh). He also coaxes strong performances out of Patricia Arquette and more unlikely Sarah Jessica Parker. A small parenthetical, its hard to think of just what to make of Burton’s views towards women. The ideal Burton woman shown time and time again is defined by her sweetness and intelligence, a slight a-sexuality as well as her willingness to nurture the freakish lead (This goes all the way back to Dottie in Pee Wee but also Christina Ricci in Sleepy Hollow, Emily Watson in The Corpse Bride, etc. etc.) . Meanwhile his villainous women, like Miranda Richardson in Sleepy Hollow, or Parker in Wood tend to be “queens of the harpies” types, whose defining flaw is usually that they don't want to do all the neat stuff the heroes do. There are exceptions of course Michelle’s Pfiefer’s hyper sexual Catwoman, Wynona Ryder’s Shrew cum nurturer in Edward Scissorhands, and Helena Bonham Carter’s shrew who wants to be a nurturer in Sweeney Todd. While the supportive nurturer may not a particularly deep archetype, I don’t think that its fair to label his female roles perfunctory the way some do. Burton seems to genuinely like women and they usually end up having as much fun as the boys do.

But really the heart and soul of the film is Martin Landau. And look though people love to bitch and moan about Samuel Jackson losing the Oscar for Pulp Fiction. I’ll fight with pistols at dawn anyone who claims Landau didn’t deserve it. His soulful, broken, hilarious performance is what holds the movie’s truth.

Because for all of the talk about how whitewashed Ed Wood is, its never anything less then truthful. Yes visions are worth fighting for. Yes its wonderful to create. But that doesn’t mean you get a happy ending. Sometimes, you die in a tract house in Burbank still jonsing for that last fix you’ll never get. Sometimes you die in a shitty apartment in Glendale, a hack director of second rate smut, whose movies are only pulled out so giggling stoners can heap some scorn on. Self delusion is a mighty fine drug, but once it crosses that line into self deception all sorts of nasty things can happen.

Ed Wood is something that should be impossible. A film about Desperation that’s a joy to watch.


The Film Connoisseur said...

This is one of my favorite movies because its about filmmaking and what a weird world it is.

That scene where Jessica Parker screams at Ed and tells him "hanging out with all those freaks!" referring to her filmmaking crew, hilarious!

But aside from that Burton gives the movie that spooky old school b movie feel that Wood loved. That opening sequence going through the Burtonish graveyard has every old school b-movie/horror cliche in town, but done well.

Its as if Wood had made a good movie with a budget.

Agree with you, Landau deserved this oscar every step of the way.
Love that scene where hes like "Pull the Strings!" and "Fuck Karloff!" That dialog has gems in it.

Great review!

Planet of Terror said...

Great post Bryce. Landau was truly remarkable in the film and I loved his interactions with Depp. Those scenes, to me, where the best in the film. They conveyed Woods true friendship with Lugosi but not in a total fanboy way. It was really genuine.

J.D. said...

I also love this film because it is an unabashed love letter to cinema, to making and watching films. We see Ed actually mouthing along to his own movies as he watches them. He's the biggest fan of his own films. And this love is translated to the viewer so powerfully and effectively. It may be a biopic about the world's worst filmmaker but it also shows that he loved everything about movies and that is pretty damn inspiring.