Batman Returns, Tim Burton
returned to smaller filmmaking with
his next directorial project.
The real Ed Wood
The script for the film was based on the life of the filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. who, as everyone should know by now, directed what are commonly thought of as some of the worst movies ever made, including the classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959).
Off-screen Wood's life was just as interesting - he was a cross dresser who wore women's undergarments in World War II. Wood and his films were almost forgotten at the time of his death, and it wasn't until the Golden Turkey Awards highlighted the "unique" quality of his films that Wood finally found the fame that eluded him in life.
The biographical film was going
to be directed by Michael
Lehmann initially, but then producer
Denise DiNovi took the project to Burton
to see if he wanted to lend his support.
Burton, who was actually in Wood's hometown
of Poughkeepsie reading a book about
the filmmaker, “Nightmare of Ecstasy”,
was so enthusiastic he decided to direct
it himself. Lehmann agreed to step aside
if Burton made it his next project,
and he retained executive producer credit
on the film.
Alexander and Larry
Karaszewski tailored their script
to Burton, which could have backfired
disastrously if he had rejected it.
One of the main ways they did this was
by playing up the relationship between
Wood and Bela
Lugosi to parallel that between
Burton and Vincent Price.
As the writers
say in their introduction to the book
edition of the screenplay, "Both
Ed and Tim had worshipped the respective
horror stars when they were young boys.
Then they had met the actors and finally
gotten to work with them at the end
of their lives. This gave our movie
an emotional foundation which we felt
Tim would empathise." The writers,
who had written the ill received (at
least critically) film Problem
Child were quite amused that they
were collaborating with Lehmann (who
had directed the infamous flop Hudson
Hawk) on a film about the worst
filmmaker of all time.
Burton was a fan of Ed Wood before it
became hip to mock him. He recalls seeing Plan 9 From Outer Space growing
up and thinking that, since the film
makes references to Burbank, the cemetery
in the film was the one he lived near.
Burton clearly felt an affinity with
the filmmaker, since many of his own
films had been less than favourably
received by critics. Hence the film
would be a celebration of, rather than
a mockery of Wood's career.
The film had a small budget of $18 million
(though still about 200 times the budget
of any of Wood's movies) and was originally
going to be released by Columbia pictures.
Burton was also set to direct the gothic
horror film Mary
Reilly for the studio (with Winona
Ryder playing Dr. Jekyll’s maid)
and he suspected they were only interested
in Ed Wood so they could get him to
direct the more commercial movie.
Burton decided he wanted to film Ed
Wood in black and white to match the
monochrome world of Wood and Lugosi's
films, the studio insisted he shoot
color for the international markets
and transfer it to black and white for
the domestic release (which would have
looked "like shit" in Burton's
words). Burton stuck to his guns and
the studio refused to finance the film.
Burton abandoned Columbia, and Mary
Reilly, and took Ed Wood to Touchstone.
It was somewhat absurd that Disney,
which had restrained his creativity
early in his career, was now the only
studio willing to release his films.
As Burton commented at a press conference
in 1993, he felt like he was "in
some sort of parallel universe".
Mary Reilly was later released in 1996
with Julia Roberts in the starring role. It flopped.
Despite these problems (Ed Wood was
the hardest of any of Burton's films
to get off the ground), the actual production
went fairly smoothly. The cast included
familiar faces such as Johnny Depp and
Jeffrey Jones, as well as new actors
eager to work with Burton like Martin
Murray and Lisa
Marie, Burton's girlfriend at the
||As lightning strikes the Touchstone logo the film begins. Following an introduction from Criswell in a scary house, the main titles feature elements taken from Wood's own movies. The actor's names on gravestone was used in the opening of Plan 9 From Outer Space, the flying saucers were also in that movie and the octopus is taken from Bride of the Monster (1955).
|Finally the camera tracks down through a miniature of Hollywood (squeezing together various landmarks that are miles apart in reality), ending on a live action shot of Ed Wood and actor Bunny Breckinridge outside the Casual Company theatre. The storyline (all based on 'sworn testimony')
wisely restricts itself to covering
Edward Wood, Jr. in the making of his
three most infamous films.
||Ed worries that, at 30, his opportunity to make it as a filmmaker is rapidly vanishing (Orson Welles was only 26 when he made Citizen Kane). This is something all struggling artists can relate to. When Ed learns that there is a film being made about real life sex change sensation Christine Jorgensen he pitches himself as the perfect director for the project, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
|This is the beginning of his career in Hollywood, as Ed gathers around him a bizarre collection of characters and proceeds to shoot his films. The most important meeting is with Bela Lugosi, the ageing horror star that Ed encounters in a coffin he's trying out for his latest touring production of Dracula. After telling Bela that he's "much scarier in real life", the two soon quickly bond over how much scarier the old horror movies were.
Ed excitedly tells everyone that he can now get Bela to star in his films, but they all seem disinterested. Ed later gets to watch White Zombie (1932) with Bela (a real geek moment), but the former is annoyed at the well-endowed host Vampira constantly interrupting the film.
The film Glen or Glenda (1953) soon gets underway with Bela appearing as the puppet master who will "pull the strings!".
There's a hilarious moment where one of Ed's actors asks for Bela's autograph and makes the mistake of saying Bela was Boris Karloff's sidekick in one film.
Bela then launches into an expletive-laded assault on the English actor who played Frankenstein and was always more successful than Lugosi in Hollywood.
An iconic moment recreated from Glen or Glenda
There's a genuine glee to Depp's performance as he pitches ideas to an unimpressed executive, including Dr. Acula.
When Ed calls him up later to ask him what he thought of Glen or Glenda, the executive tells him it's the worst movie he ever saw. "Really?" Ed replies with typical enthusiasm. "Well, my next one will be better."
Unlike today's TV psychics, Criswell makes outlandish predictions that are completely made up
Bride of the Monster (as the film will eventually be called) starts shooting and there are more technical problems. Ed finds out that his cameraman is colorblind and Tor has trouble even getting through a doorway without hitting the frame.
However, Ed is happy to leave this in as in real life, "Lobo would have to struggle with that problem every day".
Ada Tai and Arlene Tai appear briefly in this scene and would have bigger roles in
Burton's later Big Fish
The film goes back into production and Ed feels so bad about making Bela sit in a cold lake at night wrestling a rubber octopus that he writes a new dialogue scene for him (one of the few examples of competent writing in Ed's career).
a disturbing scene of Bela tied down
and screaming while he is in the hospital after Ed convinces him to go into rehab.
The film comments on the downside of
celebrity, with Bela hounded by press
after he checks into rehab. Though this
is more of a modern theme than a genuine
1950's one, there was a picture of Lugosi
in rehab as he was one of the first
celebrities to go public with that kind
of problem. No doubt Depp, who has had
his own run-ins with the media, enjoyed
hurling reporters away in that scene.
While waiting in the hospital Ed meets the sweet-natured Kathy, who goes on a date with Ed to a carnival. The spook house carnival ride is wonderfully
designed, featuring Edvard
Munch style ghost trains.
When the spook house ride breaks down, Ed takes the opportunity to confess his cross-dressing secret to her. Kathy accepts it without any question, a sign of true love.
Bela gets kicked out of hospital because he has no insurance (thank goodness that's no longer a problem in America) and Ed takes him home.
Bela is eager to make another movie and Ed films a touching scene of Bela leaving his house and pausing to smell the flowers.
|The usual gang accompanies Ed to the Bride of the Monster premiere, with the addition of Vampira. The audience riot and a kid grabs Vampira's boobies, forcing them to flee.
Bela does his classic speech on a street corner ("I have no home") and it's the last we see of him. Ed adopts his dogs and treasures the last footage of the actor.
The cast even gets baptised to ensure funding for Wood's next film
|The Baptists funding Plan 9 From Outer Space are unhappy with the amateurish production, which includes the unintelligible Tor having tons of dialogue and wobbling gravestones. They even get their choir director to play the hero, causing Ed to utter the infamous line, "These baptists are stupid, stupid, stupid!"
||When he changes into woman's clothes to relax and the Baptists are horrified, it's the final straw for Ed. He flees to the refuge of a bar. There, still in drag, he meets his hero Orson Welles. Vincent D'Onfrio is an astonishing likeness of Welles in the fictional encounter (though the voice was provided by Pinky and the Brain voice actor Maurice LaMarche).
Thanks to some inspirational words from Welles ("Visions are worth fighting for") Ed returns to set ready to complete his “masterpiece”. There follows a montage of classic scenes from the movie being filmed.
After the premiere of Plan 9 (a triumphant occasion that never occured in real life) Ed decides to marry Kathy.
Following a reverse of the opening Hollywood
shot, the end captions reveal the fate
of the characters in real life. Of the
more interesting histories, we learn
that Vampira unsuccessfully sued the
very similar TV star Elvira for stealing her act, and Paul
Marco was the president of his own fan
Turning to the cast, Johnny Depp is very entertaining, this
time playing an extroverted outsider
instead of an introverted one. Some
found his performance slightly one-note,
but Depp's gleeful optimism is perfect
for the role, and he also shows a more
human side in some of his quieter scenes
with Bela. Among his inspirations for
the role were reportedly Ronald Reagan,
the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz
and TV's Casey
Jessica Parker is convincing as
the "worst actress ever",
though the real Dolores Fuller was much
more supportive of Ed than was shown
in the film. Bill Murray brings laughs
as Ed's trans-sexual friend, Bunny who
keeps talking about a sex change operation
that he never actually has. The actor
was so committed to the role he even
waxed his body hair (despite the fact
his body was not visible in the film).
Lisa Marie (in her first of four feature
film collaborations with Burton) does
a not bad impression of horror-queen
Loretta King (played by Landau's daughter and Buffy the Vampire Slayer actress Juliet Landau) is an amusing character who steals a role in Bride of the Monster from Dolores by giving the false impression she can fund the whole film. She also rather strangely claims she is allergic to all liquids.
Best of all is Martin Landau as drug-addicted
Lugosi. Despite bearing little physical
resemblance to Lugosi (his face is long
compared to Lugosi's round face) he
totally transforms himself, becoming
the Hungarian actor down on his luck. At least he looks more like Lugosi than the chiropractor Wood used to double for Lugosi in Plan 9.
He did extensive research on Lugosi
and his films, and it definitely paid
off. Landau didn't just learn how to
talk like a Hungarian; he talked like
one trying NOT to sound Hungarian. The
makeup by Rick
Baker subtly transforms Landau into
Lugosi without calling attention to
itself. The makeup had to be more theatrical
to work in black and white.
Ed and Bela have an almost symbiotic
relationship and this combination of
them needing each other financially
yet also becoming close friends keeps
the relationship more interesting than
a simple buddy movie.
With Ed Wood Burton showed he could
direct a "realistic" film
(or at least more realistic than his
previous ones) while still retaining
his quirky edge. The direction of the
large ensemble cast was also a great
achievement for Burton.
The beautiful black and white visuals
make this almost like a biopic made
in the style of Ed Wood himself. It's
impossible to imagine the film in color,
so perfect is the monochromatic design.
The attention to 1950's detail is magnificent,
especially in the recreation of Wood's
creaky sets. There aren't as many obvious
Burtonesque sets as in his other films,
though the house in the prologue has a nice spooky design.
Production designer Tom
Duffield (who previously served
as art director on Beetlejuice, Edward
Scissorhands and Batman Returns) created
the sets in color despite the monochromatic
cinematography, and flying saucer shapes
were cleverly hidden in the backgrounds.
There were several scenes removed from
both the script and the rough cut of
the film. While entertaining in themselves
they would have slowed down the pace
and distracted from the central relationship
between Wood and Lugosi.
Ed Wood would be the first
of Burton’s feature films not to
feature a score by Danny Elfman. The
two reportedly had a falling out after
Nightmare that has never been
fully explained. To replace Elfman,
Burton chose Howard
Shore, who has composed the scores
for many films by one of Burton's favourite
Howard Shore's score is fun and suits
the film well. It may not have as immediately
a memorable theme as the usual Elfman
scores, but it helps to give the film
a different feel. It even references
some of his creepier scores, such as The Silence of the Lambs, during
the darker parts of the film.
Burton's second film about a guy called Ed is one of the closest to the director's
heart. It examines his artistic
sensibilities on a much more direct
level, dealing as it does with another
filmmaker. Burton clearly feel a kinship
with Wood, and if the film has a message
it's that it's better to have a passion
for creating something and fail, then
to have no passion at all.
The fact that Ed Wood's first film has
a poster before there's even a script
is obviously something Burton can relate
to having worked on big budget films
that went into production without a
While true to the "spirit"
of Wood and his films (in the same way
Burton's Batman was true to
the spirit of the comics without being
that accurate to the actual events)
the script takes a number of liberties
with the true story.
As already mentioned,
the real Dolores was not the talentless
bitch she is portrayed as by Parker,
and Lugosi was in fact married at the
time he appeared in Wood's films, not
the lonely recluse he is shown as. He
also didn’t hate Karloff as portrayed
in the film. In fact Bela Lugosi,
Jr. objected to the way his father
was portrayed in the film, especially the use of bad language.
meeting between Wood and Orson Welles
never happened (as far as anyone knows)
and Welles was not forced to cast Charlton
Heston as a Mexican in Touch
of Evil - Heston actually helped
Welles get the directing job on that
film. These changes were
necessary to simplify the story and
make the confrontation between Wood
and those who don't get his films more
overt. As Burton himself has said, even
the book “Nightmare of Ecstasy”
which chronicles Wood's career features
many conflicting reports from different
people, meaning there is no one true
Trivia time! Burton and Lisa Marie's real life Chihuahua
Poppy played one of Bela's dogs. The
dog had been found on the streets of
Tokyo and would also appear in one more
Burton film, Mars Attacks! Two actors from Wood’s own films
also appear in Burton’s biopic.
Brooks plays a bartender and Gregory
Walcott has a cameo as a potential
While some would argue that Wood was
undeserving of such a respectful biopic,
Burton and his writers made a much better
film by not going the easy route of
parody. In fact, Wood was ahead of his
time with some of his ideas, it's just
a shame that he never allowed bad filmmaking
to get in his way. Overall, it's one
of Burton's most accomplished films,
even if it doesn't quite have the emotional
power of Edward Scissorhands.
One almost wishes that Wood had lived
to see it.
Ed Wood was given a limited
release more accustomed to an art house
film than one of Burton's movies. With
a lack of support for what was admittedly
a difficult film to market, few moviegoers
found the film in theaters. Despite
earning under $6 million in total in
the U.S. (less than most other Burton
films made in their first weekend) it
won Burton the best reviews of his career,
as well as two Oscars, for Landau’s
performance and Baker’s makeup.
We're super! Thanks for asking!
1995 saw the release of the third Batman film, Batman Forever. Although Batman Returns was an artistic triumph, the perceived disappointment with the film led to Joel Schumacher taking over the franchise. Burton actually considered making the third film but then Warner Bros. hinted that they no longer supported his directorial vision ("Don't you want to do a smaller movie?" they suggested).
Schumacher was a more
commercial director who wouldn't object
to essential blockbuster ingredients
like a pop-friendly soundtrack and a
frankly nonsensical title (as Burton
later said, "Batman Forever, that sounds like a tattoo that somebody would get when they're on drugs").
We can only dream of how Burton would
have closed the trilogy. He was still
credited as one of the producers on
the third film, but by his own admission
his only involvement was to show up
and eat free donuts. But I’ll speak more about that in the chapter on superheroes (Batman Forever, not the free donuts).
Burton's next directorial effort after
Ed Wood would come closer to a 1950's
B-movie than many critics were comfortable
CHAPTER: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
CHAPTER: MARS ATTACKS!