Ed Wood (1994) – The finest Johnny Depp-Tim Burton film

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Some people become iconic in the best possible way whereas some others become iconic in the worst possible way. Director Edward D. Wood Jr. belonged to the latter. He was regarded as the worst director on the entire planet. The man was known for making trashy B-movies that were a combination of horror and sci-fi. The ideas he crammed into these movies were nothing short of ridiculous. Well, I’m sure he is not the worst director on this planet as we have seen worse movies in India. It’s just that some of these Indian directors are not known to the rest of the world. If you compare him with them, I’m sure he’ll look like Francis Ford Coppola.

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At the beginning of the film, we see Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) as a struggling screenwriter who seems to have a great talent for writing horrible screenplays. He is always looking for that one big break that would make him famous. When he learns that a producer has plans to make a film on a real-life transgender woman, he jumps at the opportunity as he thinks he is the ideal man to take on such a subject. This is because he is a transvestite and identifies himself with her. He decides to make a fictionalized version of her story (called I Changed My Sex!) when he learns that it’s impossible to get the rights. When he comes across faded horror movie legend Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) and sees him in a pitiable condition, he offers him a role in the film, which has now been re-titled as Glen or Glenda. Wood’s cross-dressing habits often gets him into arguments with his girlfriend Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker). Meanwhile, a strong bond develops between him and Lugosi. Wood seems to be the only person who looks after him in his final days.

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The collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton is one of the most enduring ones Hollywood has seen this side of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Both of them have been called eccentric a number of times and it was only natural that for their second collaboration, Burton chose to take on the subject of another eccentric personality. Most people in Hollywood must have thought he was as nuts as Wood was when he announced this project. I mean, people usually make biopics about famous people, right? But Burton wanted to make a film about someone that not many people were aware of. Hell, we are living in a time when people don’t even know who the President of their country is. While watching the film, it became obvious to me that Burton was a big fan of his. One is compelled to say that no one could’ve made this biopic better than him.

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What Burton did with the material is very interesting. Instead of ridiculing Ed Wood, he had chosen to celebrate him. I found Ed Wood to be an oddly inspiring film. Burton depicts Ed Wood as a very optimistic man. Despite the fact that life has knocked him down several times, he still has plenty of ideas (however absurd they might seem) and wants to make movies out of them all. I think this was Burton’s way of telling the audience that it doesn’t matter whether you are seen as weird or eccentric and that all that matters is your dreams and your determination to make them come true. He was was a huge fan of Orson Welles. He saw him as a role model and admired the fact that he made his first breakout hit Citizen Kane at the age of 27. Ed wishes to see his life turn out the same way.

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The real stand out performance here is delivered by Martin Landau. He is so good that it’s almost as if Bela Lugosi came back from the dead. He has almost nailed the actor’s accent, speech pattern and mannerisms. I also have to add that this my favorite Johnny Depp performance. Depp once said in an interview that during the early 90s, he was disenchanted with his acting career until this film happened. He said that working on the film along with Lugosi revived his interest in acting. Depp is simply phenomenal in this. He was brilliantly able to convey his character’s enthusiasm, optimism and relentlessness. It’s a funny as well as moving performance.

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