❉ Nick Clement looks back on Tim Burton’s homage to a maverick filmmaker.
Other than Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is my “favourite” film from this phenomenally adventurous and eccentric filmmaker, but I think it clearly stands as his “best” piece of work to date.
Working with the invaluable screenwriting duo of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Man on the Moon, The People Vs. Larry Flynt, American Crime), Burton was able to craft a black and white ode to a Hollywood of yesteryear, and because the ingenious screenplay bucked the traditional notes of the conventional biopic, the film takes on a more layered feel and structure, examining not only Wood the director but Wood the man and Wood the mystery, as well as stopping to consider all of the colourful people that surrounded his bizarre life.
Shot by the great cinematographer Stefan Czapsky (Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands), it’s one of the rare modern movies to get the studio approved monochrome treatment (after switching homes from Columbia Pictures to Disney/Touchstone), but let’s be honest, there was NO other way to present this material; this is one instance where the content dictated the style, and not the other way around.
Johnny Depp was marvellous in the picture, easily giving one of his greatest performances as a man caught in eternal confusion, both personally and professionally, never truly understanding his place in society or how to grasp all of the straws around him.
Some of these themes would be later explored by Burton and Alexander and Karaszewski in 2014’s under-appreciated (at least by theatrical audiences) art world exploration Big Eyes, which featured a splendid lead performance from Amy Adams.
The film opens with a charming and creative opening credit sequence evoking all of Wood’s disasterpieces, with Howard Shore’s imaginative and playful musical score setting the tone early on.
The dynamic supporting cast includes Oscar winner Martin Landau, giving an unforgettable performance as screen legend (and notorious drug addict) Bela Lugosi, and also featured terrific turns from a pensively hilarious Bill Murray, the always awesome Patricia Arquette, an exasperated Sarah Jessica Parker, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Max Casella, Lisa Marie, and G.D. Spradlin.
The film would receive overwhelming critical praise and also garner two Oscars, one for Landau for Best Supporting Actor, and the other for make-up artist Rick Baker. Alexander and Karaszewski would receive a WGA nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Despite not attaining box-office success in theatres, Ed Wood has lived on as one of Burton’s most respected and mature films, a piece of work that feels extremely personal and incredibly generous in spirit.
❉ ‘Ed Wood’ (1994, dir. Tim Burton) was released on Blu-ray in 2016, by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, RRP £6.99. Also available to buy or rent from Amazon Prime Video.
❉ Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.