In the early half of the 20th century, Hollywood was often seen as the apex of the American dream, where vaudevillians, glove salesmen and orange pickers made it big in pictures. During the early 1950s, Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp), a World War II veteran and aspiring film director, yearns for a successful career like that of his idol, Orson Welles. Wood convinces the producer of the pre-sold exploitation picture I Changed My Sex that he is the perfect man to direct it because he “likes to wear women’s clothing,” and because he has recently met and befriended a former star, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau). When his script is given a green light, Wood decides only he can play the lead role, and he finally explains to his shocked girlfriend, Dolores (Sarah Jessica Parker), why her angora sweaters are always stretched out.
When the distributor hates the resultant film, Lugosi sinks into addiction, and Dolores decides to leave Wood but Wood’s spirit never breaks. He moves on to raising money for Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space, which prove to be among the most embarrassing misfires in the industry’s history. Wood also manages to form his own creative company, which includes hack psychic “The Amazing” Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), buxom TV star Vampira (Lisa Marie), and transvestite entertainer Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray).
One of director Tim Burton’s most accomplished films, Ed Wood recently made its debut on DVD. Succeeding as both a comic fable about Hollywood success and a bittersweet look at the low-rent corners of the industry, the film is a glowing tribute to Wood’s tireless enthusiasm, frequent delusions, and strong friendship with forgotten screen idol Lugosi.
To re-create 1950s Los Angeles, Burton called upon director of photography Stefan Czapsky, ASC, with whom he had collaborated on Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns. The cinematographer agreed that the picture needed to be filmed in black-and-white and set about shooting a piece that occasionally had to duplicate Wood’s hysterically inept photographic style without compromising the warm, nostalgic monochrome that sets the picture’s winning tone. Czapsky’s efforts garnered four cinematography awards in 1994, from the National, Los Angeles, Boston and New York Film Critics associations.
Touchstone Home Entertainment has given Ed Wood a crisp, solid transfer that nicely reproduces Czapsky’s monochromatic tones. The blacks are true, with a varied gray scale on display. The audio, highlighted by Howard Shore’s amusing score, is well represented in a clean, well-balanced 5.1 mix.
The disc includes a generous and well-produced array of supplements that reveal details about the production and Wood’s life. Headlining the supplements is an audio commentary shared by Burton, Czapsky, costume designer Colleen Atwood, screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, and Landau, who won an Academy Award for his work in the film. The commentary elaborates on the writing and shooting process and the opinions of surviving members of Wood’s company of “talent.”
In addition to a music video, the theatrical trailer and deleted scenes, the supplements include four documentary segments. Let’s Shoot this F#*%&r is a 13-minute compilation of production footage that offers glimpses of Burton working with the actors. The Theremin is a seven-minute interview with Shore about the score’s infamously shrill instrument. There’s also a fascinating, eight-minute interview with Landau and makeup artist Rick Baker called Making Bela that reveals how they reincarnated Lugosi without resorting to caricature. Finally, Pie Plates Over Hollywood offers a 14-minute interview with production designer Tom Duffield.
Regardless of Wood’s dubious place in film history, Ed Wood remains one of Hollywood’s most evocative and poignant tributes to the art and love of filmmaking. This charming mix of idealism, friendship, pie plates, coffins, and crossdressers has only improved with age. It is a welcome addition to any DVD collection despite the Amazing Criswell’s warning, “Can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood Jr.?”