Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things that go bump in the night: the films of Ed Wood

Guest blog by Linda Thornburg
It's nearly Halloween, time for some wicked-bad horror films, monster brides, vampires, and camp. And what could be more all of the above than an Ed Wood film?
In 1980, Michael Medved posthumously awarded Wood a Golden Turkey Award as "Worst Director of All Time." Wood's film Plan 9 from Outer Space was also awarded "Worst Film." Ironically the award renewed interest in Wood's work and turned him into a cult hero. (Medved also named Richard Burton "Worst Actor," because he wasted his talent in so many bad films.) Which just proves the adage, "one man's trash is another man's treasure."
Wood made and distributed low-budget genre films, predominately sci-fi, horror, and sexploitation. Jail Bait was the first film to feature bodybuilder Steve Reeves. Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson was an Ed Wood staple, along with Vampira, the late-night horror movie host for KABC-TV, and The Amazing Criswell, an erstwhile psychic. Wood made several films with Bela Lugosi, the quintessential Dracula, at the end of his career. Suffering from sciatica, Lugosi was addicted to morphine and methadone and living in poverty when they met. Wood offered Lugosi work as the narrator of Glen or Glenda and the as the mad-scientist lead in Bride of the Monster.
After filming the latter, Lugosi went into rehab (the film's premiere was to pay for his treatment). The last footage of Lugosi wandering about in his Dracula cape, shot by Wood for two upcoming projects, Vampires' Tomb and Ghoul Goes West, was folded into the bizarre Plan 9 from Outer Space. Let's see if I can describe the Plan 9 plot: Aliens try eight times to stop the humans from Planet Earth from destroying the universe. None of the plans work. Then someone comes up with Plan 9 to reanimate dead humans. Yes! Zombies will stop the living humans–with lots of special effects, like spaceships on strings intercut with the final footage of Lugosi in his Dracula cape unfurled in various LA locations.
Starring Johnny Depp, Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood reanimated interest in Wood's films yet again, with several being picked for the affectionate ridicule of Mystery Science Fiction Theater 3000. Burton's movie chronicles the making of Wood's most personal film, Glen or Glenda. It was meant to be an exploitation of the sensational sex-reassignment surgery of Christine Jorgensen, which was making headlines in 1952. Wood convinced B-film producer George Weiss that he could make the film because of his own transvestism (Wood had been donning women's clothing since his mother dressed him as a girl when he was a child). Wood got the job and shot the picture in four days, but the resulting film is less about Christine Jorgensen than Wood's own transvestism. Wood plays the central character Glen/Glenda, whose girlfriend Barbara was played by Wood's real-life sweetie, Dolores Fuller. In the final scene, Barbara gives Glen/Glenda an angora sweater to show her acceptance. The  sweater makes it into several other Wood films, but the real-life girlfriend left him. Panned by critics, the film's sympathetic portrayal of transgender issues in 1953 Hollywood—stoked by HUAC and Confidential magazine's outings of Hollywood stars—made Glen and Glenda groundbreaking.
In an essay in Incredibly Strange Films, Jim Morton writes of Wood: "Eccentric and individualistic, Edward D. Wood, Jr. was a man born to film. Lesser men, if forced to make movies under the conditions Wood faced, would have thrown up their hands in defeat." I say, any person who can shoot a film in four days is a force to be reckoned with.
You know you want to have an Ed Wood party for Halloween! Submit your photos by November 3 to artsjunkie@aol.com for a special Daily Glean prize: your choice of any single classic film on our website. Daedalus has three Ed Wood offerings to help entertain your guests: Bride of the MonsterPlan 9 from Outer Space, and Glen or Glenda. All three include colorized versions, as well as the remastered black-and-white originals. Among Plan 9's extras are Ed Wood home movies and the Mystery Science Fiction Theater 3000 commentary from Mike Nelson!
Guest blogger Linda Thornburg is an award-winning filmmaker (www.mermaidssinging.com) and playwright. 

2 comments:

  1. Medved, a Rush Limbaugh guest-host, is more of a right-wing talking head than a cultural critic. He's wrong about Plan 9 From Outer Space; it is pretty bad, but there are much worse movies. The Space Children and Surf Nazis Must Die are two that come quickly to mind.

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  2. Thanks RPS. Considering Glen or Glenda was one of Wood's earliest films, and made in 1953, it's surprising he didn't spend jail time courtesy of HUAC and Joe McCarthy. To have been trashed posthumously by Medved secured Wood's "legacy." Pretty arrogant really to pick the "worst" anything of all time.

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