September 30, 1994 [Ed Wood]

Before I can think about Ed Wood the movie, I must turn to Phil Hardy's science fiction movie encyclopedia, memorable because he says what must be said about a movie like Plan 9 from Outer Space: "It literally 'says' nothing, it has no characters, no story, no direction, no whatever"--this after frowning at those who "too often celebrate" it as the worst science fiction film ever.  But it's the kicker at the end that makes Hardy so smart: "it's a completely unstructured dream produced with no interference from the conscious mind at all."

Did Tim Burton and Johnny Depp read those words before grabbing piles of black & white film to run some light through it? Depp widens his eyes and plugs forward, one terrible shot after another dutifully poured like thin oatmeal into the camera, where it somehow becomes something Ed Wood called a movie.  Depp gives Wood a boundless enthusiasm for, even a kind of tender consideration of, the act of movie-making--but without any ability at all, not one little bit.  Hardy insists that Plan 9 expresses the "deep-seated fear of being taken over from within" without any artifice--read: ability to structure and shoot and edit and so on a movie--and thus "bizarrely shows how insubstantial such fears are in isolation." Wood does not engage us with his "barely watchable film"--and Hardy knows that it is "fitting" that it should be unwatchable--and Burton's movie refrains from laughing too much at Wood's dream rustling down there, deep deep down there in a camera obscura Wood's conscious mind has never seen.  Thanks to Hardy and Burton and Depp, I have come to see my own thoughtlessness in the movies, my own gaping stare, owning nothing, smiling like an idiot at the dim lighting and indistinct movement, or solemn as I stand with the man in the angora sweater by Bela Lugosi's coffin, waiting for the old dopefiend to rise and sneer at Karloff.


  1. Great point about Burton's respect for Wood, and not laughing too hard at his poor directing. And Burton helped bring "respectability" to Plan 9. I like your persepctive.

  2. @themoviesnob: What I remember most is that look on Depp's face, the one in the shot I used with this post. I've always felt it's what Burton looks like inside when he's directing something he loves but isn't sure that anyone else will. Terry Gilliam plays in this league, too. (Of course, they have talent; poor Ed just had The Look.)

  3. I've always felt that this is Burton's one true masterpiece--a work of art, unforgettable and nearly perfect.

  4. @Reese: I have a soft spot for his early work--Pee Wee, Edward S., Beeteljuice--and I think segments of Big Fish and Choco Factory are just about perfect, and Sleepy Hollow looks great--but yes, in Ed Wood Burton found the opportunity to put it all together. An Elfman score would've topped it off--although the one it has is just fine.

    But don't trust me: Mars Attacks was the first DVD I bought. Me like purty cullors.


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