I was going to joking call this the Citizen Kane of B-movie directors until I re-watched it and realized that it really is. Tim Burton's loving ode to B-movie legend Edward D. Wood, Jr. is the story of a man, a visionary, struggling against the Hollywood system to share his stories with the world, and despite his prolific career, is only well known for one film. Doesn't sound all that dissimilar from Orson Wells, does it? Well, except for Wells created what is considered by many as the best film ever made, while Wood created the worst. But Burton looks at their lives and asks; "Were they really that different?"
Stylistically split between homages to 50s B-monster movies and Citizen Kane, Ed Wood follows Johnny Depp as the titular director as he struggles to bring his cinematic visions to life, only to repeatedly find his dreams dashed upon the cold realities of Hollywood. He is turned away by both the smaller studios, who don't need his "vision" to produce their smut, and the major ones, who find his work to be terrible. Whenever he meets his childhood heroes, they turn out to be liars (Chriswell) and drug addicts (Lugosi). To make matters worse, Wood is tormented by his secret transvestism, which ruins one relationship and drives-off potential investors for his films.
But unlike Charles Foster Kane, Wood never seems to compromise. Sure, his movies were terrible, but his persistent optimism and generally positive attitude make you want to love them anyway and if you're doing what you love, can any amount of criticism really take that away from you?
How does this film exemplify the '90's?
Like most of my fellow contributors, I choose Ed Wood not for it's quintessential 90s-ness but rather because it's just a damn good film. I suppose I could make the arrangement that Burton's best, most iconic work was done in the late 80s and early 90s (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Nightmare Before Christmas) and that after Ed Wood, a lot of his work started to feel less inspired.
Mars Attacks is very much an homage to Ed Wood and the B-list monster movies of the 50s and 60s, and there's a certain gothic charm to Sleepy Hollow, but his more recent films (Sweeney Todd in particular) have felt more like he's going through the motions and appealing to the Hot Topic crowd for an easy buck.
There was a brief period in the 90s when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp made magic together, an era that has yet to be duplicated despite their repeated collaboration, and Ed Wood is the pinnacle of that era.
What makes this my pick?
Tim Burton as a reputation of being creepy or weird, and while Ed Wood's subject matter is definitely unusual, the film is far from creepy. Too many of his later films seemed like they were going out of their way to be creepy or off-beat, as if he were playing to expectations rather than his genuine vision.
Maybe the highest praise I can give this film is that it makes me actually want to go out and watch Ed Wood's films. I've seen my share of Wood's work, and they are as terrible as people make them out to be. And yet Wood is portrayed in the film with such an honesty, with such a boyish optimism that I want to give his films another chance.
I think there's also something to be said for the transgendered movement in there. Burton could have played-0ff Wood's cross-dressing as a cheap visual gag, but he doesn't. Sure, it's used to humorous effect in a few scenes, but it never seems condescending or mocking. Groundbreaking or revolutionary? No, but when you look at most of it's contemporaries (Ms. Doubtfire, Big Mama's House for example) there is something to be said about addressing transvestism as a part of the character rather than just a cheap, visual gag.
Ed Wood is sort of the anti-Citizen Kane. Instead of being about loss innocence, missed opportunities and and regret, it's a film about following your dreams, accepting yourself and being happy with what you love doing, despite what the rest of the world may think. Even if it's the worst film ever.