I first saw Ed Wood shortly after I was released, when I was doing a year of college abroad in Hungary. The university I was studying at showed films in a lecture hall almost every night of the week with admission costing under a dollar. I saw a lot of films there, including taking in Pulp Fiction over 10 times. Ed Wood was one of the most fun amongst the bunch, and my friends were really tickled by the fact that there was a Hungarian character (Bela Lugosi) in a central role.
I had already known about Ed Wood the director, as my junior high locker mate was very into punk rock and sci fi and forced me to borrow Plan 9 From Other Space. But seeing the Burton film rekindled my interest, and after I got back to the States I read Nightmare of Ecstasy and tracked down as many wood films as I could. While Wood was certainly quirky, he was certainly not “the worst film director in history.” Whoever says so has never seen a film by Coleman Francis, who makes Ed Wood seem like Orson Welles.
Watching Ed Wood again today, almost 15 years later, as I go through all of Tim Burton’s films, I realized that this is less about what a weird and determined filmmaker Ed Wood was, and that is more about a special friendship between two men who love movies, one of whom is young and at the beginning of his career, and the other who is much more experienced and coming to the end of a long, declining career. The reason this relationship is so moving is because the dynamic of Wood and Lugosi’s relationship is mirrored in the relationship of Johnny Depp, in the role that really established that he can act, and Martin Landau, who had worked with many of the great film directors. The friendship also reflects the relationship between the young Tim Burton and his idol Vincent Price, whom he had the chance to work with when he was just getting started. Burton was able to use his real-life experience to make the onscreen friendship rich and moving without derailing into sentimentality.