Oct 10, 2012

Happy Ed Wood Day!

Today would be the eighty-eighth birthday of visionary writer-director Edward D. Wood Jr., who eked out a living on the margins of Hollywood, cranking out a signature filmography of financially challenged works featuring faded matinee idols, dime store props, a "golly gee whiz" demeanour, and a subtly subversive text that upturned the conventions of 1950s white-picket-fence Americana.

The Medveds' book, The Golden Turkey Awards, gave Mr. Wood the dubious honour of "The Worst Director of All Time". However, no body of work that is this entertaining can be the worst of all time. What he lacked in talent, he made up for with enthusiasm, and carved out an instantly recognizable body of work. In this regard, he succeeded beyond most other Hollywood players, who willingly became nameless slaves on the assembly line. Ironically, although Edward D. Wood would dearly loved to have made big studio pictures, it was his confinement to Grade-Z movies that gave him his artistic freedom. No one would notice or care about his subversive ideas:  Glen or Glenda (in which he also played the lead role) is a plea for tolerance; Bride of the Monster a sly commentary on the atomic age; and his signature film Plan 9 from Outer Space remains a Brechtian masterpiece that forces one to deconstruct the artifice in the art of cinema.

Sadly, the last two decades of Wood's life would be spent with further marginalization, writing porn novels and sex films. He died at the age of 54, penniless, forgotten and victimized by alcoholism. Only a few years later, the memory of Edward D. Wood Jr. was resurrected, as new generations discovered his work.  His emergence into our public conscious via numerous revivals of his most beloved films, culminated into a Hollywood biopic, made with the Hollywood gloss and production values that evaded all of Wood's filmmaking career. Although a box office disappointment, Tim Burton's 1994 film Ed Wood however won glowing reviews. One of the least enthusiastic notices came from Globe and Mail critic Rick Groen, whose piece did however illuminate one interesting point. He opines that if Wood was still alive, he would probably be directing Halloween 9, while his idol Orson Welles (the actor-writer-director triple threat Wood admired and emulated) would still be trying to get financing. Everyone loves a comeback story, tangible or otherwise.

While perhaps 1994 was the apex of Ed Wood Mania, this serendipitous auteur has still not left our psyche. It is not for nothing that a legally recognized religion has been been named after him. Edward D. Wood indeed made a tremendous sacrifice and endured hardships to realize his unique visions for an uncaring public. However, his spirit has been resurrected so that the masses can continue to learn from him. The work of Edward D. Wood Jr. is a lesson to us all: pursue your dreams no matter how big the obstacles; let us be accepting of those different from ourselves; time reveals the true worth of everything.

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