Lee Adams’ first movie double bill will kick off at The Immigrant this Sunday, Nov 23 at 8 pm. In a nice social atmosphere, he will take expats interested in movies on a journey into the weird world of Edward D Wood Jr, the worst director of all time, screening Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood and Ed Wood’s film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Free entry.
When choosing which films to show first, I really wanted two pictures that summed up the joy of sitting in the dark watching old monster movies. I grew up on classic creature features like The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Them! which my parents taped off late night telly for me. I always cried when the monster died, and those early images of giant ants and angry dinosaurs trashing cities still underpins my passion for movies.
The trouble is, most of those old flicks live better in the memory, and seem incredibly dated these days, especially when the humans are talking between the moments of monster mayhem.
So I went for Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s buoyant story of the director’s glory years, and Plan 9 from Outer Space, Wood’s “masterpiece”, often voted the worst film ever made.
Wood was a filmmaker working out of Los Angeles in the heyday of Hollywood B movies, making low grade sci-fi horrors and exploitation pics like Bride of the Monster, The Sinister Urge, and Night of the Ghouls. Wood had little money and less talent, but that didn’t stop him getting his strange vision up on the silver screen. His films are notoriously bad, and fame eluded him during his lifetime.Over the years his ouevre has built a strong alternative following, and now Plan 9 is one of the quintessential cult classics.
Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s best film to date, without a twisted gothic tree or Helena Bonham-Carter in sight. It was also the first Burton movie to lose money at the box office, an irony that Wood himslef would have appreciated. Johnny Depp plays the relentlessly upbeat director in one of his most likeable and unguarded peformances. A supporting cast including Bill Murray, Sarah Jessica-Parker, Jeffrey Jones and Martin Landau are superb as members of Wood’s oddball group of hangers-on and cast members.
The film lovingly recreates the making of Wood’s classics, including Glen or Glenda? Originally intended as a lurid sexploitation flick, Wood used it as a platform to highlight the woes of being a tranvestite. Wood was a cross-dresser, with a fetish for angora.
Burton doesn’t dwell on the darker side of Wood’s character, and leaves the film on a positive note. Later in life Wood slid into alcoholism and directing scuzzy pornos to make ends meet. Shot in glorious black and white, Ed Wood charmingly evokes the cheesy ambience of 50s B movies.
Plan 9 from Outer Space is a film so uniquely bad that it defies any rational criticism. Aliens are worried about Mankind developing a “Solaranite Bomb” and destroying the universe, yet the governments of earth won’t talk to them about it. The aliens implement Plan 9, raising three very bumbling zombies from the grave to make them think again. This plan is so lame that you have to wonder what the previous eight plans were.
One critic called the film “a triumph of will over talent”, and the problems are so numerous that it is hard to pinpoint exactly why Plan 9 is so bad. The dialogue is nonsensical, the logic garbled, the performances non-existent, and the sets are so cheap that they make a school nativity look like a blockbuster. To top things off, the star died before shooting and was replaced by a lookalike… a man who also had dark hair and keeps his face covered throughout.
Is Plan 9 the worst film ever made? Badness is in the eye of the beholder, and in strictly technical terms, it must rate pretty high on the list. Ed Wood clearly loved movies, but was utterly hopeless as a director, and every aspect of the film is so wrong that it borders on the trippy.
While it is obviously a very badly made film, I don’t think it is a bad film. There is something wonderfully cheerful and naive about it, and Wood’s enthusiasm shines through so clearly. There are thousands of films which are so boring and bland that you can forget about them instantly, and I’d certainly rather watch Plan 9 again than Lincoln, for example. It is also more fun to watch than some of the established classics of the era, like Forbidden Planet or The Day the Earth Stood Still, which have dated terribly.
We usually associate the word auteur with great directors. Ed Wood was an auteur…just an extremely poor one. Amid the overall shambles, there are moments of pure pop art – the image of Vampira advancing towards the camera or Tor Johnson rising from the grave are indelible, and the film has an atmosphere quite unlike anything else.
As one observer so accurately noted, no matter what time it is when you watch Plan 9, it always feels like three o’clock in the morning. That is why I have chosen it to represent my beloved memory of old B pictures – it perfectly captures the magic of staying up late to watch the monster movies.
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