In 2011, two of the year’s best movies were actually about movies: “The Artist” and “Hugo”. There have been a lot of great movies in the past several years that actually go into the stories of filmmakers: “Singin’ In the Rain”, “Sullivan’s Travels” (sort of), “The Aviator”, and today’s movie, “Ed Wood”, probably one of the best movies about movies ever made. It’s one of the several movies teaming actor Johnny Depp with director Tim Burton, who worked together in “Edward Scissorhands”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Alice in Wonderland”, and other films. I hate to say I haven’t seen a lot of them, but so far, “Ed Wood” is the best that I’ve seen.
Depp plays the title character, filmmaker Ed Wood, now said to be the worst movie director of all time. The film opens to show his early career in show business, writing and staging numerous low-budget and low-quality plays with his actress girlfriend Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker), homosexual actor Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), and others. Wood is also a part-time worker at a movie studio in Los Angeles, but his dream is to write and direct. His biggest inspiration is filmmaker Orson Welles, the actor/co-writer/director of “Citizen Kane”, which ironically has been called the best film of all time. But one day, he hears that the studio has picked up the rights to a story about a transsexual, and Wood tells the producer that he has just the qualifications to direct it. Why?
“I like to wear women’s clothing.” That’s literally what Ed tells the producer. Ed’s big secret is that he likes to cross-dress, something he’s done since he was a child (since his mother, who had wanted a girl, dressed him up that way). The producer caves and lets Wood make the movie on a limited schedule. But that’s okay, because Ed Wood is an efficient director, taking only one take of each shot without hassling over getting another, thus shooting dozens of scenes in one day. Yeah. Real efficient.
Anyway, one day, Wood is walking down the street when he sees someone who he’s looked up to for years: screen legend Bela Lugosi (played by a phenomenal Martin Landau). Lugosi, formerly the star of the old “Dracula” movies, now lives in Los Angeles, abandoned by his wife and addicted to morphine. Wood befriends Lugosi and eventually gets him to play a part in his film. That sex-change film, “Glen or Glenda”, does a few things for Wood. He uses it to reveal his secret to Dolores, who is incredibly distraught about it and the film. The poor success of the film gets Wood kicked out of the studio. And because other studios hated the film and don’t want to finance Wood’s next movie, Wood decides to raise the money himself for his next film, “Bride of the Atom”.
Through the next year or so, Wood and his friends start raising money for the film and come across several people in the process. Wood is forced to make rash casting decisions in order to get the money he needs, and eventually, wrestler Tor Johnson (George Steele) and late-night TV host Vampira (Lisa Marie Smith) join the regular cast of Ed Wood’s movies. Even Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), who was apparently a TV psychic personality before my parents were born, joins Wood’s team to help make “Bride of the Atom”. And soon, the movie, later re-titled “Bride of the Monster” by the studio, is released—and booed at its premiere.
The next few years are full of ups and downs for Ed Wood. After the movie’s release, Dolores leaves him. And one night, Lugosi calls him for after almost committing suicide, and Wood helps him check into rehab. But at the clinic, he meets another girl, Kathy (Patricia Arquette), whom he falls in love with and who actually accepts his secret as a cross-dresser. But soon after Lugosi is checked out of (or, rather, removed from) rehab, and after he and Wood shoot some material for another film, Lugosi passes away, and Wood is left with the last film footage of Bela Lugosi. And he starts creating his next movie, “Grave Robbers From Outer Space”, and whom does he get to finance it?
A Baptist church. No kidding. But because of this, the pastors, not knowing that they as producers cannot do much with the creative vision of a film, are constantly telling Wood what to do. At one point, Wood gets so stressed that he dresses in women’s clothing to feel calmer. But when the pastors immediately blast him for it, Wood heads for the nearest bar (still in women’s clothes) to drink it off. And at the bar, he meets, of all people, Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio). And while talking to Welles about his problems, Welles gives Wood advice that changes his attitude:
WELLES: You know, the one film of mine where I had total control—“Kane”—the studio hated it, but they didn’t get to touch a frame. Ed, visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?
And that encourages Wood not to compromise anymore. He goes back to the studio and takes control of his movie, later titled “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, and when it is finally released, Wood is able to say: “This is the one. This is the one I’ll be remembered for.”
Today, Ed Wood is considered the worst movie director of all time, his movies only standing the test of time because of their cult statuses as bad movies. But as “Ed Wood” the movie shows, Wood is a great example of what happens when a vision, no matter how good or bad, is fought for without compromise. As a Christian, one of the hardest things to do is to live a life without compromises. There are so many areas in my life where I will stumble in sin, but I have to learn to pick myself up from them instead of just continuing to sin, compromising my Christian lifestyle.
The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Romans: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? …Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourselves to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (6:1-2, 12-13) As Christians, we cannot compromise any area of our life to sin—we have to continue seeking the way that God wants us to live.
My prayer for you today is that you would never compromise—that you would continuously seek God’s face and walk in His ways.