Dire-ctors: Edward D. Wood Jnr

By I.S. Kallah

“One is always considered mad when one perfects something
that others cannot grasp.”

Born on 10th October 1924 Ed Wood was an actor, author, editor, producer, screenwriter and director. In his short life spanning 54 years he made a number of B-films, which were so appallingly bad that they were, in fact, deliciously good!  Critical acclaim may have passed him by, as did impact at the box office, but, nonetheless, Wood still managed to achieve cult status.

So cult was this status that in 1994 Tim Burton directed a biopic of Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp. Burton’s budget was $18 million, but the film went on to gross less than $6 million. The film did, however, receive critical acclaim and went on to earn two Academy Awards by Martin Landau for Best Supporting Actor, and Rick Baker for Best Makeup. It’s without doubt a cult classic!

Wood enjoyed excessive amounts of alcohol and also dabbled in dressing in women’s clothing. His greatest passion though, obviously, was making bad films. Today’s fans enjoy his work because of their technical errors, cheesy special effects, unimaginative dialogue and ludicrous plots. The latter end of his career saw Wood direct porn films and write sex novels which, considering the trashiness of their nature, isn’t that much of  a departure from the B-Movie millieu.  Two years after Wood’s death in 1978, he was awarded a Golden Turkey Award as Worst Director of All Time, which was when his cult status really began.

Jim Morton wrote of Wood in his book: Incredibly Strange Films , “Eccentric and individualistic, Edward D Wood Jr was a man born to film. Lesser men, if forced to make movies under the conditions Wood faced, would have thrown up their hands in defeat.”

Homage is paid to Wood by the Southern California University who annually hold an ‘Ed Wood Film Festival.’ Teams of students from varying disciplines take part in writing and filming a short film executed in true Ed Wood style.

In addition to Tim Burton’s biopic Wood’s previously unfilmed script ‘I Woke Up Early The Day I Died’ was produced in 1998 starring Billy Zane and Christina Ricci.  It was a silent movie that revelled in the inept goofiness that Wood’s films are known for. Due to contractual difficulties the film was not commercially released in the United States, and was only available on video in Germany. This is very similar to the terrible luck that had plagued Wood throughout his career.

Still, every dog has it’s day and Woodlites celebrate ‘Woodmas’ each year on October 10th, which is Ed’s birthday. In 1996, Steve Galindo, a Reverend from California, created a religion with Wood named as its saviour. The order started as a joke, but the Church of Ed Wood now boasts over 3,500 followers, who have pledged their allegiance by being baptised.

Ed Wood’s legacy crept in to the 21st Century when in 2001 Rob Zombie, horror film director and heavy metal musician, titled his album ‘The Sinister Urge’ after Wood’s film.

The life of Ed Wood was sprinkled with a few bright moments, but also heavily-laden with tragedy. He did, however, eventually become a success story, it’s just a shame he didn’t live long enough to see it.  To his friends, Wood was a man who just wanted to tell his stories. When he died he was penniless and relatively unknown, but by a strange twist of fate he’s been resurrected and awarded cult status. He couldn’t have written it better himself!

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