Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New feature starting tomorrow: Ed Wood Wednesdays!

A lobby card from Ed Wood's Glen or Glenda.

I'd been reading about them for years, but the first time I actually saw one of Ed Wood's movies was October 30, 1992. I was 17 years old at the time and a senior in high school. The occasion was "A Tribute to Edward D. Wood, Jr.," a retrospective of his work being held at Mott Community College in Flint, MI where my mother worked as an English teacher. She would be dead within four months of that fateful night, her cancer having returned with a vengeance, but I had no idea at the time.

All I knew back then was that I was finally getting the opportunity to see the work of a director I'd read about in books like Cult Movies by Danny Peary and Midnight Movies by J. Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum, not to mention the numerous movie review guides I'd been collecting and studying since early adolescence. I've always been attracted to "infamous art" in all fields, and I knew that the name "Edward D. Wood, Jr." kept coming up again and again in my research. This was before the internet made everything available instantaneously. All I knew about Wood's movies was what I'd read about them.

That eventful Halloween Eve, I saw four of his films: Bride of the Monster (1955), Glen or Glenda? (1953), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and Night of the Ghouls (1959). I liked them all, but Glenda blew my mind. I'd never seen anything remotely like it. A few of my classmates were there that night, too, and for weeks afterward we were quoting it. "Beware... take care... beware!" and "Puppy dog tails and big fat snails" became instant in-jokes for us.

The turning point.
Two years later, Touchstone Pictures released the Tim Burton-directed biopic, Ed Wood, which never reached the Flint area theatrically. I finally saw Burton's film via a second-hand used VHS copy procured at a local Meijer store. I watched that tape innumerable times, virtually memorizing the film. By then, I'd managed to collect a few of Ed's original movies on videotape and pored over them with a seriousness normally reserved for the Torah or the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I wanted to know as much about the director of these incredible films as I could, so I scoured bookstores and libraries. I'd find an article here or a chapter there, but the breakthrough was when I stumbled upon Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood. Jr., the oral history by Rudolph Grey that had been used as the basis for Burton's film. Grey's book not only has quotes from Wood's friends, relatives, and professional associates, but also the most complete Wood filmography I'd seen to that point. The range of films Ed worked on is mind-boggling. Though they were always low-budget, independent films, they encompassed any number of genres from Westerns to sexploitation to film noir, plus the science fiction and horror for which he was best known. Meanwhile, in the main body of Grey's book, the people who were closest to "Eddie" (as many call him) often contradict each other with their testimony. Naturally, I was left with a nagging question: "Who exactly was Edward D. Wood, Jr.?"

So here we are, twenty plus years after that first movie marathon, and I find that my interest in Edward D. Wood, Jr. has not abated. Over the years, I acquired as many of Ed's films as I could track down. There's no way to be an Ed Wood completist the way you can be for, say, Stanley Kubrick or Martin Scorsese, i.e. respectable directors whose careers have been documented and preserved with care. Ed worked in various capacities (writer, actor, director, assistant) on any number of films under any number of names over the course of a 30-year career.

Some of his work has been lost forever, and much has gone undocumented. Grey assembled what he could from the best sources available, but there is no way of knowing how many films employed Mr. Wood's services. No two Ed Wood filmographies are the same. The IMDb  has its list, Grey has his, and Wikipedia has a third. One of my main sources of information has been a marvelous site called The Hunt for Edward D. Wood, Jr.  Even with all this information, it can be dizzying, frustrating, and even maddening to try to assemble a "definitive" list of Ed Wood's films. But I've done my level best. Pictured below is my personal "Ed Wood" stash:

My Ed Wood VHS tapes and DVDs.

Foolish as it may seem, I have decided to try and make sense of the man through his work and then document my findings here on my blog. This new, limited-run series beginning tomorrow, July 10, has a self-explanatory title: Ed Wood Wednesdays. Each humpday for roughly ten weeks, maybe more, I will be looking at the films of this eccentric and inscrutable man. As I've said, there's no way to be definitive about this, but I've managed to arrange the films I can find into a roughly chronological order. The first article, to be published on July 10, will cover Ed's earliest work from 1948 to 1953. I very much hope that you will join me as I make my way through his filmography.