Saturday, November 8, 2014

Ed Wood's BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: 'The Wave Off' (1971)

A fighter pilot contemplates his marriage in Ed Wood's "The Wave Off."

NOTE: This article is part of my ongoing coverage of Blood Splatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

The Trents of Plan 9.
The story: "The Wave Off," originally appeared in Freaked Out magazine, 1971.

Synopsis: After flying a successful mission in an unnamed war, Navy pilot Larry is about to land his plane aboard an aircraft carrier when he and several other pilots are given the "wave off," i.e. a signal not to land. Another airplane has fused to the deck, and the crew needs some time to burn it off. Larry agrees to keep circling, but he has limited fuel. 

During the delay, the pilot thinks about his life and his marriage. He and his wife, Helen, had an intensely sexual relationship in the early days, but then she started nagging him to leave the Navy and get a nice, safe, civilian job where he'd earn much more money. Larry's considered doing this, but it would cost him his freedom and his identity. The pilot also thinks back to a time when his wife begged to be impregnated and agreed to raise the child to be as "determined" as his old man. The radio operator gives Larry the all-clear, and the satisfied pilot returns to the carrier, where a meal of steak and potatoes with "rich brown gravy" awaits him in the officers club.

Wood trademarks: War and the military; pilot as hero (cf. Jeff in Plan 9 from Outer Space); joking banter between pilot and ground crew (cf. Plan 9); marital discord; macho husband who goes off on dangerous mission while worried wife stays home (cf. the Trents in Plan 9); alcohol (entire second paragraph devoted to Larry's conversion from bourbon to scotch, "the juice of the gods"); intense focus on women's lingerie, especially anything sheer (wife Helen wears a "sheer pink nightie," a "transparent black shortie nightie," and a "baby doll nightie" with "frilly panties"); fixation on blondes; reference to funeral; remark from wife to husband "You want to go and fly your damned airplanes... go and do it." (compare to Plan 9's "Now toddle off and fly your flying machine, darling.")

Excerpt: "He'd been a bourbon man for years, actually hated the taste of scotch. In his youth scotch had actually made him puke. But suddenly it was the only drink he craved, not that he was any great drinker. But when the urge hit him his mind lately drifted completely to scotch. Perhaps that was because others had told him it is a rich man's booze."

Sammy's 1968 hit.
Reflections"Whether I'm right or whether I'm wrong, whether I find a place in this world or never belong, I've gotta be me. I've gotta be me. What else can I be but what I am?" 

So go the lyrics to a popular tune from the 1968 Broadway musical, Golden Rainbow, as famously interpreted by Sammy Davis, Jr. That song, an anthem to being true to one's self regardless of the consequences, serves as a perfect window into the muddled mind of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (Is it just a coincidence that this same song pops up in Man on the Moon, another biopic written by Ed Wood scripters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski?)

Eddie must have gotten plenty of sound, solid advice over the years, most of which he ignored. What choice did he have? What else could he be but who he was? Of course, this path wasn't an easy one, and no one knew that better than Ed himself. While reading "The Wave Off," I got the feeling that Ed Wood was once again using the safe realm of fiction to work through his own real-life problems, particularly his marital issues. During the 1970s, Kathy Wood repeatedly pleaded with Eddie to give up on making movies -- particularly his low-paying, go-nowhere collaborations with "Bulgarian bastard" Stephen C. Apostolof --  and concentrate on his job at Pendulum Publishing, cranking out stories and novels for Bernie Bloom. But Eddie couldn't do it. It would have been untrue to his nature.

It is not difficult to imagine Larry and Helen, the husband and wife in "The Wave Off," as stand-ins for Ed and Kathy. When Larry talks about what it's like to be a pilot, it's like Eddie describing being a filmmaker: "I feel I've got control of the whole world. It's like I'm flying around in my own little world, and my world reacts exactly as I want it to." Note that Eddie makes the constantly-nagging Helen a blonde, just like Kathy. The author gives Helen a jealous side, too, having her pout: "Sometimes I think you'd rather be away from me, than to be with me." 

In the story, wife Helen eventually accepts husband Larry for what he is and implicitly -- if not explicitly -- agrees not to change him. I wonder if the same basic thing happened during the Woods' own marriage. If so, it certainly didn't happen as easily as it did in "The Wave Off." Throughout the 1970s, during their stay in the "Yucca Flats" apartment complex, Ed and Kathy were infamous for their loud and raucous arguments.

Next: "The Gory Details" (1972)