Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ed Wood Wednesdays: The Plan 9 Odyssey, Part Four by Greg Dziawer

This is the week we compare Ed Wood with Fellini.

What a difference a decade makes. In the mid-1950s, Ed Wood would have had every reason to believe that ten years on he would still be racking up film credits as writer-producer-director. Still only 30 years old, he would soon shoot the film ultimately remembered as his magnum opus, Plan 9 from Outer Space, and he already had three feature films under his belt: Glen or Glenda (1953), Jailbait (1954) and Bride of the Monster (1955). While none of those films had garnered much notice, it was reasonable for Ed to think he had laid a solid foundation for a career. 

Flash forward a decade. Whatever the reason, Ed's film work now consisted of the occasional screenplay. The dreams of being a world-renowned auteur must have started to become remote as the reality settled in. By then, he was also writing adult paperbacks. And though he would return to the director's chair by the decade's end, it would be in the arena of sex films. 

Although all of Ed's early films would continue to play drive-ins for years, one in particular would become a staple of early TV syndication: Plan 9 from Outer Space. By 1965, it was airing regularly across the country. At least one writer had concluded that Plan 9 was one of the greatest films ever made and penned a guest column to that effect for the Minneapolis Star Tribune on August 17, 1965. 

Forst Lowery has high praise for Plan 9 from Outer Space.

I don't know if Forst Edgar Lowery (1920-1989) was a media critic or a fan of Ed's. Could he have somehow known him? How would Lowery know, for instance, that Plan 9 was previously titled Graverobbers from Outer Space or that Eddie owed "a debt to Fellini"? Given the level of praise heaped upon Ed in the column, and his own capacity for ballyhoo, it would seem plausible that Ed himself wrote this, if not for the misspelling of his last name. 

Poster for Fellini's 8 1/2.
Forst is a real person for sure, born in Minnesota on April 22, 1920, according to his draft card. And he wrote more than this one column, too! This page aggregates some studies he wrote (or cowrote) in the 1970s, focused upon the subject of sobriety testing and drunk driving. He was, in fact, a lifelong public safety official in Minneapolis, and by the '80s, served as the alcohol coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. He could no doubt have made a case study of Ed Wood.

With Lowery's lofty comparisons to internationally acclaimed film directors like Fellini and Bergman, you'd be forgiven these days for thinking that the column was meant as parody or satire. But Lowery seems sincere, and his proposal for an "Edward D Woods Jr Film Festival" [sic] must have been one of the first of its kind. (I can find no evidence that any such festival took place.) He cites "a certain young critic," unnamed but writing in the Kansas Cinema Quarterly, who compared the film favorably to the arthouse classic Last Year at Marienbad (1961), so Mr. Lowery was not the only one to esteem Plan 9 so highly.

There's much more to savor in this piece, originally intended as program notes for the festival, but I'll leave it speak for itself. Do keep in mind one thing: Last Year at Marienbad was included in Harry Medved's The 50 Worst Films of All Time, the 1978 book that preceded (and made possible) The Golden Turkey Awards, which in turn was the book that made Ed Wood famous by declaring him the worst director of all time, a moniker that stuck.

There is, as they say, no accounting for taste.