Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Ed Wood" Re-revisited -- Martin Landau (1928-2017)

Of course, in memory of Martin Landau, I had to watch "Ed Wood" again.

It would be hard to think of any other film ever made that so perfectly says everything important that needs to be said about the creative spirit.

Every time I view this film, I'm moved even more than before by its universality, by the canonization of Ed Wood as Everyman Artist, and of course by the heartbreaking spectacle of a great star, Bela Lugosi, reduced to a frail hulk, a truly tragic figure destroyed by Hollywood and his own vanity ... but not in the rose-colored glasses of Ed Wood.

I chose this film to remember Landau by, because it is not only his best single performance, but his most complete performance, a landmark in cinema history.

It's ironically fitting that what is arguably Tim Burton's best film, a film about a dreamer of children's-comic-book dreams with lots of heart but no talent, was a loser itself. It nearly didn't get made in the first place because of Burton's insistence to film it in black and white. Though it was lauded by critics all over the world, it was ignored by audiences everywhere. It grossed less than $2 million when it opened. Not only did people leave the theaters in hordes when it was first released, but it also failed to be saved by DVD due to delays in licensing. The movie was as big a loser as its lovable, stupid hero. And to add insult to injury, Martin Landau's acceptance speech was cut short by the Academy Awards broadcast, cheating him out of his moment of recognition for giving one of the greatest screen performances of all time.

Only now is "Ed Wood" beginning to find its place as perhaps one of the most important films about the cinema ever made. It surpasses everything Truffaut ever did in its unblinking but loving examination of the creative spirit, and the mystery behind the power of the tawdry creations Ed and his loyal band of misfits produced. If these films are so bad -- and they are -- why do we still watch them and, yes, love them?

Because it is the soul of the artist laid bare. Ed Wood is all of us, everyone who has struggled to bring their dreams to life, not knowing whether they are worthwhile or not.