Don’t Get Rid of the Dead Wood!

You know you’ve seen a great picture when as soon as the credits start to roll you take action. You act as a direct result of what you’ve seen.

It happened last night.

The director was Tim Burton. The lead was Johnny Depp…..

The film…………. was ED WOOD.

The immediate action I took was to seek out the films of this passionate, yet sadly flawed filmmaker.(I’m going to dedicate a post to every film as it comes through) He has the unenviable honour of being voted the worst director of all time and having made the worst movie of all time, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Yet this was a man who loved making films. He lived for it. And although mainstream success never came his way, He was always on the hunt for another picture, there’s something DEEPLY lovable about that.

Quoted below (if the internet is to be believed) is Edward D. Wood Jr‘s last public writing (It was apparently written only 2 weeks before his death in 1978) which is in the form of sleeve notes for the PLAN 9 soundtrack which was released some years later, it’s quite a touching piece which really conveys the man’s love for his work. I love the section on how he had to bring the picture in for $800 and managed it by doing 250 camera set ups a day, I’m not sure if that’s possible but you can bet your ass it wasn’t far off…….

After reading the piece below, feast your eyes on the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE trailer, it’s bloody awful but I feel drawn to it like an aardvark to a ball of wool. Pay special attention to the military stock footage (also mentioned in the sleeve notes) he’s seamlessly woven into the picture. Beautifully rubbish.

Writer-Producer-Director of “Plan 9 From Outer Space”
When the producers of this record album asked me to write some notes for the jacket, I was delighted. Needless to say, when I made “Plan 9 From Outer Space” in 1959, I never dreamed that it would still be playing on television to millions of loyal fans some twenty years later.

Of course, I always knew “Plan 9” was my finest work, but that doesn’t always guarantee a movie’s place in film history. So while big budget turkeys like “Cleopatra” and “Dr. Dolittle” quickly fade from the public’s memory, “Plan 9” endures. (Indeed, if I had guessed that “Plan 9” would hold up so well, I would have asked for more money up front.)
When I look back on those hectic early days, I kind of wish that dear old Bela Lugosi could have known that he was making a science-fiction classic in 1956. In point of fact, Bela thought he was shooting a horror film, titled “Tomb of the Vampire.” But after two days of location work, my good friend dropped dead without a warning and without giving two weeks notice. Since Bela had the lead role in the film, I couldn’t see any way to spread his five minutes of footage through a 90 minute movie, so the entire project was scrapped.

Another friend told me that I was crazy to throw away five minutes of Bela Lugosi footage, and he offered me the chance to shoot an entirely new film around the Lugosi scenes if I could bring it in under $800.00. I told him it would be no problem (don’t forget, $800.00 went a long way in those days), and six hours later I handed him the shooting script for “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” He was delighted and the deal was made.

Before you could say �Roger Corman,’ sets were built in my garage, clothes were borrowed from my closet (I personally supplied all the sweaters worn by Mona McKinnon in the film), and stock footage was purchased from Trident Films, Inc. Finally, friends who would work for nothing, and actors who would accept a cut in salary for a good role were hired. By cutting corners and doing 250 camera set-ups a day, we were able to finish the picture on time and under budget. (In fact, we had enough money left over to take the principal cast members to lunch at the Brown Derby.)

After some minor financial squabbles with the processing lab and several distributor back-outs, we finally premiered “Plan 9 From Outer Space” at the luxurious Brookdale Theater in El Monte. Some of the cast members were there, Tor Johnson and Criswell and Vampira, and we even rented a spotlight. (The damn thing never did work and I refused to pay for it. I also refused to pay for the theater’s toilet seat that Tor Johnson broke.) The party after the film was great fun, too. I can still remember the day one of our associate producers came up with the idea of digging up Bela Lugosi’s body and propping him up in his coffin in the theater lobby. It would have been a great publicity stunt, but the more I thought about it, the more tasteless the idea became. We ended up putting my plastic octopus from “Bride of the Monster” in the lobby.

The REAL Ed Wood.

The initial reaction to the film was predictably mixed… the fans loved it, and the critics killed it. Some of the reviewers actually made fun of our cheap cardboard sets. I mean, what did they expect for $786.27… the Paramount backlot? But time has proved the fans right. Not only is “Plan 9” a hit on late night television, but now it has been permanently preserved on this phonographic record, which contains nearly all of the film’s dialogue and music. I would be lax if I did not mention the wonderful music by Gordon Zahler. I think it is his finest work, surpassing even his superb scores for “Mutiny in Outer Space” and “Women of the Prehistoric Planet.”

Finally, a special note to all of my special friends. I am retired now, and living comfortably in the home of a good friend. I still keep a watchful eye on the Hollywood scene, and I still dream of the day when my sequel to “Plan 9,” “The Night of the Ghouls,” will be rescued from the Pathé Laboratory and released for all my fans to see and enjoy. Until that time, I manage to occupy myself by puttering in the garden and watching football on television.
So here is the record of “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed creating it.
Edward D. Wood, Jr.
December, 1978

My new filmmaking motto, inspired by Ed, is “Strive to be great but if you can’t, do it anyway”….. Filmmaking is a great profession embedded in a shitty business. That should never put us off though.

Look out for the “Ed Wood and other skid row notables” season coming soon to J.I.C.


16 responses to “Don’t Get Rid of the Dead Wood!

  1. I don’t exactly how I feel after reading that. Beautiful but depressing at the same time.

    PS: Those could quite possibly be some of the best film titles in the history of cinema.

  2. I leaves a funny taste in your head but also evokes a strong admiration for the man. If some of the talent out there had Mr. Wood’s drive and love for cinema, We’d see a lot more films.

    You’re right, he was good at titles!

    I got hold of PLAN 9 yesterday and am REALLY excited about watching it tonight! Have you seen it?

  3. Yes, but I must say I found it boring rather than entertainingly bad. However, I am told it is fantastic when stoned.

  4. Must say I agree with Chris “Plan 9” is bad, not sure I’d say “so bad it’s good” bad I think its probably just bad.

    Ed Wood’s enthusiasm and love of film is indeed admirable but it unfortunately doesn’t always show through in his work ala John Waters.

    I’m not personally a fan of Waters but I can see why others are.
    As for Ed Wood I’m a huge fan of Depp’s Ed and the world Burton put him in but his work leaves me a little cold.

  5. Perhaps it’s different if you “discover” Ed Wood by yourself rather than coming to it as a result of the Burton film; that’s why I did and was disappointed.

  6. ……. It’s in no way different, unless you’re the kind that would be influenced by a bio-pic.

    To make a film on a miniscule budget that is STILL being spoken about today (not just by us) must be some kind of achievement… That’s what impresses me most. The inventiveness on a shoestring.

    Yes the film is SHIT.

    Yes the acting is rubbish.

    Yes the storyline is saggy and horribly realised.

    I’ve never, and never will, buy into the “so bad it’s good” school of thought. This guy however, and many like him, had film stock running through a camera with a personal idea driving the whole thing. Credit where credit’s due.

  7. Whilst I think it takes more than just enthusiasm to assisgn credit where its due I do think you have a fair point.

    Given the time Ed worked and the tools he had to use I think there is something special in his case.

    I guess in these hi-tec days its easy to look down on Ed as we all have access to a digital camera and a PC and can become no-budget Auteurs.

    However even now only a select few have the drive to do so when all the basic requirements are at our fingertips.

    For Ed it was an altoghether more challenging obsession that drove him and for that he is worthy of admiration as a man if not praise as a film maker.

  8. You know, it doesn’t often happen but I completely agree with everything you’ve just said.

  9. BLimey.

    I feel all dizzy!! The world must be spinning off its axis as a result of such an unlikely occurrence.

    First I say you have a fair point and then you agree with me! We will have to ensure such a thing never happens again or I dread to think what may happen to the space time continuum.

  10. Oh don’t worry Matt old boy. I’m planning a Woody Allen post, that should put things back on track!

  11. Good stuff!

    I shall look forward to challenging you on your dubious admiration of Ephebophiliacs.

  12. In the meantime, “Glen or Glenda” anyone?

  13. Not seen it yet but my tutor at eca is of the opinion that Glen or Glenda is a classic.

    “Avant garde before avant garde was invented.”

    And of course, it’s hugely personal film. Did he elevate himself above the awful with this one?

  14. I’ve only seen bits of it, but this alone makes me want to see the whole thing: (forgive the odd English, I think it’s from a German review that’s been translated)

    “After an allegory showing Glen’s fiancée crushed by a tree in… the living room (!) and that Glenda does not manage to help but that Glen saves, the spectator watches, dumbfounded, a wedding scene with a priest assisted by a demon with horns, a succession of shots presenting more or less stripped women (but always “decent”), whipped or wriggling and writhing themselves with sensuality (?) on a couch (one of them looks like the future Marilyn Monroe), all that on a music passing briskly from jazz to Russian music via tango. Then Glen find himself at home, pointed at by a threatening crowd who surrounds him (amongst it the demon with horns). His metamorphosis in Glenda pushes back them, a scene shot in slow motion with the syrupy music… In some way, it should be seen to believe it…”

  15. Crikey!

    “it should be seen to believe it…”

    I’ll bloody say given that reveiw.

    Sounds like a must!

  16. I second that.

    I particularly like ” a succession of shots presenting more or less stripped women (but always “decent”), whipped or wriggling and writhing themselves with sensuality (?) on a couch (one of them looks like the future Marilyn Monroe), all that on a music passing briskly from jazz to Russian music via tango”

    They don’t make em’ like that any more!

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