Cynema: Ed Wood–Hollywood’s Whipping Boy

August 14, 2015

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG

CynemaNo Respect

Apparently Michael Medved, the respected film critic gets the credit with dubbing Edward Wood, Jr. the “worst director of all time” by referring to Wood’s crowning film achievement, Plan Nine From Outer Space as perhaps the worst motion picture ever made. This is not only to come to the late Mr. Wood’s defense, but to also show how off the mark Mr. Medved was in his 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards.

Wood is the antithesis of Cynema–his passion and love for film makes him one of Hollywood’s greatest directors. Say what you want about Plan Nine, Bride of the Monster or Glen or Glenda…bad films, yes. Bad directing, absolutely. However Ed Wood was not a cynic. This column will show why films like Jaws The Revenge, Godzilla 1998 and other big budget films are far worse than anything Ed Wood ever put out, including Plan 9. By many accounts, including his own, Plan 9 From Outer Space was Wood’s opus and the film that Medved bestowed his dubious award upon. Wood said this about his film:

If you want to know me, see ‘Glen or Glenda’. That’s me, that’s my story, no question. But ‘Plan 9’ is my pride and joy. We used Cadillac hubcaps for flying saucers in that . (The Ever Project, 2010)

Wood was short on talent but not passion and made his films because he loved the craft. You could say he was not much different than a child that makes terrible father’s/mother’s, holiday gift/paintings in school. To the child this is something special, perhaps even high art but to the adult it’s juvenile craftsmanship at best but it’s the sentiment behind it that matters.

The “worst director ever” found former horror icon and star of Dracula (1931) Bela Lugosi, living in poverty—a drug addled wreck of the Hollywood system. Lugosi was drained by the film industry as surely as his alter ego Count Dracula drained his victims. Lugosi was a has-been by the 1950’s as the classic Universal monsters were replaced by aliens, radioactive monsters and budding psychopaths.


Ed Wood gave Lugosi work and made him feel like a star–infusing this ailing man with sincere enthusiasm and the hope that he could shine again. This was a filmmaker who planed to use funds made from Plan 9’s premiere to pay for Lugosi’s rehab expenses and tried to shield him from the press vultures. Lugosi died before filming commenced and wound up in Wood’s film through mismatched spliced footage. Wood knew Lugosi was a name, and indeed Plan 9 was his last film but was said to have cried when seeing the first cut of the film and Lugosi up on that screen.

 Well, I started thinking about what you were saying about how your movies need to make a profit. Now, what is the one thing, if you put it in a movie, it’ll be successful?–Ed Wood

He  was not just ill-equipped in the talent department to realize that dream; he was also outgunned by a film industry that was accustomed to tossing aside its tarnished stars onto the studio junkheap. Other stars will have this problem as Mickey Rooney’s famous acceptance speech at the 1979 Academy Awards for his honorary Oscar put it so sadly:  

When I was 19 years old, I was the number one star of the world for two years; when I was 40, nobody wanted me — I couldn’t get a job. — (Nicholas Moreau, 1999)


The Forever Optimist

While romanticized in the Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp playing an idealized version of Wood as the forever optimist (I love that movie), it does get some facts correct. Ed Wood survived the Battle of Guadalcanal (with bra and panties beneath his uniform) but was totally unprepared for conflict in the Hollywood film industry. This was a business that saw Wood as a carnival sideshow freak, a living example of the Grade “Z” entertainment he was pushing. Befriending Lugosi only confirmed suspicions of lunacy and many of the distributors Wood approached believed Lugosi long dead. Wood treated Lugosi as more than a star–he was a legend. He was driven by his loyalty and respect for this forgotten icon in his pursuit of financing.

Sources attribute Wood with soliciting Baptist church members for the financing of Plan 9; going so far as to have himself and members of his cast baptized to get the film made. He did this not to swindle the gullible from their funds, but under the sincere belief he would make their money back and a profit so they could pursue their dream of making twelve films on each of the Twelve Apostles.

Wood endured rabid attacks on his sexuality when it was revealed that he liked to cross dress at the height of conservative McCarthy paranoia. His first girlfriend left him, regarding him as a degenerate and loser who surrounded himself by a coterie of the same. He was treated with contempt and with no empathy for his devotion to Lugosi. Wood battled depression, falling into the world of soft core porn and lurid pulp novels to unsuccessfully pay the rent. Evicted from his Los Angeles apartment, he died alone from a heart attack in a friend’s home watching a football game in 1978 at the age of 54.

This thumbnail of this fascinating man serves as a starting point for the exploration of Cynema. Wood will never be postively compared to Spielberg, Coppola, Shyamalan, Lucas or even Disney. Yet all of these great names have more in common with Wood than they’d like to admit.

These names and many more in Hollywood have made their share of truly awful and dreadful films and product far worse than anything that came from Edward Wood. The only problem is that most of the country and even the world didn’t realize this and were duped by a cynical Hollywood hype machine–believing they were seeing something truly great. Plan 9, Glen or Glenda, Bride of the Monster or Jail Bait are all poorly made films, but they are honest in their poor quality and also their love and passion for film and art. They are not cynical like certain films discussed later in this column.

Ed Wood: Bad director. Bad Screenwriter. Bad producer. Perhaps. But not a cynic.

We are going to finish this picture just the way I want it… because you cannot compromise an artist’s vision. –Ed Wood

That…is Ed Wood’s legacy and it would not have displeased him.

Listen to my Cynema podcast found on iTunes, YouTube, Stitcher, Spotify and iHeart Radio.

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