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The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr.

In the world of cinema, all roads eventually lead to Ed Wood, the artist behind Glen or Glenda and Plan Nine From Outer Space. Dubbed the worst director of all time so often that the expression "Ed Wood bad" has become as overused as "Hitchcockian suspense," there's something special about Wood's place in Hollywood history. Not because he's awful — although there's no denying he wasn't classically talented — but because he represents the sordid underbelly to the American dream: the truths about our culture we dare not face. What was Wood if not the plucky underdog who made films in the face of adversity, who tried and tried — like the little engine that could — to break into the big leagues, to be respected and successful? And yet Wood, the anti-Horatio Alger, proved that determination will not get you as far as talent; that some things cannot be learned; that money is more important than spirit; and that (sadly enough) size does matter. Ed Wood is the man who tried his damnedest and failed — again, and again, and again. Yet because of his numerous films, Ed Wood has achieved a posthumous canonization through the numerous mentions of the badness of his efforts (from the Medved Brothers' famous book Golden Turkey to Tim Burton's 1994 biopic Ed Wood), ironically achieving his place in the pantheon of cineastes. His name-familiarity has eclipsed many of his contemporaries — filmmakers like Delmer Daves, Jack Arnold, Anthony Mann, and Douglas Sirk simply haven't been as reevaluated as publicly as Wood. It's hard to be sure whether this tribute is due to spite or love (even with hardcore fans), but somehow Wood films are easier to find on DVD than those of French master Jean Renoir. Brett Thompson's 1995 documentary The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. acknowledges this fame by giving many of his collaborators a chance to talk about the man who made them infamous. Serving as a biography, the film offers an in-depth look at the filmmaker and some of his more famous pictures, although like Burton's biopic it spends little time addressing the last years of Wood's life (which were spent churning out dime-store novels, smut screenplays, and drinking until his death of a heart attack in 1978 at the age of 54). What the documentary does offer is a compelling portrait of a transvestite filmmaker who had a severe lack of talent and more than a few demons, and still was a warm and fascinating human being.

*          *          *

Made up of anecdotes, found footage and interviews, The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. visits most of the major living players, as well as Wood's ex-wives and girlfriends. Though the documentary opens with a homage by badly presenting a monologue from one of Wood's oldest friends and one-time collaborator Crawford John Thomas, Thompson's essay is awash in many great details and disputes about the director's life. For those who know Bride of the Monster star Loretta King only from the freaked-out version presented in the Tim Burton film, King discounts the rumors about her not drinking water (she says she didn't drink alcohol, which may have rubbed the alcoholic Wood the wrong way). Most pleasant of all the interviewees is Maila Nurmi, a.k.a. "Vampira," who tells some fabulous stories about Orson Welles, Mae West, and (of course) Wood, and the movie they made together — she says she asked to be mute because she couldn't get his awful dialogue out of her mouth. The fun of it is seeing interviews with people like Wood regulars Paul Marco (best known for his reoccurring character Kelton the Cop), Dolores Fuller, and Conrad Brooks get their say, while others like Plan 9 star Gregory Walcott acknowledge that many associated with the films knew just how bad they were. Anyone who's interested in this DVD should supplement the film with Rudolph Grey's definitive study of Wood, Nightmare of Ecstasy, and though not as insightful as Terry Zwigof's documentary Crumb was into the mind of a oddball, The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. should satiate the curious, and inform those who want to know more about Wood and the people he worked with. Image Entertainment's DVD of The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr. is a pleasant special-edition release. The film is presented in full frame (1.33:1) with monaural DD 2.0 audio. The source print looks a bit grainy, but still in fine shape. And the documentary is accompanied by a feature-length round-robin commentary with director Brett Thompson, interviewee Bela Lugosi Jr., and author Charles Phoenix, among others. This commentary continues on to the presentation of Ed Wood's first film Crossroads of Laredo (1948), which is introduced by Dolores Fuller and producer Crawford Thomas. Also included is an interview for the A&E Channel with director Thompson and Mike Gabriel, the Sci-Fi Channel's coverage of the film's premiere, home-movie footage of the "Ed Wood Reunion" at the Palm Springs Film Festival, behind-the-scenes footage from the making of the documentary, and generous still galleries covering both Ed Wood's life and the making of this film. And for fun, some of the clips are introduced by a Vampira impersonator. Keep-case.
—DSH



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