No. 104 | May 26, 2010
Our theme this week
Black-and-white movies since 1990
Cinematographer: Stefan Czapsky
Yesterday a cheaply made film, today a film that celebrates cheaply made films.
It’s hard to imagine Ed Wood in anything but black-and-white. Ed Wood made black-and-white movies—he seemed to live in a world without color—and Tim Burton’s biopic of the 1950s director was true to its subject.
Today Ed Wood is a beloved figure, in large part because of Burton’s movie and Johnny Depp’s endearing performance. But there was a time when Wood was a subject of mockery, famously the maker of the worst movies ever made. No one now would accuse him of making great movies, but as camp classics his films are entertaining in ways that Wood might not have intended but are achievements nonetheless. There is something to be said for that. The talent to entertain is a rare thing, and Wood’s legacy is greater than that of some other more respectable, but forgettable, filmmakers of his time.
Making a movie is no easy task. It’s not a job for the easily discouraged. It takes a certain amount of optimism. That’s a quality that Wood had in abundance. He seemed utterly blind to the million reasons that he couldn’t do what he wanted to do. He forged ahead regardless. He was the intrepid filmmaker, the artist who couldn’t be stopped, and in some ways a hero to anyone who ever stepped behind the camera, or anyone who dreamed of doing so.
The Tim Burton film follows Wood in his struggles to make a career in Hollywood. He wants to make a movie of Christine Jorgensen’s life, but when he can’t get the rights, he films a fictionalized story about a transvestite called Glen or Glenda. That 1953 movie is a breakthrough of sorts, and Wood makes more movies during the ’50s (the scope of the Burton film), culminating, at the end of the decade, in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Along the way he meets and befriends Béla Lugosi (portrayed, in a memorable, Oscar-winning performance, by Martin Landau). Wood doesn’t provide Lugosi with a career comeback, but he does give the actor work in his final years. Wood also has a chance meeting with his hero, Orson Welles. Wood never gets much closer than the periphery of Hollywood. But most of all, he makes movies, and that’s what counts.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1:18:21)
[Click the pic and give it a minute or two to connect.]
Greetings, my friend. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives.
No. 31 | February 12, 2010
Our theme this week
Actors of the “D” Generation
Johnny Depp was born in Kentucky and moved often before his family settled in Florida. He had his share of troubles growing up. He went to Los Angeles seeking a record deal with his rock band but turned to acting in the mid-1980s. His early film roles were in supporting or secondary parts. He was a victim on Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and a private in Platoon (1986). As the lead on TV’s 21 Jump Street, Depp became a teen idol.
Edward Scissorhands (1990) was a gem, an ingenious creation, and the first of many film collaborations with director Tim Burton. Depp made a couple of movies in 1993 that demonstrated his penchant for the offbeat. Benny & Joon was a comedy about misfits who fall in love. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was about the family struggles of an odd bunch. In 1994 he reteamd with Burton to make Ed Wood, a biopic about the B movie director who specialized in oddballs. None of the films were big hits but they were fresh and inventive. Depp made daring choices in the roles he played, and his imaginative performances provided audiences with characters they hadn’t seen before.
Dead Man(1995), directed by Jim Jarmusch, and Don Juan DeMarco (1995), with Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway, were other films off the beaten track. Donnie Brasco (1997) was more conventional, an update to the gangster genre, with Depp as an undercover agent who befriends a hit man for the mob played by Al Pacino. Depp took the road less traveled again with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998); not especially successful at the time, it’s now considered a cult classic.
Burton’s Sleepy Hollow (1999) was a hit, with Depp as Ichabod Crane. Chocalat (2000), starring Juliette Binoche, was too. From Hell (2001), adapting the Alan Moore-Eddie Campbell graphic novel, did well also. Director Ted Demme’s final film, the underrated Blow (2001), featured Depp in a first-rate performance as drug trafficker George Jung.
In 2003 Depp created the iconic role of pirate captain Jack Sparrow for the first Pirates of the Caribbean (the trilogy continued in 2006 and 2007). It was hugely successful and elevated Depp to a new level of stardom. In Finding Neverland (2004), adapted from the stage, Depp played J.M. Barrie, the imaginative writer who befriends a group of children. The film and Depp earned good reviews, along with Best Picture and Best Actor nominations. Again working the Tim Burton, Depp made two very different films, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), playing children’s favorite Willy Wonka, and Sweeney Todd (2007), the violent musical remake featuring songs of Stephen Sondheim. Michael Mann’s film Public Enemies (2009) starred Depp as 1930s gangster John Dillinger. Another Burton film, Alice in Wonderland, with Depp as the Mad Hatter, is due in March. (Depp and Burton have plans for yet another movie, Dark Shadows.)
Beyond the final credits
Partners in crime (frequent collaborators):
* Includes Alice in Wonderland