Sunday, October 22, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: Ed Wood

The Set-Up: A week and a half before Halloween, so I suppose I should start paying attention to it, thus a tribute to those who work in the swamp, this one from Tim Burton's Ed Wood.  Burton's film is a labor-of-love—a sort of left-handed tribute to Wood's kitchen-sink approach to making films (and reflecting the director's own love of cheesy special effects and "persistence of vision").

Not a lot to say here.  The scene, like most of the film, is funny, poignant and pathetic, but has that Burton-esque love for "the underdog outsider" and the "foster family-team" aspect of movie-making.  The film, and its Wood-Lugosi bonding is also reflective of the director's respect and devotion to his own horror movie hero, Vincent Price (who never resorted to pity or drugs, but took his work in the grave-trenches of the genre with humor and an air of incorruptible elegance), featured in his short Vincent and in Edward Scissorhands.

Horror is not the bottom of the food-chain in Hollywood (or wherever you can make Pittsburgh), but it is six feet under the surface, with limited budgets and (hopefully) abundant ingenuity.  You've got to be "a trooper" working in that realm, selling snake-oil as if it was love-potion...or bat's blood.  Make the fantasy real...or as real as possible...and if you scare the rubes, you have their respect—and a limited amount of power over them.

And, if you're very good (or in Ed Wood's case, very bad), they'll never forget you and that is something like immortality.  A fantasy made real.

The Story:  Hollywood bottom-feeder Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) has secured funding for his horror opus Bride of the Monster, allowing him to cast friend and screen icon Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) in a central role, but not enough to actually rent a prop octopus (which is obtained by breaking into a prop warehouse earlier in the day). They have to return the snatched cephalopod before the warehouse opens for business the next day. Night shoot!



Bela sits inertly in the back of an open car. He weakly hails
over Ed.

BELA Eddie, I'm so tired...

BELA I don't know if I can handle a night shoot...

ED Nonsense! You look great --

(suddenly he catches himself; he speaks more sincerely)

ED Look, uh, why don't you lie down and take a little nap? We'll film around you for a while.

BELA Thanks, buddy...
ED You're welcome.

Ed smiles warmly, then walks off.

ED Alright!

Bela stares after him, then absent-mindedly searches through
his pockets.

Finally, he finds what he's looking for -- a rubber tube.

Bela looks to make sure no one's around, then ties the tube around his upper arm...


Crew members have dammed up the end of the river, and Bunny fills it with a hose. There is now a foot of water.

Ed stands at the shore, admiring it.

ED Hey. This is looking fantastic!
(he turns to Paul)
ED Paul, where's the octopus motor?

PAUL MARCO What octopus motor?

ED You know, to make the legs move --

PAUL MARCO (defensive) Hey, don't blame me! You didn't say anything about no motor when I was up on that ceiling!

PAUL MARCO What's he talking (about)?

Ed and crew walk to the other side of the pool.

ED Paul lost the octopus motor!

Bela stumbles up, with a dazed smile.

BELA Alright! Let's shoot this fucker!

ED Great!

BELA Where do I go?

ED You'll be fighting with the octopus.

BELA Out there?!
(he points at the water)

ED Yes.

BELA What happened to the stream?

ED This'll look a lot better. We have to match the stock footage of the octopus underwater.

BELA Oh, for Christ's sake.

Bela rolls up his pants and wades out, into the water. He screams.

BELA Goddamn, it's cold!

ED Once you're in it, it warms up.

BELA Fuck you! You come out here.

BELA Hey...

BELA Throw me that whiskey.

A crew member throws Bela a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Bela pops the cap and chugs half the bottle in one swig. He licks his lips, then climbs onto the octopus.

BELA Okay! How do we turn this thing on?

ED Well, somebody misplaced the motor. So when you wrestle the octopus...

ED ...shake the legs a bit, to make it look like it's killing you.  Okay!

Bela stares, deadpan.

BELA Do you know I turned down "Frankenstein"?

ED What?

BELA After I did "Dracula," the studio offered me "Frankenstein"! But I turned it down...

BELA ...the part wasn't sexy enough.

BELA It was too degrading for a big star like me.

The crew glances at Ed.

ED Bela, I've got twenty-five scenes to shoot tonight.

BELA Oh. Sorry. Don't let me slow you down.

ED Okay!

ED Alright? 

ED Alright.

ED Alright! Let's put it on film.

CAMERAMAN We're rolling! 

CAMERAMAN Ed, we don't have sound!
ED Oh.

Bela takes another swig of J.D., then throws it off-camera.

ED Aaaaand...ACTION!

Bela starts flailing around the octopus legs and SCREAMING in

This image is truly ridiculous.

Ed is pleased. Some crew members nod: Pretty good.


ED That was brilliant!

Everybody cheers. Then suddenly the dam walls BURST. WHOOSH! The water rushes from the lake and floods the park

Ed Wood

Words by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

Pictures by Stefan Czapsky and Tim Burton

Ed Wood is available on DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment.

And, here kids, is the the scene from Wood's Bride of the Monster (located at 02:17)
You might want to watch it all, if you want to see some truly...uh...stunning film-making.

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