“One is always considered mad when one perfects something that others cannot grasp.”
― Ed Wood
Ed Wood is my favorite director. Not for any particular visual style or nuance of narrative design. Not because he was one of the greatest (name your thing) this world has ever seen, but because he kept making movies, or more importantly kept making his movies; against all odds and all reasons not to continue.
This would be a different world without Ed Wood. He blurred the lines between bad and misunderstood. He made them ok as one and the same.
This may not seem too big of a deal, but in the formation of taste and culture, the polarization of good and bad is deemed necessary. Without it much of what we know is tossed in the air. Misunderstood presumes a ‘could be’ good that makes the polarization a bit difficult to defend.
Ed Wood made the films he wanted to make. No matter how flawed or unprofessional some may say. No matter how the money hands told him he was no good. They were his expression. They fit the world he saw with his eyes. He presented a certain quality unconcerned with the perceptions of others and the value they ascribed to the work he put forth.
It’s the backbone of DIY filmmaking; the issuing of a new formation to establish ideas that counter the establishment’s consensus. And yet, his efforts are still thwarted as a kind of comedy act. Admirable absolutely, but held at an arm’s length when it comes to the end game.
He never directed a shot he didn’t like. It takes a special weird genius to be voted the Worst Director of All Time, a title that Wood has earned by acclamation. He was so in love with every frame of every scene of every film he shot that he was blind to hilarious blunders, stumbling ineptitude, and acting so bad that it achieved a kind of grandeur. But badness alone would not have been enough to make him a legend; it was his love of film, sneaking through, that pushes him over the top.
Ultimately, I love the end of this statement by Roger Ebert over the rest. “It was his love of film, sneaking through, that pushes him over the top.” It’s one of the truest statements anyone has made on behalf of Ed Wood’s creations. But, I’m not so certain Wood was blind to what he did.
Obviously I have no way of confirming, but I always wonder if it is we who are blind. Wrapped in a way of seeing things so as to disregard what we believe to not fit in the realms of good.
It’s easy to write him off. Or, better yet, to admire via safety net of “his work was so bad”. But, who is setting the bar? Where is the book that outlines the rules?
How is it that we can love his work so much as long as it is delegated to the realm of bad cinema? What is there to preserve that we cannot say its brilliance is out of our reach?
Letting the seams loose speaks to an acceptance of all that is around (including yourself). Fact and fiction blend to create something wholly its own. There is something of the experience making the expression embedded in the expression itself. Not a wink. Not a subtext. But, a cohesion. An aliveness to the material that could not be contained by the constraints of our presumptions.
Is it so that he was truly the worst director of all time or did he manage to discover a certain, previously unknown?
Maybe I’ve just idealized him to such a degree that I want it to be true. Does that make it any less true? Is the idea in my mind of his process of living anything other than true? In his review of Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood, Roger Ebert wrote
I am uncertain how much of the movie is based on actual fact, and how much has been invented by Burton and his writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. But I relished the process by which Wood’s project “Grave Robbers from Outer Space” became “Plan 9 from Outer Space” after he raised the money from a church group which objected to grave-robbing, in the title, anyway.
So who is to say it matters anyway?
We have grown to accept (though at times minimally) the complication of films by the likes of Terrence Malick, but what of the complication imposed by Ed Wood? What of this methodology that speaks to a formation of ideas not so easily distilled? One that is not concerned with a maintenance of the real and unreal? One that is less than interested in the upholding of predetermined reality?
What if something else is at hand?
Life is loose. No matter how we attempt to control its movements, it will go whichever way it wants.
In the pre-dawn hours of DIY cinema Ed Wood presented a case for its existence. Another series of possibilities to inform our reality offering tools for the budding filmmaker that did not seem fit for the model thus extended.
We have since grown into a certain understanding of this, and yet it is maintained at a distance from Ed Wood’s cinema. His work is still delegated to a certain place where we can define and accept what it is that he achieved.
But, with this, he continues. He works against the confines. So, even as we say that we love him, but his films are so bad, we love him nonetheless. And over time this love overwhelms the established norms of what it is to be good, bad and misunderstood. Our established presumptions wither away and quite possibly a new series unfolds. One we might never fully understand, but as with any great artist, find it increasingly difficult to ignore or dismiss.
As Karl Marx said, “The reform of consciousness consists solely in…the awakening of the world from its dream about itself.” And, as a comment on the above Plan 9 from Outer Space video states, it’s “still better than Twilight“.