Sunday, October 18, 2009

Don't Make a Scene: Ed Wood

The Set-Up: It's fantasy, of course.

If hack-director Ed Wood ever did meet Orson Welles in a bar, probably Welles would have dismissed him as "a pest." He'd have at least roared at the get-up (while knowing full well that you can run into practically anything in L.A.).

But in Tim Burton's love-letter to the glories of making movies (if not particularly the titular subject) "Ed Wood," Wood does get to meet his hero, and the ocassion is not one of rancor, but a fulfilment of his own vision of himself—that he finds kinship and acceptance with Welles—and encouragement to fight the good fight for "the vision," even if no one else sees it.

And even if that vision is less than 20/20. Far less.

But, let's clear the record a little bit. The whole thing about casting Charlton Heston as a Mexican? It's a point. The film was "Touch of Evil," and it did, indeed, star Charlton a Mexican. A Mexican police detective. When the producers were talking to Heston about participating, they casually mentioned that they were trying to get Orson Welles, too. Heston's interest perked up—and said that if they could get Welles interested in directing it, too, that he was in.

So, in other words, Heston got Welles his job.

And Welles turned it into the most gloriously over-the-top B-movie noir ever, sophisticated and seedy, with a lot of top-tier talent who came on board because it was Orson and it would be a party. And a classic.

The producers, of course, took it away from Welles and re-cut it and re-tooled it over Welles (and Heston's) protests. Welles in interviews has called Heston "the nicest guy in Hollywood."

Here, Orson Welles is played by Vincent D'Onofrio and voiced by Maurice LaMarche (who also supplies the Wellesian voice of "The Brain" in "Pinky and the..." Ed Wood is, of course, Johnny Depp by way of Jon Lovitz.

The Story: It's a rough day on the set of "Plan 9 from Outer Space:" the crew are quarrelling, and the money-men (ministers from a local Baptist Church) are questioning everything—the casting, the sets, the expense—that Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is forced to go into "security blanket" mode, emerging from the bathroom in drag with his customary angora sweater. This sends the Church-men into a tizzy, and Ed, in a fit of pique, stomps off the set and heads to a local bar to drown his sours. And as usually happens in the life of the director, he gets his dream come true—but not always in the best circumstances.



The place is quiet, mid-morning. Frazzled Ed enters and sits at the bar.

ED: Imperial whiskey, straight up.

The bartender nonchalantly pours a shot. Ed takes the drink.

He quietly sips his booze and reflects upon his day.*

Ed glances around. And then, suddenly -- his eyes widen.

Sitting at a table is ORSON WELLES! The portly, world-famous filmmaker sits alone, eating lunch with one hand and drawing STORYBOARDS with the other.

Ed is thunderstruck.

ED: Oh my God. It's Orson Welles...

Ed nervously stands. He starts to step forward --

when he catches his own reflection in a mirror. He's still in drag.

ED: Oh shit.**

Ed rolls his eyes. He runs his hand through his hair, then slowly approaches Orson Welles. Ed is terrified.

ED: Excuse me, Sir...?

ORSON WELLES:(he casually looks up) Yes?
ED: Uh, uh, I'm a young filmmaker, and a really big fan...

ED: ...and I just wanted to meet you.

ORSON WELLES: (he extends his hand) My pleasure. I'm Orson Welles.

ED: Oh. Um, I'm Ed Wood!
(he smiles anxiously)

ED: So, what are you working on now?


ORSON WELLES:...the financing just fell through for the third time on "Don Quixote." So I'm trying to finish a promo for something else. But I can't find the soundtrack --
(he shrugs)
I think I left it in Malta.

Ed is astonished.

ED: I can't believe it. These sound like my problems!
ORSON WELLES: It's the damn money men.

ORSON WELLES: You never know who's a windbag, and who's got the goods. And then they all think they're a director...

ED: Ain't that the truth! I've even had producers recut my movies --

ORSON WELLES: Ugh, I hate when that happens.

ED: (on a roll) And they always want to cast their buddies -- it doesn't even matter if they're right for the part!

ORSON WELLES: Tell me about it. I'm supposed to do a thriller at Universal, and they want Charlton Heston to play a Mexican!

Ed shakes his head. He's discouraged.

ED: Mr. Welles, is it all worth it?

ORSON WELLES: It is when it works.

ORSON WELLES: You know the one film of mine I can stand to watch? "Kane."

ORSON WELLES: The studio hated it... but they didn't get to touch a frame.
(he smiles warmly)


ORSON WELLES: Visions are worth fighting for.

ORSON WELLES: Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?


He has seen God.

ED: Wow.

ED: Thank you...

ED: ...Orson.

"Ed Wood"

Words by Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

Pictures by Stefan Czapsky and Tim Burton

"Ed Wood" is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

* In the film, Ed grabs it like a man dying of thirst, drinks it in one gulp and slams the shot-glass on the bar. Like a man would. Like a man wearing a pink angora sweater would.

** In the film, there are a couple discrepancies. Ed doesn't say "Oh, shit" and he introduces himself more formally as "I'm Edward D. Wood, Jr." That seems more apt. Also, Welles doesn't mention anything about losing something in Malta—that was something of a "dig."

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