Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Ed Wood Collection: A Salute to Incompetence

Posted on Thu, Mar 15, 2007 at 4:00 AM

The Ed Wood Collection: A Salute to Incompetence
Studio: Passport
WorkNameSort: Ed Wood Collection: A Salute to Incompetence, The

Really? Criterion didn't want to touch this one? It's a shame, because there's a perverse satisfaction in knowing that more than 400 minutes of Ed Wood's unmistakable oeuvre is concentrated in one place. Along with anti-classics such as Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), the two-DVD set contains some lesser works. Bride of the Monster (1955) contains a scene of a game Bela Lugosi wrestling with a flaccid latex octopus (a moment in film history re-enacted by Martin Landau in Tim Burton's biopic Ed Wood); Night of the Ghouls (1959) was not released in Ed Wood's lifetime. It's a formidable lineup, but completists will have to wait for someone with a stronger stomach to issue a companion volume of lowlights, like Necromania (1971), from his later pornoschlock period. Until then, this is a more than decent introduction to the work of a filmmaker of notorious ineptitude.

To be fair, it's not that Ed Wood is the worst director of all time. (Have you ever seen the work of Dwain Esper? Now that's incompetence.) Wood suffered from the same affliction as many outsider artists: His zeal far exceeded his skill. Consider the infamous dream sequence in Glen or Glenda, in which Wood, dressed in angora and heels, evades jeering crowds and crepe hair demons, unsuccessfully tries to rescue his fiancee (Dolores Fuller), who's trapped under a log in their living room, and endures Lugosi's taunts of 'Beware! Beware of the big green dragon that sits on your doorstep. He eats little boys. Puppy dog tails, and big fat snails! Beware!â?� The sequence may be clumsy and bizarre, but it shows a free-associative imagination and a fearlessness of vision that's utterly unique. As Susan Sontag put it in her essay Notes on Camp, there's 'success in certain passionate failures.â?�

In keeping with Wood's slipshod reputation, the picture quality is compressed so mercilessly it makes clips posted on YouTube look luxuriously crisp in comparison. The supplemental materials are a handful of bottom-of-the-barrel (and barely relevant) unused interviews from the Ed Wood PR tour. One standout, however, is a chat with the bright and self-aware Maila Nurmi, aka Vampira, who divulges that the voluptuous ghoul of protogoth fame was the invention of a shy, ugly, anorexic teenager who longed to be blessed with Hollywood glamour. Wood and his cronies never received the critical legitimacy they craved, but any posthumous salute ' even if it's to incompetence ' is better than none.


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