Saturday, September 22

What do Tim Burton and Ed Wood have in common? Everything but the hair…


Burton discusses new film and his parallels to "worse director of all time"

By Michael Horowitz

Daily Bruin Senior Staff

There’s something mysteriously similar about Ed Wood and Tim
Burton.

One was decried "the worst director of all time," and never
attained commercial or critical success. The other is hailed as a
stylish genius and his films have achieved great victories with
critics and at the box office.

Yet both have a slanted world-view, an alternate perception that
is indisputably their own vision. Ed Wood films look like Ed Wood
films and Tim Burton films look like Tim Burton films. Few really
"get" either of them.

It is ultimately ironic and incredibly fitting that Burton’s
latest is an ode to the schlock director he never met.

Burton’s lips sputter as he tries to convey his feelings for the
project. "I got so excited I just split my pants right open," he
confesses, revealing his pant leg torn up past the knee. "It’s just
all so exciting."

With Central Park behind him, he sits in the Ritz-Carlton in New
York City talking about his work and Ed Wood. Burton’s energy seems
to be caffeine-generated – intense and spasmodic – and it would be
impossible to discern if he was on hard drugs. How could you
tell?

His right hand swings around perpetually, to illustrate a point,
to brush the table, or to further ruffle his black mangy hair.
Every once in a while his left hand joins the right in gesture, but
for most of the quotes in this interview were conveyed with just a
flailing right arm.

"I’ve always had trouble with the words ‘reality’ and ‘normal,’
because what somebody sees as normal you see as abnormal," says
Burton. "Every film I’ve ever done I always feel is real, everyone
else just thinks it’s completely ridiculous. So I always try to
invest it with some emotional subtext, much in the same way if you
read ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ you’re not going to say ‘this is
real,’ but hopefully there’s emotional subtext to it."

Tim Burton’s modern day fairy tales have dealt with the
individual in an effort to come to grips with a society that finds
it difficult to accept him or her. "Edward Scissorhands," "Pee
Wee’s Big Adventure" and to a lesser extent "Batman" all have
misunderstood artist themes at work. His latest film "Ed Wood"
employs the same sentiment, but this time it’s ironic: Ed is the
only one who just doesn’t get it.

"The thing that was different about this film and the thing that
I enjoyed was that that theme was true," Burton says, "but in this
case, unlike some of the other films, he doesn’t care! He just
keeps going."

Wood shares Burton’s artistic passion but for him it is truly
excitement without foundation. Burton explains, "There’s a sort of
delusional quality to the character, a forced optimism which I
found very appealing."

This characteristic of Wood made Burton look past his subject’s
lack of public notoriety. "I wasn’t interested in making a
‘Hollywood’ story per say," he says. "It was more the spirit of
people who want to do stuff and do it no matter what. Life is kind
of harsh on people and I like their perverted optimism, that I
found refreshing to me."

"I don’t think you get acknowledged as the worst director for
nothing," Burton says of Wood. "There’s a lot of bad films … You
have to have substance."

"When I was a child I saw "Plan 9 from Outer Space," you’re not
saying ‘this is a bad film,’ it’s almost like a dream. There’s some
weird twisted sense of poetry and a consistency … You don’t even
see that kind of consistency in what is perceived as a good film.
There’s something strong and kind of subconscious about the work
that I think transcends being bad in a way.

"There’s a heartfelt quality," he adds, "I think especially to
the earlier ones, the later ones get a little more out of it, but
the early ones have a weird purity to them that’s hard to
describe."

Yet Wood felt his films had more than a "weird purity." In "Ed
Wood," Wood is constantly comparing himself to Orson Welles, and
his assessments of his own work were never less than flattering.
"When you’d read Ed Wood’s letters, the way he’d describe his
films, it’s like he’s describing ‘Citizen Kane.’ There are these
parallel universes, what he perceives and what the rest of the
world perceives."

But Wood and Burton share more than their enjoyment of Ed Wood
films; they both have a strange eye for subject matter. Wood’s
first three film subjects: a sex-changed transvestite, a
science-created monster and grave-robbers from outer space.
Burton’s first three: a weirdo in search of his bike, an un-dead
rabble-rouser and a psychotic vigilante in a cape.

Burton and crew enjoyed shooting some of Wood’s cheesy horror
scenes as close to the originals as they could muster. In "Bride of
the Monster," Bela Lugosi struggles with a fake octopus the
filmmakers ripped off from a studio lot. In the Hollywood hills, in
a shallow pool under the moonlight the skeleton crew shot the
ridiculous scene. Of course, in typical Ed Wood style, they did it
in one take.

Burton was up to the challenge. "With Bela wrestling with the
octopus, I did that in one take," he laughed, "and it kind of
freaked me out. Hollywood movies are so cumbersome and take so long
just getting set up and stuff. This is a Hollywood movie but we did
try to keep the spirit of his stuff."

The film "Ed Wood" makes a strong case for following your dream,
no matter how twisted. Not surprisingly, Burton has some experience
in this arena.

"We’re in a country that oddly enough is based on the
individual," laughs Burton,"and yet all the individuals that I grew
up knowing we always tortured by society. That whole dynamic of the
individual is not as accepted as the mythology of that. Every
single person I knew who got enthusiastic, went out on a limb and
decided to do something was kind of preyed upon. The angry
villagers in ‘Frankenstein,’ no singular person, just a cultural
‘back! back!’"

Which brings us to the biggest difference in the careers of Wood
and Burton. While Burton has received acclaim for his vision well
within his lifetime, Wood never got the positive reinforcement he
worked in search of. The minimal acceptance he craved was so
precious and so fleeting. The strongest emotional moment of the
film becomes the seconds he spends with his wife-to-be Kathy in a
broken fun house ride. He tells her he wears women’s clothes. She
says "okay."

"That point in the script I remember reading and it really
affected me very strongly," remembers Burton. "I almost started
crying. It’s so rare in our life, or anybody’s life that we get
that simple acceptance, and she did that with him. I found it
quietly powerful. It’s not a flamboyant scene."

"Just simple acceptance is so rare in the world."

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