Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora (1994)

There comes a time in the genre film fan’s life when you suddenly make a critical reappraisal of the films of Ed Wood. As for me, I came to his films from It Came From Hollywood and the Medved brothers’ books, where he was made fun of for being the worst filmmaker ever and Plan 9 From Outer Space was laughed at as the worst movie of all time.

Or maybe — just maybe — he was an auteur who never had the benefits most auteurs do, like budgets, decent acting, good sets and so much more.

Writer and director Ted Newsom — who made this and other documentaries like 100 Years of Horror — credited Lucille Ball, Sidney Salkow (director of Last Man on Earth) and Ben Brady (producer of The Outer Limits) as the people who he considered teachers. He moved from newspaper and magazine writing to books and screenplays with his partner John Brancato. In fact, working with Brancato, the team worked with Stan Lee to write early scripts for Sgt. Fury, Spider-Man and The Sub-Mariner films.

This Rhino Video* release breaks down why Wood was so essential and has interviews with Delores Fuller, Conrad Brooks and Kathy Wood, amongst others. It also has a lot of abandoned projects, like the pilot for a TV western and Fred Olen Ray’s Beach Blanket Bloodbath, a movie that a dissolute Wood was hired to write months before he died.

Jim Morton wrote in RE/Search: Incredibly Strange Films — which was the bible for my film mania at one point and started my question to learn more about so many filmmakers — “Eccentric and individualistic, Edward D. Wood Jr. was a man born to film. Lesser men, if forced to make movies under the conditions Wood faced, would have thrown up their hands in defeat.” That quote means more to me than a lot of this movie, whose Gary Owens-delivered patter seems to make light of the fact that Wood suffered failure after failure, finally kicked out of his home and dying alone, screaming for his wife to get him a drink.

Today, I see Ed Wood as a dreamer, a man who had visions in his head that he was unable to translate to the screen. That said, what he was able to get up there, we’re still talking about years after incredibly professional and well-made movies have been forgotten. And for that, he should be celebrated. After all, Glen or Glenda is a shocking film even today, a transgressive film even without knowing that Wood himself was obsessed with cross-dressing, finding comfort in the soft comfort of angora.

*Rhino was a big deal in my teen years, putting out the Dr. Demento records and early video releases like, well, this documentary. Richard Foos, one of their execs, left the label once Warner Media bought them and he was one of the people behind Shout! Factory, which pretty much does what Rhino once did so well.

You can watch this on YouTube.

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