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Ed Wood: A Man, a 'Plan,' a Banal . . .

October 02, 1994|Judy Brennan

In the high-tech world of '90s Hollywood, special-effects experts are elbowing each other out of the way to get at the latest computer, high-tech devices. But in the case of Tim Burton's film "Ed Wood," which celebrates the career of Edward D. Wood Jr., the cheesiest director of all time, the special effects had to mimic the tawdry ones in Wood's own films--a special challenge for effects head Paul Boyington.

The unlikely but irresistible subject of Wood, whose claims to fame include two of the films mentioned as among the worst ever made--"Plan 9 From Out Space" and "Glen or Glenda"--as well as the chance to work with Burton, drew, in addition to actors Johnny Depp (who plays Wood) and Martin Landau (who plays Bela Lugosi), Boyington, one of Hollywood's top special-effects experts, who found he had to consciously downplay his expertise in order to mimic the master of the worst.

"You start studying this guy's technique and you find out how wacky he really was--that's the appeal and reason for all of this interest," says Boyington, 41, who is credited as supervisor of special effects on "Ed Wood." His previous credits include "Ironweed," "Nightmare on Elm Street II," TV's "Monsters" and "The Dennis Miller Show," and music videos for Keith Richards and Megadeth. He has earned an Emmy for special effects for 1992's "The Last Halloween," and three Clio nominations.

Instead of his usual fare of high-tech models and computer animation, Boyington worked with wood models and pie-plate flying saucers for "Ed Wood," the props of choice of Wood himself.

"In one of the scenes, we actually flew some paper plates and bowls that were painted silver," says Boyington--a real Wood touch. "But we did have some saucers cast in resin that we're programmed to make them look like they were rocking on a fishing line. Tim (Burton) would always say, 'Make it look high-end but keep it looking like Ed Wood.' Ed Wood's technique was sort of like the way Picasso took realism and destroyed it."

The Burton film marks a renaissance of sorts in interest in the career of Wood, whose films peaked in the '50s. In fact, there are no fewer than four documentaries available on video about the life of the transvestite Wood, who died in 1978--and one more in the works. His techniques and questionable effects certainly loom large in the documentaries, as do his bizarre use of stock footage, disastrous dialogue and horrific acting. The films include:

* Ted Newsom's "Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora" for Rhino Video, released in video stores Aug. 31 for $19.95;

* Cult Movies magazine publishers Buddy Barnett and Mike Copner's "On the Trail of Ed Wood," the first Wood documentary, which was released in 1990 and is available through the magazine;

* Mark Carducci's "Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: The 'Plan 9' Companion," available for $24.95 through mail order or select cult video stores since 1992;

* A one-hour Ed Wood segment on the BBC's 1991 documentary series "The Incredibly Strange Picture Show," available through the Discovery Channel, and

* Brett R. Thompson's "The Haunted World of Edward D. Wood Jr.," planned for a late-November or early-December screening at the Directors Guild and an art-house release in spring.

So which is the best? Depends on who you ask.

Newsom's, Carducci's and Thompson's are the most recent. Newsom's has the interview with Wood's widow, Kathy. But Thompson says that his will include Wood's first Betty Crocker commercial and footage of Wood's disastrous first film, "Crossroads of Laredo," which couldn't be released because Wood lost the soundtrack.

Carducci says: "Mine is the most comprehensive. While it's mainly about the making of 'Plan 9,' it has a more thorough overview of Ed's life."

And Newsom's? "We cover Ed Wood from cradle to grave and then some," he says. "We also have the women in Ed's life."

For what it's worth, Buddy Barnett says he and Copner were the first to begin the Wood process. "I can't tell you why the delayed interest with Ed Wood.

"Maybe it's the fascination with the seedier or sad side of Hollywood life, the combination of dreamer and failure. Or maybe there's a little bit of Ed Wood in all of us that we just need to know."*

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