Saturday Night At The Movies: Still Sick, Still Surveying Spooky Cinema
I'm sure it's still considered cool to shit on Ed Wood's movies, but the man had his undeniable moments of grace: The first shot of zombie Tor Johnson rising out of his grave in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is the kind of moment that would still scare old women and children and make rational adults uneasy today if the film before it was as effective as that shot is.
My headache is still too strong for me to hammer this thought into a better shape, but I think there's some class/money distinction that fuels the Wood hate, at least its first generation or two before "Ed Wood Made The Worst Movies Ever Made" joined "CITIZEN KANE Is The Greatest Movie Ever" and "CASABLANCA Is Not Just A Well-Made Romantic Weepie" as cinematic fact. Wood may very well have been an incompetent filmmaker, but money can cover and fix many a failure in competence.
Wood takes a lot of criticism for being a one-take wonder, but it seems to me that his movies suffer more from a lack of coverage than the mistakes in a given shot. More times than not, what makes me wince and/or laugh is the shot that doesn't belong in the flow of a scene but is probably there because Wood literally had no other piece of film to [mis-]match shots.
As a writer, Wood's brain was probably bigger than his eyes; non-literary science fiction is almost defined by improbably cosmic ideas and dialogue no human being would or even could speak [see also: Jack Kirby, George Lucas, H.G. Wells, everyone else -- you cite an example of sci-fi with natualistic dialogue, I'll call you a whore-fucking liarpants], but the delta between Wood's ideas and his budgets was so wide it was profoundly foolish of him to pursue them with such gusto. The American audience can easily forgive a filmmaker's lack of enthusiasm but not a lack of budget.
We should all be a little sad that the lesson most people take away from Ed Wood's life and career [especially the assholes who program and produce film festivals] isn't that you shouldn't let your financial situation and lack of significant institutional/professional support from pursuing your art and passion.
One of my many examples of how film festivals are all programmed by failed filmmakers is that not one of the festivals that revel in/exploit Wood's legacy with new films actually take up the challenges he faced: For example, in PLAN 9, Wood had three weeks and four days shooting time and a total budget of about $450,000 in 2010 dollars, a half-reel's worth of shots of a now-dead lead actor and the need to write/produce/direct a feature-length horror/sci-fi story that wouldn't offend a Baptist congregation too deeply. No filmmaker would dare it, but there are at least two Wood-themed fests where random fuckwits make intentionally bad short movies to celebrate Wood's legacy.
Ed Wood's movies are bad but no worse than any other B-movie of that period -- isn't it funny how so many of the movies dismissed as turkeys were made outside the studio system by creators in no position to make life difficult for the tastemakers [see virtually every first movie made by the Film School Generation for Roger Corman's production company; turkeys one and all] -- few of which have the passionate, genuinely unique signature that Wood gave to his movies.