Written by Steve D. Stones
I have a strange theory. Some of my colleagues in the academic world of art may scoff me for this theory, especially when comparing the two men that I’m about to compare. My theory is this: Could the current interest in director Ed Wood and the tragedy surrounding his life have come about for many of the same reasons as the Dutch Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh? Okay, laugh all you want, but I see many similarities in these two interesting men.
Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime and no one really paid much attention to his work while he was alive. Not until long after his death did the public begin to see the real genius in his life’s work. His paintings now sell for more money than most famous artists who have ever lived.
Ed Wood suffered a similar fate. His movies never did much business, and not many people took him very seriously during his lifetime. Not long after his death, Wood became a tragic star of the movie industry. He is often written about and discussed more than any famous movie director, living or dead. There are many books dedicated to the life and art of Ed Wood, and hundreds of articles that have been written about him. Ed Wood film festivals and retrospectives are held every year around the world. Wood has become a cottage industry.
Director Tim Burton even made a big budget Hollywood movie in 1993 about Ed Wood starring Johnny Depp in the role of Wood. Many documentaries have also come out about the life of Wood. A big budget Hollywood film was also made about Van Gogh in 1956 entitled Lust For Life, written by Irving Stone and directed by Vincente Minnelli. Kirk Douglas played the role of Vincent Van Gogh.
Over the last thirty years or so since his death, it has become “hip” and sophisticated to say you’re a fan of Ed Wood and his movies, even though most reputable film critics still regard his films as amateurish and terrible. Could it be that Ed Wood was just a misunderstood genius? That is the question that many of his devoted fans often ask themselves, including my good friend Doug Gibson and myself.
Why is it that Pop-Artist Andy Warhol can make a boring eight-hour film of a man sleeping and we call it “art,” yet Ed Wood makes a bold and entertaining political statement about aliens invading the earth in Plan 9 From Outer Space and we call it “trash?” Wood’s Glen Or Glenda is also regarded as “trash,” yet it too makes a very bold statement about the need for tolerance of cross-dressing males and men who want a sex change. Pretty bold stuff for 1953.
Van Gogh was said to suffer from frequent hallucinations. We see this expressed in many of his paintings, including his famous Starry Night painting. The swirling, thick impasto strokes of paint in The Starry Night give the viewer a hallucinogenic state of mind. Ed Wood also expressed a dizzying, hallucinogenic state of mind in many sequences found in Glen Or Glenda.
Could it be that Van Gogh was also misunderstood? Both Ed Wood and Vincent Van Gogh were heavy drinkers. Both men were also womanizers. Wood’s mother dressed him up in little girl’s clothing when he was a boy because she wanted a girl. Van Gogh’s mother often rejected him because she was never fully able to get over the death of her first-born son, also named Vincent. Both men also surrounded themselves with artists who were rapidly declining in their careers, or had yet to be discovered. Wood dabbled in pornography later in his career, and Van Gogh slept with prostitutes.
Ed Wood may have never slashed off any part of his body, as Van Gogh did with his ear, but I say the similarities of these two men are too uncanny to overlook. I stand by my theory. The world loves the tragic story of the tragic life of a creative genius.