In 1980 , two years after Ed Wood‘s alcohol related death at 54, film critic Michael Medved and his brother published “The Golden Turkey Awards” and gave Wood the award of being “The Worst Director of All Time” and naming his film Plan 9From Outer Space “The Worst Film of All Time.” The forever constipated Mr. Medved must had the biggest bowel movement of his life when he discovered that he and his brother unintentionally put the wheels in motion for the cult celebrity status of Wood who, to Medved, was little more than an object of derision.
Quite simply, Ed Wood was an outsider artist, whose medium was film. He managed to create two highly personalized “masterpieces” of naive surrealism; Glen or Glenda (1953) and Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) with “star” Bela Lugosi, who was clearly at the end of his tether.
In between these two films Wood made Bride of the Monster (1955) , also starring Lugosi (the only one of the three Wood films in which Lugosi actually ‘starred’), but that film was more of a concession to the genre and lacked the pronounced Woodian weirdness found in either Glen or Glenda or Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Fourteen years after Wood’s cult status rocketed out of the pages of Medved’s book, Tim Burton produced his valentine to Eddie. Clearly, Ed Wood was as personal a film for Burton as Glen and Plan 9 had been for Wood. Burton faced immense difficulty in mounting the project and was given what, for him, was a small budget. Artistically, the endeavor paid off and even did so financially, in time, although it took Touchstone years to realize the film’s cult potential for the DVD market.
In 1994 Tim Burton was the perfect artist to bring Ed’s story to the screen. Burton, recognizing a fellow auteur and genuine oddball, treated Wood, not with derision, but with the respect he deserved. Before Ed Wood, Burton, although trained at Disney, was still an outsider with Hollywood backing, which makes him (in that regard) a kindred spirit to Stanley Kubrick. Burton’s first big budget feature effort Continue reading ED WOOD (1994), TIM BURTON’S GLORIOUS SWANSONG.→
“I always wanted to make a Kenneth Anger movie, and I wanted to combine great theatrical tradition and British pop cinema of the 60s, which was very psychedelic, and at the same time, to make a movie about a man who creates his own mythology. It had to be surreal in order to pay off.”–Director Refn on Bronson
PLOT: Narrated from a theater inside his own mind by Michael Peterson (later to rechristen himself Charles Bronson, his “fighting name” ), the movie is an aggressively stylized account of the true story of Britain’s most notorious prisoner, who spent 30 years of his 34 year sentence in solitary confinement for his violent behavior. Peterson knocks over a post office with a sawed-off shotgun and receives a seven year penitentiary sentence; inside, he finds he has a natural affinity for institutional life as he nurtures a burgeoning passion for taking hostages and picking fights with prison guards. Shuffled from prison to prison, and serving a brief stint in a hospital for the criminally insane, Peterson is furloughed, becomes a bare-knuckle boxer and adopts the name Bronson, and lasts a few months in the outside world before finding himself reincarcerated, at home once more.
The movie stays true to the spirit of the real life Michael Peterson/Charlie Bronson, while omitting many facts and inventing others. The real Charlie Bronson has won several awards in prison-sponsored contests for his artwork and poetry and has published several books, including a fitness guide and an autobiography titled “Loonyology.” In one of his hostage-taking escapades, he demanded an inflatable doll, a helicopter and a cup of tea as ransom.
Before incarceration Michael Peterson actually worked as a circus strongman, which may be where he developed his distinctive trademark handlebar mustache and shaved pate.
Danish director Refn was previously best known for the gritty, documentary style Pusher trilogy, a look at the criminal drug dealing subculture in Copenhagen.
Some of the paintings appearing in the film and in the animated sequences are actual drawings by the real life Bronson. Examples of Bronson’s artwork can be found here.
Actor Tom Hardy put on about 40 pounds of muscle for the role. Previously best known as “Handsome Bob” in Guy Ricthie’s RocknRolla, Hardy is poised to become a breakout star, slated to replace Mel Gibson in the new “Mad Max” series.
Cinematographer Larry Smith began his career with Stanley Kubrick, working as an electrician on Barry Lyndon and a gaffer on The Shining before graduating to assistant cameraman for Eyes Wide Shut.
At the film’s London premiere, a tape recording of Bronson’s voice was played, stating, “I’m proud of this film, because if I drop dead tonight, then I live on. As long as my mother enjoys the film, I’m happy… I make no bones about it, I really was… a horrible, violent, nasty man. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not ashamed of it either, because every punch I’ve ever flung in my life I’ve taken 21 back.” This incident caused the Prison Officers’ Association to complain, because it is illegal to record a prisoner in a British prison without authorization. The Association also accused the film of “glorifying violence.”
INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bronson turning himself and his art teacher into living paintings in the very strange finale.
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Hyperstylized to the point of surreality, Bronson is biopic as mythology, an appropriate tack when dealing with a self-deluded, self-promoting subject. The portrait that emerges is not so much of a fascinating but essentially unknowable real-life sociopath as it is a portrait of Bronson’s pseudo-artistic attempt to create a public image as an antihero, with notes of humanizing sympathy but also with plenty of knowing irony added to deglamorize its subject.