Behind The Sweater
A good overview of Wood's film journey
More insight would have made this better
The Bottom Line:
An interesting look at a leading figure in low budget cinema.
Low budget cinema has had many famous and infamous names, but none have the unique qualities of Edward Davis Wood, Jr.. He never hid his transvestite life from those he came to know, but he managed to gain relationships with a few name actors and others who kept him employed during the last 25 years of his life. While his scripts and directing may have been earnest, nobody will ever praise his efforts for their earnestness. The 1994 video Ed Wood: Look Back In Angora came out around the time of Tim Burton's movie Ed Wood. The documentary contains clips from a number of Wood's works, and contains recollections from several people who were key figures in Wood's life in the movies.
Look Back In Angora is narrated by Gary Owens, and includes accounts of Wood from Dolores Fuller, A. C. Stephen, and Wood's widow, Kathy. Writer-producer-director Ted Newsom provides some background on Wood and his journey to Hollywood, where he found employment at Universal Studios while hoping to become a a writer and director. Universal didn't give him that sort of work, though he did get the opportunity to do his first feature, Glen Or Glenda, in 1953. Since nobody else was offering Bela Lugosi work, the veteran actor accepted Wood's offer to work on the film for a day for guaranteed pay. His part certainly seems out of step with the main story of people whose lives are diferent from typical living. Other actors of note who worked with Wood during his career included Steve Reeves, Lyle Talbot, and Gregory Walcott.
In the 1950s, Wood could find the money to meet many of his film's expenses, and had some loyal friends both in front of and behind the camera, including Conrad Brooks, who also shares some of his memories of his friend for the documentary. After that, he had to rely on the finances of others. He turned from making science fiction and action pictures to writing (and occasional directing and acting) for skin flicks that made his earlier work seem dignified. It also showed Wood had much deeper problems than finding money to work in an industry he loved.
Ed Wood: Look Back In Angora is both funny and sad - and I wish the documentary were longer than its 50-minute running time. For one thing, the people who talk about Wood get very little time to talk in anything but generalities. One of the few things that strays from an overview is Kathy Wood's story about how she met Ed - and stayed with him in a life that never seemed to get any better as far as financial success was concerned. Newsom, at least, does include some footage from home movies and some other little-seen clips. Around the time he did Glen Or Glenda, Wood made a TV pilot for a western called Crossroad Avenger, which featured Talbot, as well as Wood regulars Tom Keene and Kenne Duncan (and it was filmed in color). Owens certainly keeps a light and upbeat tone with his narration, even when some of the details of Wood's later years are decidedly sad. While it's fun to watch film clips that exemplify Wood's ineptitude, I wish more time had been devoted to the testimony and to the glimpses of Wood that have been seldom seen.
As Look Back In Angora notes, Wood and his work didn't gain much of its cult following until after his 1978 death, where the works of the Medved brothers and others brought attention to the dubious merits and unintentional hilarity of these movies. The interest has led to learning more about the man himself, and led to the decades-old payment of a film developing bill Wood was never able to afford. The result was the direct-to-video release of Night Of The Ghouls, the film Wood made right after his best-known picture, Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's been said that Ed Wood admired, and aspired to make films like, Orson Welles. Nobody is ever going to insist that Wood succeeded at this end, but he did leave a body of work that has garnered attention for a different reason. People watch and wonder how Wood did it - and if he had any clue as to what he was doing.