My tenuous connection to PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE

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Happy Halloween! The following is a very personal and, as such, potentially boring story. If you’re not interested, feel free to sign off. But a blog is a place to share one’s history, so here’s a small piece of mine.

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To most people, Plan 9 from Outer Space is esteemed simply as one of the best worst movies ever made — full of wooden dialogue, shots that don’t match, and hubcaps pretending to be flying saucers. But its writer-director, Edward D. Wood Jr., would probably be pleased that he inspired me in some small way.

In the summer of 2005, I was doing what I could to get by after having suffered a nervous breakdown two years previously. One day, for no particular reason, I bought a cheap DVD of Plan 9 from Outer Space. I had first viewed the movie 25 years earlier on TBS after having read about its gloriously trashy reputation.

As I watched the movie again, I listened to its silly dialogue, and in my mind, I started shouting comebacks to the actors a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When the movie was over, I thought to myself, “I gotta write this down.” Blessed be the Internet, for I was easily able to find a transcript of the movie’s script online. I printed it out and red-marked it all over the place, and then I “adapted” it into my own script.

So now I had my own version of the movie. What to do with it? I converted into into stage-play format and tried to shop it around town. But you’d be amazed how tightly sewn up the local theater clique is — at least, our local theater clique. They claim to want to try something different, but in the end, they do productions of either public-domain works or the thousandth production of The Odd Couple.

I finally found a very adventurous local venue named Boomtown Theatre, managed by a self-described local gadfly named Stephen Dare. He liked the script and was willing to take on the production, even letting me share in the profits. For Stephen’s willingness to stick his neck out for a completely unknown quantity, I’ll be forever grateful.

The story of getting this production together would be a great story in itself. But with the help of Stephen, his crew, and a very fine cast (including my two children, who were naive enough to take speaking roles), we managed to do a really good show, performing all throughout the second half of October. The attendees responded very well to it. One of them even asked me to autograph his play program.

This month marks the tenth anniversary of the show, and it provides me with a special memory. (If you’re really interested, click here to visit a website that I created at the time to promote the play.) To anyone who has any kind of dream of performing, I say: If you believe in it, don’t let anyone talk you out of it. There’s always a way to make it happen, and I’m living proof of it.

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ED WOOD (1994) – Great tribute to a cross-dressing auteur

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Ed Wood is easily the best film ever made about one of the worst filmmakers ever.

Edward D. Wood, Jr. is renowned in movie cults for two astounding facts: (1) he was an enthusiastic transvestite with a fondness for angora sweaters, and (2) he was so excited about being in the Hollywood aura that he never noticed how bad his own movies were.

Wood’s primary connection to Hollywood glory is with washed-up Dracula star Bela Lugosi (a deservedly Oscar-winning performance by Martin Landau). Wood convinces himself that because he uses a former star in his movies, his films are automatically great — even though one of Lugosi’s scenes involves his struggle with a fake octopus that can’t be made to move.

Other Wood actors include The Amazing Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), a psychic of no known talent. (Criswell’s monologue, which opens the film, sounds bizarre until you discover that it was paraphrased from one of Wood’s own movies.) There’s Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), a wrestler whose bulk was used to mask his total inability to take direction. Wackiest of all is Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray), an outrageously fey hanger-on.

Wood’s enthusiasm for filmmaking overcomes disinterested distributors, budgets that ran from shoestring to nothing, and a vast array of non-talent. His main claim to immortality is Plan 9 from Outer Space, an astoundingly bad sci-fi movie whose making is well-chronicled here.

Tim Burton, who certainly understands misfits (BeetlejuiceEdward Scissorhands), directed this potentially campy bio-flick with only the greatest affection. The black-and-white photography perfectly mirrors Wood’s era. All of the performances are crazily heartfelt. And Depp delves into another quirkily beiievable character. (Most winning of all is Vincent D’Onofrio’s cameo as Orson Welles, who gives Wood some much-needed encouragement.)

The movie ends with Wood’s triumph of Plan 9‘s premiere and before his descent into alcoholism and poverty. The real-life Wood craved any attention he could get, and no doubt he would have been thrilled at this affectionate look at his filmmaking ineptitude.