Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ed Wood vs. Herschell Gordon Lewis

Ed Wood worked so hard. Plan 9 from Outer Space had a fairly complex plot, three or four different threads going---the depressed old man, the army guy, the airline pilot, the police. I thought it was nicely edited. It had special effects, constructed sets, miniatures, it had a few decent actors---Gregory Walcott, Tom Keene, Lyle Talbot, Dudley Manlove who was big in radio, Joanna Lee who went on to be a writer and producer in television (although she cheerfully denied any connection to Plan 9). It had scenes in The Pentagon, in the barren desert landscape outside Washington, D.C., in and around Los Angeles. He had one good scene of Tor Johnson rising from the grave although they ruined it at the end with an unconvincing miniature headstone falling into the empty grave.

Contrast that with the crap Herschell Gordon Lewis churned out. I guess he did put some effort into Two Thousand Maniacs, but for the most part he didn't seem to be trying very hard. He filmed whole scenes in one master shot, the camera always mounted on a tripod. He would only cut within a scene if one of his "actors" flubbed a line. He panned and tilted and zoomed a little, but he never tracked or dollied like Ed Wood did. His storylines were always quite crude, simply excuses for sex or gore scenes. Everything was always brightly, evenly lit.

So. Should you try to be more like Herschell Gordon Lewis or more like Ed Wood? I mean, you wouldn't want to be either one of these guys, but they didn't get to choose who they were, either. For someone just setting out with a digital camcorder, someone with little money, experience, and probably not much talent, how hard should you really try?

When you watch a low budget movie, if it's any good, you'll find yourself thinking that, if the filmmaker just had some money to work with, they could make some pretty good movies. You never think that watching the movies of Ed Wood or Herschell Lewis.

Lewis probably had less to be embarrassed about. He made sex and gore movies. They were what they were. He made few pretenses. He can dismiss any attacks on his work by declaring that he was just trying to make money (which he did).

Ed Wood made a deeply but weirdly personal film, Glen or Glenda, a heartfelt plea for tolerance. Plan 9, bankrolled by a Baptist church, called for an end to the arms race. Bride of the Monster ended with a nuclear explosion intended to protest nuclear weapons. What did Herschell Gordon Lewis ever do?

Of course, Glen or Glenda was produced as an exploitation film meant to cash in on news of a sex change in Europe. And Ed Wood did end up working in sex movies, both as a writer and director and, in one case, as an actor. He wrote several porno novels.

Herschell Gordon Lewis knew when to quit. He went into "direct marketing". Ed Wood stuck it out to the bitter end.

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