Monday, 9 November 2009

Lights, cameras, action!

I'm a member of Sofa Cinema (for US readers, the equivalent of Netflix but associated with the Guardian), and my latest three DVDs are Disc One of I, Claudius, the bonus disc for This is Spinal Tap, and King Kong vs. Godzilla. These have delighted me no end.

For those unfamiliar with the Godzilla movies, I am not talking here about the abysmal nineties Hollywood monstrosities (which had proper special effects and therefore immediately lost any sense of understanding the point of the exercise), but the glorious Japanese originals. The monsters are VERY clearly guys in suits (hell they even fight, almost, according to Marquis of Queensberry rules), the mouths keep moving long after the speech has finished, the dialogue is painfully stilted-- apparently translated by Japanese people without recourse to any professional assistance-- and the plots are utter nonsense, despite having their hearts very much in the right place: these were pro-environment movies, albeit really badly made, DECADES before inconvenient truths were generally noticed. If I've made them sound awful, well they are, but SO awful that they are glorious; they are absolutely hilarious. Very much in the manner of the great Ed Wood.

Ed, of course, was an American film maker and dreamer. He somehow dreamed that he was capable of making watchable movies; he made movies all right, but spectacularly incompetently, and tripped over backwards into genius. His most celebrated film-- rightly-- is Plan 9 From Outer Space, which was also Bela Lugosi's last film. He died two days into shooting. Ed cast his wife's chiropodist as Lugosi's double, despite the fact that he was about a foot and a half taller than him and bore no facial resemblance to him whatsoever. So Ed cut some of Bela's early rehearsal footage into the movie, regardless of whether it actually fitted anywhere, and had the chiropodist walk around with his cloak covering his face at all times. This caused him to have to take bizarrely roundabout routes from one side of a room to the other at times to make sure his face wouldn't be towards camera, but hey, who cares, right? The film has some classic lines like "flying saucers? You mean the kind from up there?" and "one thing's sure. The captain's dead-- murdered-- and someone's responsible!". It also has a retired wrestler called Tor Johnson, an American schlock TV star called Elvira, and of course Ed Wood's wife's chiropodist. It is often cited as the worst movie ever made-- the stock footage from a dinosaur movie randomly spliced in no doubt contributes to that estimation-- and it is still available on DVD to this day. I recommend that you try to see it. I remember seeing it once in a glorious fleapit cinema in Munich called Neues Arena. It was a late night showing; the kiosk sales person was also the ticket taker and the projectionist; and there were about twelve people in the audience. I had smoked a great big joint before arriving there, and I swear everyone else in the place had done the same thing, because every time one of the superbly incompetent lines was uttered, or sometimes without that reminder, one person would giggle and gradually every other person in there did the same thing. It was absolutely the perfect way to see an Ed Wood movie. You won't be able to replicate that, but you can still see the movie. And King Kong vs Godzilla, and other Ed Wood and Godzilla movies, with or without herbal assistance. If you know what's good for you, you will: you should never underestimate the power of "so crap it's good".


  1. Well you know I agree with you re: Godzilla. In fact, I have an article up at Mondo Cult discussing the original in depth. Have a look at: It's under Features. As to Ed Wood... well, there agin I have an interview wherein I discuss Ed Wood and his joyous work. That's at If you search under the Mondo Cult profile name, the video in question is entitled Sci Fi / Jessie Lilley on Tom Graeff.

    Eddie figures greatly in the interview.

    I love Ed Wood's stuff. He had such great desire to be great.

  2. "an American schlock TV star called Elvira"

    Actually, Elvira was one of the first - if not THE first - horror host. These folks would host a weekly horror movie on network television in the 50s and 60s (and today they've come back in full force with the likes of Dr. Gangrene and Penny Dreadful and such). My personal favorite was and is Zacherley. A lovely man with a macabre sense of humor. You can actually buy his old shows that were saved in Kinescope and check the stuff out. I'm sure You Tube has him somewhere. He hoster Chiller Theatre on WPIX 11 out of NYC. Before that, he was Roland, in Phildelphia. Hilarious stuff, and something that helped to spawn what is known across the internet as MONSTER KIDS. I'm one of them.

  3. Yes, I had a bet with myself that you would comment favourably on this one. As far as Elvira, goes, sorry for underestimating her fame, but she is actually probably best known over here for Plan 9, and most people have probably never heard of her.

  4. Actually I discovered in the splendid Ed Wood biopic, with Johnny Depp as Ed, that she was really famous back then in the US. I bet you can relate to my Neues Arena experience though.