Writing about the film HOST and commenting on the ways in which it so perfectly captures the zeitgeist and ortgeist (“spirit of the time” and “spirit of the place”, respectively, if you ain’t bilingual) got me to thinking about other movies that managed to do the same. Movies that tell us so much about the eras in which they were filmed, about what was going on in human history at the time, statements often inadvertently captured on celluloid, reflected reality. And that got me to thinking about the most underappreciated one of them all: Ed Wood’s PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.
Following is an excerpt from a post I wrote a few years ago in loving tribute to the film. I meant it then and I stand by it now. And I think it bears repeating.
Ed Wood—Eddie to me—is credited as “The Worst Director of All Time,” and the director of “The Worst Movie of All Time”—PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (which Eddie also wrote). It is because of this assignation that Eddie has become a posthumous celebrity, so I wouldn’t want to take it away from him; likewise, PLAN 9 would have likely been forgotten by now if somebody hadn’t decided it was “the worst of all time!” so I wouldn’t want to change that, either. But these “honors” are wildly inaccurate.
I could name at least a dozen movies off the top of my head that are worse, way worse, than PLAN 9. Besides, as other fans have said, if you have a movie that is so much fun to watch, can you really, accurately call that a “bad” movie? Truly bad movies are insufferable, dull. PLAN 9 is an absolute hoot from beginning to end. The worst director of all time? Eddie was not even the worst director of his day. There were plenty of guys cranking out contemporary low budget, boring-as-hell films. They were a dime a dozen. But there is one, only one, PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Ed Wood gave the world something truly special, something wonderful. That it is wonderful in a way other than what he might have initially intended doesn’t in any way diminish the fact.
Eddie has been characterized as a poor man’s Orson Wells. I say, Orson is a poor man’s Ed Wood! True, CITIZEN KANE may represent a masterpiece of the filmmaking craft. But it’s nowhere near as enjoyable to watch as PLAN 9. And I’ll tell you something else. Some far-future socio-anthropologist, in looking back at the cinema of our present day to dissect it for meaning as to our culture, our mores and taboos, our circumstances of shared humanity, will find as much to note in PLAN 9 as in C.K. No, more. CITIZEN KANE is a character study. It is the story of one man. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE is about all of us. The ridiculous dialogue, chintzy special effects, total lack of production values, stilted acting and absurd plot do not in any way detract from or obscure the social commentary. In fact the basic subtext is the same as in the recognized classic THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL: Mankind’s technology has outstepped his morality. Humanity is on the verge of concurring the stars, but the risk is there that it will export its war-faring ways, and its means of destroying itself, destroying whole worlds, to the stars with it. And this fact makes the other intelligent lifeforms out there in the universe rightfully nervous, so much so that they feel the need to take action.
There’s so much there. Cold War angst; humanity looking up at the stars and wondering if it is alone; a detached clinical assessment of the human race as inherently dangerous, even malignant, with this juxtaposed against what we as humans recognize as our finer qualities: heroism, selflessness, ingenuity. It’s all in there.
In summation, then, I contend that Ed Wood outdid Wells at capturing the zeitgeist and ortgeist of mid-20th Century human existence. Eat your heart out, Orson!