He’s not quite Van Gogh, but Ed Wood Jr., declared the “world’s worst filmmaker” barely two years after his ignominious death in a dive off the wrong side of Hollywood Boulevard, is turning out to be one of the great posthumous success stories. First came the bad-movie festivals, then the reissues, the biography, the Plan 9 From Outer Space musical, and the Tim Burton biopic-remade this summer, after a fashion, as Steve Martin’s Bowfinger. Now, Wood’s last “screenplay” has been exhumed from the vault and brought to the screen-with maximum faux-naïveté and much interpolated stock footage-by Italian director Aris Iliopulos.
The script, which has no dialogue, has something to do with a thief (coproducer Billy Zane) who stashes his ill-gotten gains in a coffin and loses the money to some graveyard habitué. Iliopulos has managed to cast a number of well-known suspects, including Sandra Bernhard (allowed to do a striptease), Tippi Hedren (permitted to punch out Zane’s lights before he hurls her into the Pacific), Eartha Kitt, Christina Ricci, and authentic Wood star Maila “Vampira” Nurmi. Zane, in and out of drag, has the Wood look down (at least as it was invented by Johnny Depp) and can play physical comedy too-for what it’s worth. I Woke Up Early isn’t narrative-driven but neither is there much documentary subtext. At its best, it suggests the exuberant Bronx rooftop epics produced in 8mm 30-odd years ago by the Kuchar twins. Wood’s bargain-basement aesthetic is impossible to parody. That this mime show works better than it should is, in a sense, the ultimate dis.