Saturday, May 16, 2020

I envied him.

Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau) and Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) are strolling down Hollywood Boulevard on a sunny morning, when the above dialogue takes place. It is the morning after the riotous premiere of BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (1955) in a fleapit cinema, and they’re referring to the moment when one of the wild teenagers runs up to Vampira and grabs her breasts.

The movie is, of course, ED WOOD (1994) by Tim Burton, and Vampira, the TV persona of Maila Nurmi, is played by then Burton’s wife Lisa Marie, a model turned actress that was one of the most beautiful women of the nineties. So strikingly beautiful, in fact, that she was able to turn a non-speaking role in MARS ATTACKS (1996) into an iconic science fiction trope.

The scene above culminates in an impromptu autograph session when some passersby recognize Lugosi who is in a sunny disposition. It is a heart-warming moment. Watching the movie for the first time, one doesn’t realize that in the immediate scene, Ed will be told of Lugosi’s death. When Lugosi mischiviously says to Wood that he envied the kid who took a grab of Vampira’s breasts, he’s not envying him just that fleeting grope. He’s envying him the daring of youth (minutes before, when driving to the cinema, with Lugosi pressed against Vampira in the back seat of the cab, she tells him to watch his hands), the mindless hormonal rush ignited by the movie frenzy that practically tears the theatre down. He’s envying him the promise of a future that he senses he no longer has.

In a way, I guess, Lugosi was enjoying the chaotic walk down the aisle, with the howls of the savage hordes of teenagers reviving in him, for the last time, the long lost sense of success, of being a figure instantly recognizable by any, and all, moviegoers. As he still is, today.

Who really envies the kid (actor Johnny Meyer, I think) for his daring raid on the bountiful breasts of Lisa Marie, is the rest of us, immersed on the dream world of the movies, wondering if the kid understands that he is groping Lisa Marie, playing Maila Nurmi, playing Vampira, in an Escher-like illusion of erotic bliss.  The envy we mere mortals feel towards those like us who get to touch the sublime.

1 comment:

Gene Phillips said...

I'm wondering what was the last time a major movie or teleseries put a female character into the comic position of being groped or being caught in the shower or the like. It seems like it's still OK to do that to male characters, but after all the #MeToo stuff, particularly regarding the Al Franken business, I think most creators are afraid to go there.