Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Summer Love

 Hi everyone,

Happy first day of summer! Are you ready? What are your plans?

Wherever you end up, don't forget the sunblock. 

Stay cool,

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Johnny Kitties Revisited: Celebrating My Favorite Johnny Depp Films – Ed Wood (1994)

Hi everyone,

I haven't started my Johnny Kitties tribute to Johnny's latest film release, Minamata, because it's not available on DVD until next month. In the meantime, you can find it for rent on demand and on streaming services. It's a sad but moving, important story, so check it out! 

Like last year for Johnny's birthday, I'm sharing an archived post celebrating one of my top picks. For the last few months, I've had Edward Scissorhands on my mind, but that's not the most timely choice on the brink of summer. 

Given what Johnny's been through in the last couple months (and six years), I scanned the Johnny Kitties list for something happy and light to mark the start of a new chapter. While I'm not sure it's all happy and light, I landed on another Tim Burton/Johnny Depp classic, Ed Wood. It's about friendship, acceptance, perseverance, and the love of making movies! I can't wait forJohnny to get back to that. Here's to a happier, healthier year and new Johnny Movies to come. 

Enjoy, and happy birthday, Johnny! 


[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

"This is it! This is the one I'll be remembered for!"
Despite my involvement, this movie is a tender, comic gem. An amazing cast to work alongside in Martin Landau, Bill Murray, et al., but, of course, with Tim, there exists an almost brotherly sensibility, which made the whole experience a joy. Ultimately, I feel, with the artistic freedom we had, TB produced an American classic. A love letter to a filmmaker that didn't receive many. 
– Johnny Depp

After his death in 1978, Ed Wood became best known as the world's worst film director and a cult following was born. Among his biggest fans were Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. 

"This is Edward D. Wood, Jr." 
The real Ed Wood
Ed Wood's most famous features are the autobiographical Glen or Glenda, which explores a transvestite's struggle for a normal life, and Plan 9 from Outer Space, a science fiction/horror movie that was funded by local Baptist churches and completed in five days. Unlike your typical director, who may take all day to shoot one scene and finish a film in months, Ed Wood might have shot 30 scenes in a single day. Usually without permits, he had to steal shots whenever and as quickly as possible. His films weren't your typical Hollywood blockbusters; they were Ed Wood opuses. 

As scriptwriter Larry Karaszewski explained, "There's a personality to Ed Wood films that you don't necessarily get in a lot of other people's films. A lot of bad films are simply bad movies or incompetently put together. With Ed, you get a real sense of the filmmaker behind the camera. You see an Ed Wood movie, and you know it's an Ed Wood movie because of the obsessions and the fetishes. The stuff he's throwing up on the screen is clearly his way of working something out inside of him." 

In Ed Wood's eyes, every film he made would be the one to make it big. Scriptwriter Scott Alexander noted, "Where Ed's movies are distinctive is that there's such passion there. The passion is oftentimes misguided, but it's there." That's where Tim Burton's film takes flight. 

Ed Wood focuses on the director's friendship with aging Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), who has fallen from stardom after portraying "Dracula" during the Silent Era and was now battling drug addiction and poverty. After a chance meeting, Ed (Johnny Depp) wantes to help Bela – one of his childhood heroes – by giving him parts in his films. The friendship lasts until Bela's death five years later. 

"Let's Shoot This F#*%@r!"
When Tim Burton received this bio-pic's script, co-written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, he dropped his other projects and got to work, hardly changing anything on the page. He remembered, "It's probably the first time ever that I got a script and said, 'Yeah, let's shoot this.'"

Studying Ed Wood's original letters, Tim and Johnny got a sense of an unwavering upbeat optimism about his work. Because of that, Johnny's performance is hilariously enthusiastic and joyful. His other ingredients for the character of Ed Wood included the heart of The Wizard of Oz's Tin Man, the blind optimism of Ronald Reagan, and the distinctive voice of Casey Kasem. 

Working with Tim again on a project that became a labor of love for all involved was just what Johnny needed to break out of the dark place he was stuck in while filming What's Eating Gilbert Grape? "Ed was the rocket ship that took me away from that horrible, black, bleak time," he said. "This guy needed to be the ultimate optimist, dreamer, idealist. It was like being in a completely different suit or skin. It felt very good." 

His friend, Director Jim Jarmusch can attest: "I was staying at his house for a while when he was shooting Ed Wood, and sometimes I would pick him up from the set and we'd get dinner. It would take him three hours to stop being 'Ed Wood' – I just wanted to slap him to get that stupid smile off his face. We'd be in this Thai restaurant and Johnny is going, 'Hey, this Pad Thai is fabulous!'"

Johnny's performance fits perfectly into Tim Burton's version of an Ed Wood film – beautifully stylized in black and white with all the perceived normalcy of the 1950s. "You're mixing different elements," Tim explained. "You want to get the flavor of an Ed Wood movie without being an Ed Wood exactly." 

"This is perfect!" 
Tim Burton's Ed Wood is one of his best. It's one of Johnny's best. It's one of the world's best! They made a movie that struck a bittersweet balance between Ed Wood's rosy vision and reality. It is at once hilarious, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and joyful. 

This movie is about the love of filmmaking. In his review, Roger Ebert proclaimed that every film school in the country should show this film to their students to instill the devotion to and joy of the work. No matter what happens, everything is perfect in Ed's eyes. His love of producing and directing – getting the film in the can – was all that mattered. 

The writers noted that there were several more scenes reflecting Ed's insecurities and self-doubt, but they didn't make it into the film. Larry Karaszewski explained, "Johnny and Tim grew to love Ed so much that it made them uncomfortable to give  Ed those moments." 

At the heart of this movie is friendship and acceptance. No one in Ed Wood's circle is "normal," yet by the end of the film, you are cheering for all of them. Aside from Bela Lugosi and himself, Ed Wood's cast often included Swedish wrestler Tor Johnson (George "The Animal" Steele), ghoulish TV hostess Vampira (Lisa Marie), self-proclaimed psychic Criswell (Jeffrey Jones), and drag queen Bunny Breckenridge (Bill Murray). The "bad guys" in this movie were those embarrassed by Ed's love for cross-dressing or confused by his films' lack of continuity or retakes. But this troupe of misfits stuck together like family. And that was no clearer than in the relationship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi. 

Martin Landau as Bela, consulting with his director.
Brilliantly played by Martin Landau, becoming Bela Lugosi was a challenge: "What you've got here is a 74-year-old Hungarian morphine addict/alcoholic who has mood swings," Martin explained. "That would be hard enough, but it had to be Bela Lugosi, who everyone knows!"  

Paying homage to the actor, Martin considered this film a male love story, one between two guys who really needed and depended on each other. "You could tell that between Martin and Johnny there was a real respect and a kind of bonding that went on with them because they were both good at a certain level," Tim said. "It was exciting to see that."  

"We have to go see Ed Wood!" 

I had no idea who Ed Wood was at the time I saw this movie, and I don't remember how or where my family and I went to see the film. But I do remember two things: 1) There was no question that we were going to see it this time – no convincing, plotting, or pleading necessary, and 2) While watching the movie for the first time, I was worried about what my parents thought while Johnny strutted around in drag doing a strip tease among his friends in a meat packing plant. 

On the other hand, I was thrilled by Johnny's fearlessness to do whatever – and for Johnny, "whatever" usually guarantees the unexpected. It's a trait that remains in full force today, and one of the reasons I will always see his movies. Tim agrees, as he discussed being able to work with Johnny again on this project: "'Edward Scissorhands' was a character who didn't speak, and now we're dealing with a character that won't shut up. It's great to see an actor go from one thing to something completely different. There's a great energy to seeing something like that. He's just so willing to do anything that way. In fact, he usually wants to go farther than you want him to go. It's nice for other actors to see." The reviews everywhere for Tim Burton's little film were positive, even those from my own family.

Ed Wood was nominated for too many awards to list here. Among them were Johnny's third Golden Globe nomination and his win for Actor of the Year from the London Film Critics. Ed Wood earned two Oscars – one for Martin Landau's amazing performance and one for the makeup team who transformed him into Bela Lugosi.

Because of this movie, I sought out Ed Wood's own films, which I wanted to love as much as Tim, Johnny, and company did. But I just couldn't do it. They actually made me sad. I felt better once I found out that the writers are aware of this phenomenon: "What's interesting is that when you watch our movie, and then watch Ed Wood's films, our movie affects the Ed Wood films themselves," writer Larry Karaszewski said. "It's much harder to laugh at Ed Wood films, particularly Glen or Glenda. It feels like a piece of personal filmmaking, where you feel like this guy is putting his soul onto film." It's true: Watching the real Ed Wood movies, I was excited to see all the real people who were portrayed in Tim's Ed Wood, and I was still rooting for them to do well. I probably always will. 

Check it out: Once you see Ed Wood – and you should all see it – it'll happen to you too. This labor of love is contagious.

The Kitties will do anything to get this one made!
The Kitties were all for the Ed Wood homage in black and white. We had to choose a filming scene because that's what Ed loved best. Here is one of his great moments: Ed (Gordon) dragged the crew (including Norman, Simon, and Comet) out at 3 a.m. to steal an octopus prop from a nearby studio. Now, he's plopping Bela (B.J.) in the middle of it all to stage a big fight. This will match up perfectly with the big underwater finish Ed has planned for his latest movie. Who cares that they forgot to get the octopus motor or that Bela isn't quite underwater? This is perfect! (And only 25 more scenes to go tonight.) 

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #10--Ed Wood (5-7-11)

What came next?
After this, Johnny traded in his angora sweater for a mask to play the world's greatest lover, Don Juan DeMarco. Check out the Johnny Kitties page to see my review of Don Juan DeMarco and Johnny's other films.  

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Congrats to the Celtic Champs!

Hi everyone,

The Boston Celtics are headed to the NBA finals!

The Kitties and I are ready with game-time snacks and advice that we'll continue to yell at the TV.  

Good luck toward four more wins – Go team! 

P.S. Coach Udoka, I ran out of cats, but we love you too. 

Saturday, May 14, 2022

What's your mood?

 Hi everyone,

Since last time, I've been immersed in the Blogging Your Way Masterclass. There are lessons and homework every week, but I got a specific assignment from teacher Holly Becker before class even began: Transfer your blog over to Squarespace. Excited to get this push with a May 15 deadline, I dove in quickly but left the blog page for last.

That's where I am now and will be for months. Because Blogger has a completely different layout than Squarespace, I need to rebuild each post one by one in the new platform. So far, I'm through 2006 (50 posts), and I've already questioned several times whether this is worth it. 

However, as Holly suspected, I am much happier with the look of my blog. An unexpected bonus is that going through my old posts and drawings shows how prolific and consistent I was with goals and deadlines and, more importantly, how much I enjoyed making each drawing. I'll let you know if I still feel warm and fuzzy when I'm in the 400s, or if I'll want to jump out of a window. 

This is all to say, my revamped blog launch is a while away. Hopefully, it'll be worth the wait. In the meantime, here's my latest mood board for the new home of Melissa's Kitties. 

If you haven't guessed already, the blog will have a new name but the same Kitties. I couldn't think of anything else to call it but The Mother Kitty, after the magical cat who started it all. What do you think? 

She and you keep me inspired. I'll keep you posted on my progress with the Kitties new home. (Someday, it will be ready.) 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Springing into Action

 Hi everyone,

I planned to mark the start of spring last month, but it was still freezing here. So, I ended up hibernating a bit longer under a warm blanket. We are experiencing some April showers this month, but I feel spring in the air now with the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

The Kitties and I love this time of year. I remember when Tyrone and Walter treated it like a special occasion in 2019, letting me experiment with colored pencils. What do you think?

I am working toward revitalizing my blog and building a new home for it, but I'm stuck in the thinking phase. Feeling overwhelmed, I reached out for help, signing up for the Blogging Your Way Masterclass (April 22 to May 27) with Holly Becker. Her expertise will motivate me to realize the vision I have for the next phase for Melissa's Kitties, and I can't wait to get started!

I'm excited to embark on this new adventure and see where it leads. Stay tuned! 


Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Happy Chinese New Year!

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone! 

It's the Year of the Tiger, which happens to be my sign. I am in good company: Some fellow Tigers include Mahershala Ali, David Attenborough, Jon Batiste, Leonardo DiCaprio, Amanda Gorman, Marilyn Monroe, Bill Murray, Martin Short, Stevie Wonder, and Michelle Yeoh. 

Each zodiac sign is celebrated every 12 years and festivities last over 2 weeks. The tiger is courageous, competitive, and always ready for a challenge. It can also be rebellious, short-tempered, and unpredictable. It sounds just like me! 

Look! Some of The Kitties – Tyrone, Comet, B.J. and The Mother Kitty – borrowed my black markers and got into their Tiger spirit. How will you celebrate? 


Monday, January 03, 2022

Happy New and Mew Year!

 Hi everyone,

I can't believe it's 2022, can you? So goes pandemic life, where all sense of time is approximate and abstract. I hope this message finds you happy, healthy, safe, and surrounded by family and friends. 

As I've been promising, this will be a transformative year for Melissa's Kitties – with a new name, look, and platform, but the same old wonderful Kitties. The Kitties have been nagging me for years about getting this refreshing makeover! They itch to get out, see more of the world, and make new friends – and the pandemic only amplified their determination. 

Considering my lack of discipline here, I need your help as we move along this path – from deciding on a logo, colors, and designs to drawing ideas, potential products, and more. If you haven't already, please follow me on Instagram, too – @themotherkitty – where I plan to also share any latest developments. Stay tuned for all my questions, and thank you in advance for your advice and encouragement! 

In the meantime, the Kitties and I wish you a happy, exciting new year! 

After I drew this illustration (with The Mother Kitty's and Gordon's helpful pitch), I found out that January 2 is actually Mew Year's Day for cats. I'm not making this up! Upon learning this, two questions came to mind: 

1. Is there really a holiday for anything and everything? 

2. Shouldn't we celebrate cats every day?

The answer to both questions is yes. 

Mew Year's Day – created by Tom and Ruth Roy of wellcat.com – can serve as a reminder to appreciate our fantastic feline friends. Here are some things you can do to celebrate: 

  • If you don't share your home with a cat yet, you can pick one up at that local animal shelter. Don't worry,  you will know which one wants to live with you when you meet. (It's no pressure since the cat always decides.)
  • If you already have cats, give each a special holiday treat. They are waiting....
  • Above all, give your cats grateful hugs today and every day because they deserve it. 
Here's to continued curiosity and vivid imaginations. May 2022 bring us all creative, joyful days and fulfilling, fun adventures with family, friends, and the Kitties.