Tim Burton by Ben Andac

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Tim Burton by Ben Andac Powered By Docstoc
					                         Tim Burton                            by Ben Andac

    A lot of things you see as a child remain with you…you spend a lot of your life
trying to recapture the experience. – Tim Burton

Vincent (1982)                        Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Beetlejuice (1987)                    Planet of the Apes (2001)
Batman (1989)                         Big Fish (2003)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)            Charlie and the chocolate factory 2005
Batman Returns (1992)                 Corpse Bride 2005
Ed Wood (1994)                        Sweeniy Todd 2007
Mars Attacks! (1996)                  Alice in Wonderland         2010
      A dark and misty night begins once again. The giant monolithic building towers
above the rest of the city calling on the end of another day. A tall dark and mysterious
figure stands with his back to the wall. Black leather clings to his arms; two large
black boots hang on his feet. He is alone. No one knows his name; no one knows how
he feels inside; no one cares for him. Society has thrown him aside. He can never
again be one of them. This is the world of Timothy William Burton.
    Born in Burbank, California, Burton is, quite literally, a child of
Hollywood—albeit a child who was considered by those around him, and by himself,
a misfit who spent his days feeding on a steady diet of horror and science fiction.
I grew up watching things like The Brain that Wouldn‘t Die on Saturday afternoon
television. There’s a guy with his arm ripped off and blood smeared all over the
wall…I never saw it as negative. I find that stuff, when it’s not rooted in reality, to be
     In a typical suburbanised area in Hollywood, this was, not surprisingly,
considered strange behaviour. And so it is this sense of the eccentric, the outsider,
which permeates all of Burton‘s work. It was this environment which fostered the
rampant imaginativeness that would later become his trademark. Ground out of most
of us by adulthood, in Burton it nurtured a world of dark daydream and bright pastel
nightmare—a world that we can glimpse in his films.
     Before long young Burton was making horror films with a Super 8 camera, but
he felt more like an artist than a filmmaker. He began drawing at an early age, but, it
wasn‘t until he has spent some time at California Institute of the Arts, that he was
given an opportunity that would change his life. Disney, after seeing Burton‘s artwork,
hired him immediately. Amazingly, they didn‘t even have a job that specifically fit
what he could do. He was hired on the basis that if Disney didn‘t hire him, someone
else would.
     Edward Scissorhands (1990), one of his first well-received films, serves as an
excellent example of his distinctive vision. It is in many ways the masterpiece in
Burton‘s opus. The disparity between Burton‘s horror movie sensibilities and his
mundane suburban upbringing in Burbank is conveyed in one of
Scissorhands‗ earliest and most audacious sight gags: Dianne Wiest, in a hilarious
turn as a plucky suburban housewife Peg, is doing what the pre-feminist housewives
of Burton‘s childhood might have done on a sunny Burbank afternoon: selling Avon
cosmetics door-to-door. She‘s not having much luck, but there is that one last house
on a craggy hilltop—a house that might have come straight out of Roger Corman‘s
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), a brooding and dilapidated Victorian manor,
glowering inexplicably down on the otherwise picture-perfect streets. Inside the old
mansion lives an odd boy with no hands—Edward (Johnny Depp). As Edward walks
out of the shadows Peg, seeing his scissorhands and scarred face, recoils in shock. But
upon hearing Edward‘s childlike voice pleading with her not to go, Peg does what any
caring Avon-seller would do—she applies Avon—much to the bemusement of Edward
and to the amusement of the audience. This initial awkward encounter is a precursor
to the entire fish-out-of-water narrative of the film. Significantly, Peg‘s failure to
‗cure‘ Edward‘s scars can be seen as a bittersweet foreshadowing of her inability to
‗cure‘ Edward of his status as outsider by taking him into town—where Peg sees a
harmless little boy with no hands and facial scars, the rest of the town see a freak with

     This strange character is, symbolically at least, Burton himself. Scissorhands is
nothing less than Burton‘s spiritual autobiography—a fairy tale of the ―otherness‖ felt
by every outsider. With his fright wig, imploring eyes and pruning-shear hands,
Edward is the king of freaks—a walking sight gag (and a triumph of visual design)
carved out of the junk culture—which adolescents of Burton‘s generation crammed
into their brains. The simple, mythic power of Edward‘s predicament—with blades in
place of fingers, he injures everything he touches—speaks to the teenage alienation,
which was so clearly a part of Burton‘s early life, and to the fear shared by many
creative people that what makes them special also sets them apart. Like Terry
Gilliam‘s Brazil (1980), Scissorhands stands out as one of those rare gems from
Hollywood—an extremely personal film. Edward represents, among other things, a
childlike sense of wonder, an adolescent‘s clumsiness and someone who longs to
touch others without hurting them.
     The real precedent for Scissorhands isn‘t Batman at all, but the surreal, gothic
shorts Frankenweenie and Vincent. Both films featured ―fish out of water‖ themes in
which elements of gothic horror were introduced into a contemporary suburban milieu,
and both were deadpan comedies which suggest, as Scissorhands does, that the evils
of suburban living were far more terrifying than anything a mere mad scientist could
cook up.
     These basic elements, which blossomed in Scissorhands, were present in
Burton‘s work from the beginning—a fact he acknowledged by casting Vincent Price
(who narrated Vincent) as Edward‘s Frankenstein-like creator. Burton‘s love of the old
A.I.P./Vincent Price horror movies is one of the key sources for his visual sense. In
Scissorhands, Price reciprocated Burton‘s affections by delivering a gently
self-mocking performance that was to be his final screen appearance. By playing the
man who created the shy and befuddled Edward, Price was, in a metaphoric sense,
embodying on-screen his role as Burton‘s muse and creative father.
Anchored by a stunning, Keatonesque performance from Depp, Scissorhands is a
work of whimsical style and substance, made by a director at the height of his
imaginative powers. The film‘s final images—of Edward, alone in his fortress of
solitude, sculpting ice figures for companionship while scissor-fingered snowflakes
miraculously float down onto the sleeping suburb beneath—are among the most
moving of the era. With Scissorhands, Burton reached a high point of poetic lyricism
that is all the more remarkable when viewed against the brutality and literalness
which characterizes many offerings in contemporary cinema.

The dark side of Hollywood or Hollywood’s biggest commodity?

Very few people in Hollywood have been allowed to have as much freedom as Burton.
He is a contradiction—a filmmaker who has a distinct and uncompromising style and
yet remains grounded in the Hollywood studio system. As J. Hoberman states:

More insolently pop than David Lynch and less eager for approval that Steven
Spielberg. Burton has repeatedly twisted studio resources to his own dank and
gibbering expressionistic purposes.
The question is why has Burton been allowed such a long leash? Though I have cited
his strength of personal vision as a major factor, some would argue (rightly so in some
ways) that his very success and unique ―selling point‖ has been commercialised by
the Hollywood system. After all, as I‘ve already stated, Burton is certainly a director
whose films are uniquely recognisable and consistent, thematically as well as visually.
From his first short Vincent up to and including his most recent feature Planet of the
Apes, there have been a number of recurring themes, making his name a sort of
trademark for a certain style and content. Besides that, there has been a stable and
recognisable image of ‗Tim Burton: The Director‘ since the release of Batman.
Publicity photos show him to be a thoughtful artist with unkempt hairdo, while
interviewers always stress his physical demeanour. The name ‗Tim Burton‘ comes to
stand for stylised films about outsiders with a recognizable gothic design, just like the
name ‗Woody Allen‘ has come to stand for angst-ridden urban comedies with a
mousy intellectual who is instantly and totally identified with the director as main

In an industry in which every possible angle is used to sell a product, a director can
thus turn into a marketing concept, a brand name that is instantly recognisable and
that has a guaranteed audience as long as certain distinctive elements are present in
the product. (It may not be such a far-fetched theory that one possible reason for the
lack of financial success of Ed Wood is the absence of certain elements that are
typically associated with a ‗Tim Burton film‘.) But the real question here is: does this
mean that Burton doesn‘t warrant a place amongst other great filmmakers? In my
opinion, no, it doesn‘t. In fact, one would be hard pressed to think of a single
renowned director, past or present, who isn‘t admired (and/or criticised) for having his
or her unique thematic and stylistic flourishes: the aforementioned Woody Allen is
one example; Martin Scorsese, with his fascination with troubled characters and
Catholicism is another; Kenji Mizoguchi and his presentation of women is yet another.
The point is, almost all filmmakers, including those deemed ―great,‖ carry baggage
which is used by studios, and crucially, expected by audiences. It is then left to the
directors themselves to play on these expectations. In the words of Taylor L. White:

Burton has proved himself a maverick visionary bent on pushing the boundaries of
weirdness, whose appeal has stemmed from his keen ability to make the cheap and
cheesy appealing. Now that his patented strangeness has received that all-important
‘commercial’ imprimatur, it will be interesting to see what path he follows. Will it be
more popular, less personal, high-flying, high budgeted fare like Batman? Or will he
get back to major weirdness. (8)
But there is another common complaint of Burton. While he has received nods for his
distinctive visuals, Burton‘s ability to present rounded narratives and characters has
been challenged:

Tim Burton has been emblematic of what has been going wrong with popular films
since Star Wars. Burton has a very strong visual sense, but a weak story-telling ability.
His Batman had a beautiful vision of a dark and mordant Gotham City, but the story
itself was weak and even then there were gaps in the telling. His earlier Beetlejuice
had a less developed visual sense but even worse story-telling. One moment
characters would find themselves floating around the room or compelled to sing
calypso, and a moment later they would be apparently overlooking the incident. (9)

Admittedly Burton has taken some risks, but we must look back upon what he was
trying to accomplish. Burton uses the strange actions of the characters to show the
internal childishness of the outcast character. It is very important that these actions be
out of place to show this. In the example of Beetlejuice, it was important for the other
characters to shrug off the strange incidence in order to show that the dead souls were
not being successful in there attempts to scare off the living. This use of character
reaction allowed Burton to show the depth of the characters‘ strengths and
weaknesses, and it allowed the audience to see just how strange the new homeowners
really were.

In spite of the charges thrown in his direction, Burton has managed to keep a
continuity in his body of work, and is unquestionably an astounding and original
visual artist. But are his films truly unique visions? The role of the director in
contemporary Hollywood is full of contradiction. Some directors have a recognizable
and distinctive style and/or thematic content which turn their body of work into an
oeuvre and themselves into auteur. Burton is one such filmmaker, a director who has
earned the status of auteur, although he is not viewed in the same category as, say,
Martin Scorsese. He is the perennial outsider on the inside. Like James Cameron, he
works within genres that are not readily accepted as ―art,‖ but by now Burton‘s
oeuvre is so uniquely recognizable that critics are hard put to classify his work. Love
him or loath him, Burton is a director who has made an impact—both in the industry
and on the cinema-goers—and whose films, so special in their childlike reverie and
cathartic blend of horror and black humor, warrant his inclusion amongst the great
visual filmmakers of past and present.
Script of the short film “Vincent”:

Vincent Malloy is seven years old
He’s always polite and does what he’s told
For a boy his age, he’s considerate and nice
But he wants to be just like Vincent Price

He doesn’t mind living with his sister, dog and cats
Though he’d rather share a home with spiders and bats
There he could reflect on the horrors he’s invented
And wander dark hallways, alone and tormented

Vincent is nice when his aunt comes to see him
But imagines dipping her in wax for his wax museum

He likes to experiment on his dog Abercrombie
In the hopes of creating a horrible zombie
So he and his horrible zombie dog
Could go searching for victims in the London fog

His thoughts, though, aren’t only of ghoulish crimes
He likes to paint and read to pass some of the times
While other kids read books like Go, Jane, Go!
Vincent’s favorite author is Edgar Allen Poe

One night, while reading a gruesome tale
He read a passage that made him turn pale

Such horrible news he could not survive
For his beautiful wife had been buried alive!
He dug out her grave to make sure she was dead
Unaware that her grave was his mother’s flower bed

His mother sent Vincent off to his room
He knew he’d been banished to the tower of doom
Where he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life
Alone with the portrait of his beautiful wife

While alone and insane encased in his tomb
Vincent’s mother burst suddenly into the room
She said: “If you want to, you can go out and play
It’s sunny outside, and a beautiful day”

Vincent tried to talk, but he just couldn’t speak
The years of isolation had made him quite weak
So he took out some paper and scrawled with a pen:
“I am possessed by this house, and can never leave it again”
His mother said: “You’re not possessed, and you’re not almost dead
These games that you play are all in your head
You’re not Vincent Price, you’re Vincent Malloy
You’re not tormented or insane, you’re just a young boy
You’re seven years old and you are my son
I want you to get outside and have some real fun.

”Her anger now spent, she walked out through the hall
And while Vincent backed slowly against the wall
The room started to swell, to shiver and creak
His horrid insanity had reached its peak

He saw Abercrombie, his zombie slave
And heard his wife call from beyond the grave
She spoke from her coffin and made ghoulish demands
While, through cracking walls, reached skeleton hands

Every horror in his life that had crept through his dreams
Swept his mad laughter to terrified screams!
To escape the madness, he reached for the door
But fell limp and lifeless down on the floor

His voice was soft and very slow
As he quoted The Raven from Edgar Allen Poe:

“and my soul from out that shadow
that lies floating on the floor
shall be lifted?