Sep 4, 2013

Tim Burton themes and films

Few living filmmakers have had as significant an impact as Tim Burton, who celebrates his 55th birthday this month. His works are wildly imaginative, and he has the sort of aesthetic sensibility that could have only be informed by too much time in front of the TV as a child. What’s sort of wonderful about that, though, is that his aesthetic sensibility is deeply personalized as well as a reflection of his greatest influences -- things like German expressionist films, macabre children’s books by Edward Gorey, or Poe-inspired Roger Corman films starring Vincent Price.

There are a number of things that we’ve seen again and again in his works: Johnny Depp pale with something sharp in his hands; the spooky young counter-cultural girl; the emotionally destructive parental figure and, conversely, the absurdly kind parental figure; the chubby sleaze ball character; the scores by Danny Elfman...the list goes on.

But while he’s stayed faithful to certain tropes, there is absolutely evidence of growth within his body of work. Certain films even deviated slightly from the style which so many associate him with.

Ed Wood (1994), for instance, deals less with authentically macabre themes, and more with kitschy and overtly-stylized notions of dark themes.  The film pays tribute to one of Burton’s childhood obsessions, the legendary B-movie director Ed Wood. The real life Wood is celebrated as one of the worst filmmakers of all time. The film stars Depp in the titular role, and examines Wood’s eccentric life both on and off the set. Wood was a cross dresser and produced a volume of poorly constructed horror and science fiction films throughout his career. The film also examines Wood’s friendship with actor Bela Lugosi (portrayed in the film by Martin Landau) who was struggling with an addiction to prescription medication by the end of his life, and actually died during the production of Wood’s film, Plan 9 From Outer Space, generally considered to be one of the worst (if not the very worst) films ever made.

Or consider Big Fish (2003): Rich and imaginative, one of the things that makes Big Fish so compelling is that it doesn’t quite adhere to the stylistic parameters that Burton is so distinctly known for. This one is considerably less dark than his other films. Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, the film tells the story of Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), a whimsical old Southern salesman known for his incredible stories, who is dying. Bloom had a strained relationship with his son (Billy Crudup), and the two work towards salvaging their relationship while the father lays dying. Most of the film feature fairytale-esque segments based on Bloom’s stories, with actor Ewan McGregor portraying Edward Bloom as a young man. This is an extremely touching film.

His greatest accomplishment, though, might not have been as a director, but as a producer -- the wonderful The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), which was actually directed by Coraline (2009) director Henry Selick. 

The stop-motion animation film, which uses dolls and hand constructed miniature sets, originated from a poem that Burton wrote in 1982 while animating for Disney. It wasn’t until 1990 that Burton had managed to secure a deal to realize the project as a feature-length animated film. The film follows the story of Jack Skeleton (voiced by actor Chris Sarandon), the mayor of Halloween Town, where residents spend every day gearing up for their annual Halloween parade. Skeleton finds himself in the midst of an existential crisis, and when he accidentally stumbles upon Christmas Town, he decides that he wants to share the mirth and bliss of Christmas with the rest of the citizens of Halloween Town. They don’t quite get it though, and they end up kidnapping Santa, and forging their own perverse, campy-horror version of Christmas.

His greatest achievement as a director could have been Edward Scissorhands (1990), which featured a young Johnny Depp in the titular role. The film tells the story of a young man who was engineered by an eccentric inventor (played by Burton’s childhood hero, Vincent Price) who was made with scissors for hands. Edward is taken in by a suburban, southern Californian family, and falls in love with their daughter (played by Winona Ryder). This was Depp’s first role in a Tim Burton film, and Ryder’s second. The film was a huge commercial success, and is still beloved by weird kids everywhere.

Sure, he’s had a few misfires (Planet of the Apes [2001] and Mars Attacks [1996] coming readily to mind) but with Burton, the good far outweighs the bad. He’s made some of the most compelling and imaginatively stimulating films of the past few decades, and will forever hold a special place in the hearts of filmmakers and fans alike. 

Author Bio: Elizabeth Eckhart is a entertainment and film blogger for While Tim Burton’s films initially gave her nightmares, she came to enjoy them in her adult years. Her personal favorite is Edward Scissorhands.

1 comment :

  1. I loved Edward Scissor Hands!!

    XOXO Bunnie


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