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Tim Burton has had a massive impact on twentieth and twenty-first century culture through his films, art, and writings. This book examines how his aesthetics, influences, and themes reflect the shifting social expectations in American culture by tracing his Burton's move from a peripheral figure in the 1980s to the center of Hollywood filmmaking.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

Mainstream Outsider: Burton Adapts Burton

Mainstream Outsider: Burton Adapts Burton

The original Frankenweenie (1984)—a 25-minute black-and-white reworking of James Whale’s 1931 version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) with nods to Whale’s 1935 sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein—was Tim Burton’s third professional directorial effort. It followed Vincent (1982), a six-minute black-and-white stop-motion film made while Burton was working at Disney, and a live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale Hansel and Gretel (1982) for the then embryonic cable Disney Channel.1 Championed by Burton’s advocate at Disney, Julie Hickson, Frankenweenie was financed by Disney at a cost just shy of $1 million and featured the voices of Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, and Paul Bartel. Intended to be shown with Pinocchio upon its re-release in 1984, the film was shelved by Disney after it received a PG rating. Parents shown the film as part of its two test screenings found the film too “intense” (Smith and Matthews 37) for children, and Smith and Matthews observe that the reason for Disney’s lack of support for this venture was similar to that offered for its lack of support for Vincent: the film’s approach to childhood and death was too dark.
Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock

Aesthetics

Frontmatter

Chapter 1. Burton Black

Perhaps no observation about his work could be more obvious than that Tim Burton has a biting fascination with black in particular and obscurity in general. In any of his films we can find darkness gravely positioned, in some more centrally than in others. To look at his drawings and water-colors, thickly stained with a substantial pen dipped in darkest ink, ink the color of Hades, is to be confronted, possibly lured, by a substantiality of line and contrast, a boldness of assertion, a stiff punctiliousness. The dense blackness of the lines confers confidence and suggests the unequivocal. One must rove willy-nilly around Burton’s world to encompass a substantial collection of his blacks, not only in fragmented passages in the films—Helena Bonham Carter in a raven black eye-patch and spider black shawl in Big Fish (2003), for example—but also in his predilection for including images—repeatedly and with burgeoning emphasis—of such heavily besmirched faces as Johnny Depp’s. There is a penchant not merely for makeup in general—Depp’s Mad Hatter takes this perhaps to its limits—and thus for the pretense of disguise that it offers, but for the pronunciation of the arch, impulsive, swiftly definitive black line, and a feeling for the richness of shadow. A striking—yet for me not quite magical—composition in Big Fish has Ed Bloom, Sr. (Albert Finney) fishing in a stream at dusk, a platinum wash of sunlight dropped across the placid mirror gray waters with long, pensive swaths of vegetation on both banks reaching off to the horizon and echoed in mysterious shadow on the water’s surface, a shadow that is what Nabokov called an “exact, beautiful, lethal reflection” (62).
Murray Pomerance

Chapter 2. Costuming the Outsider in Tim Burton’s Cinema, or, Why a Corset Is like a Codfish

Toward the beginning of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), Alice’s mother (Lindsay Duncan) chastises her daughter for not wearing a corset or stockings. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) replies, “What if it was agreed that proper was wearing a codfish on your head—would you wear it? For me a corset is like a codfish.”
Catherine Spooner

Chapter 3. Danny Elfman’s Musical Fantasyland, or, Listening to a Snow Globe

Danny Elfman has composed scores for no less than 14 of Tim Burton’s films. Elfman’s music is such an indispensable part of the universes Burton creates that the two artists are often mentioned in the same sentence. So closely do their imaginations tie in together that it seems Burton’s visuals synesthetically conjure up Elfman’s music—and vice versa. This chapter investigates the interrelations of sound and music in Burton and Elfman’s shared projects, arguing that their collaborations have produced audiovisual “snow globes,” each film a wondrous looking glass through which the audience can never fully pass.
Isabella van Elferen

Chapter 4. Tim Burton’s “Filled” Spaces: Alice in Wonderland

Henri Lefebvre suggests that trying to talk about what he terms the “truth of space,” even in manifestly spatial forms like film, is always a challenging proposition, thanks to a preconception we commonly bring to the discussion. As he notes, “great is the sway still held by the idea that empty space is prior to whatever ends up filling it” (15). And that idea, that sense of the empty and the filled, or a before and an after, simply distracts us from recognizing an important cultural dimension of space—that, as Lefebvre theorizes, “space is a social product” that we are always producing, always inhabiting, although seldom seeing (26). I want to suggest that this perspective is an especially useful one for assessing the work of Tim Burton, not only because he so often works with the manifestly constructed spaces of animation, but because his films so frequently foreground that work, addressing in a very direct way the nature of those spaces in which we live, that we so often overlook, as if they were simply “empty” and thus effectively invisible, but that ultimately have such a crucial social—as well as psychological—import. This is because his films repeatedly set their action in multiple spaces, worlds, or realms that, if often unseen, exist side-by-side, but that his narratives suddenly bring into contact and render visible—as in the cases of the lands of the living and the dead found in Beetlejuice (1988), the cookie-cutter American suburbia abutting the ancient castle of Edward Scissorhands (1990), big studio Hollywood and its alter ego Poverty Row in Ed Wood (1994), the metropolis of New York and the cursed Sleepy Hollow of Sleepy Hollow (1999), and especially a Victorian England and its Underland counterpart from Alice in Wonderland (2010).
J. P. Telotte

Influences and Contexts

Frontmatter

Chapter 5. How to See Things Differently: Tim Burton’s Reimaginings

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) emerges from his earthy prison to find Collinsport, Maine, much changed from the colonial fishing port he last set eyes upon 200 years ago. Bedeviled by monstrous construction equipment, satanic Golden Arches, and unnervingly smooth tarmac, he eventually stands transfixed by a pair of blazing Gorgonic orbs that rush toward him at supernatural speed. Expecting death, he is instead unceremoniously told to “Get out of the road, asshole” by the car’s panicked driver. Wrenched out of his New World fiefdom, this undead aristocrat has been rudely awakened to the fallen world of Nixon’s America. His abrupt recontextualization is disconcerting to say the least. Darkly Byronic romanticism is now passé, supplanted by the banalities of the Carpenters, the studied glam of T. Rex, and the calculated grotesqueries of Alice Cooper. He endeavors to restore the grandeur of his family name but finds the process of adaptation distasteful. In short, Barnabas discovers to his dismay that enthrallingly Gothic dark shadows have been enfeebled by postmodernity’s florescence, and he is but an insubstantial shade. His second coming has been prefigured and diminished by an array of pop cultural predecessors, and his ghoulish charisma dwindles to tolerable eccentricity in an era incapable of astonishment.
Aaron Taylor

Chapter 6. “He wants to be just like Vincent Price”: Influence and Intertext in the Gothic Films of Tim Burton

2012 was a good year for Tim Burton. Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie, both directed by Burton (the latter a greatly expanded stop-motion remake of his 1984 short) were released, as was Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, produced by Burton and directed by Timur Bekmambetov from the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith. While Abraham Lincoln reflects current trends in popular horror—a crowded, image-consuming, multimedia marketplace characterized by kinetic violence and genre hybridization—Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie are pure Burton: stylized narratives that are at once traditional and highly idiosyncratic.
Stephen Carver

Chapter 7. Tim Burton’s Trash Cinema Roots: Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!

Tim Burton has directed films based on classic works of fantasy, such as Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (1820) and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), as well as breathing new life into Batman. Another intriguing intertextual effort is a pair of films he made in the mid-1990s, Ed Wood (1994) and Mars Attacks! (1996), which show a deep appreciation for 1950s trash cinema. Mars Attacks! is a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of the standard drive-in fare of flying saucers and alien invasion, while Ed Wood, though quite funny, offers a serious take on the career of the eponymous auteur, scenes from whose famously awful movies are restaged word for word. Both films use sophisticated techniques to recreate a bygone trash aesthetic, reincarnating ephemeral texts and iconography in big-budget, Oscar-winning productions. As Philip Hayward has commented with regard to Mars Attacks!, the result is to “reinvigorate … the B-movie by producing [an] homage that sparkles with allusion and special effects of such a different order of accomplishment to their inspiration that they inhabit a different plane of affectivity” (183).
Rob Latham

Chapter 8. A Monstrous Childhood: Edward Gorey’s Influence on Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy

Lurking alongside Tim Burton’s monstrous creations is the inescapable specter of American writer and artist, Edward Gorey (1925–2000). From Burton’s preference for thin lines and a certain sparseness of detail in his illustrations—often suggesting rather than fully delineating each characteristic—to his playfully macabre plotlines and themes, Gorey is always there. Burton builds on Gorey’s framework, moving beyond notions of solely external monstrosity acting upon innocent souls by doubling the locus of monstrosity. He preserves Gorey’s notion of a cruel, heartless world, and intensifies the pathos of his child protagonists by saddling them with grotesque appearances that estrange them from “normal” people. Yet repeatedly throughout Burton’s body of work, this monstrous façade belies the protagonist’s kindness and basic goodness. It is society, with its sterile lack of imagination and insistence on conformity, that is the true monster seemingly demanding in exchange for adulthood the sacrifice of childish wonder, sympathy, and creativity.
Eden Lee Lackner

Chapter 9. It Came from Burbank: Exhibiting the Art of Tim Burton

In November of 2009, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York organized an exhibition that presented a detailed look at the creative works of Burton. Featured in the exhibit were over 700 drawings, paintings, photographs, amateur and early short films, and sculptures created by Burton over the course of his career. The majority of the artwork came from Burton’s own private collection and was presented for public consumption for the very first time. Also included in the vast exhibit were props, costumes, maquettes, and puppets used in the production of Burton’s feature films. The enormously popular exhibit ended its run at the MoMA in April 2010, after which it appeared at the Australian Center for the Moving Image in Melbourne, and the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto. Burton’s exhibit then returned to the United States for a stint at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) from May 2011 until the very appropriate date of October 31, 2011, before finally moving on to the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, where it resided until August 5, 2012. I had a chance to visit the exhibition at the LACMA in the summer of 2011 and the following observations are drawn from my experience of attending the event.
Cheryl Hicks

Chapter 10. “Tim Is Very Personal”: Sketching a Portrait of Tim Burton’s Auteurist Fandom and Its Origins

Auteurism has a long history in film culture and film studies, with “visionary” directors frequently providing a focal point for readings, and celebrations, of cinematic art (see Staiger). In a recent analysis of US and UK film reviews, Annemarie Kersten and Denise Bielby conclude:
[C]omments related to Auteurism are … significantly more prominent in reviews of films that received critical recognition. Specifically, criticism that focuses on the director as a creative visionary and the interpretation of the universe he or she presents is used the least in reviews of popular films, more so in those of professional [or film industry] prizewinners, and most in reviews of films that achieve critical acclaim. (194–95)
Matt Hills

Thematics

Frontmatter

Chapter 11. Tim Burton’s Popularization of Perversity: Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Sleepy Hollow, and Corpse Bride

Jim Smith and J. Clive Matthews astutely describe Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) as “the only … S&M art film that anybody has ever sold to MacDonald’s as a summer blockbuster for the kids” (144). The observation that the film concerns itself with sadomasochism is both provocative and extremely unusual in critical writings on Burton’s films, as it often seems that film reviewers and critics adhere to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding sexuality in Burton’s work. Only Ed Wood (1994) is regularly discussed as containing perverse sexuality, though this interpretation of the film seems ironic, as attributing sexual perversity to Burton’s fictionalized Wood is a stretch. The film’s depiction of Wood’s transvestism closely follows the reassurances usually given by advice columns and in popularized psychology to mainstream Americans about this practice: male transvestites are generally otherwise normal heterosexuals and they dress as women primarily to relieve stress, not to achieve sexual arousal.1 Yet blatant sexualized depictions of perversity occur not in this film, which is clearly aimed at adult cinephiles, but in the Burton films apparently intended to appeal to children as well as adults, such as his screen version of a Batman comic. While some critics did comment on Catwoman’s (Michelle Pfeiffer) dominatrix garb in Batman Returns, few noted the way S/M practices were referenced in her romance with the film’s similarly leather fetish-suited superhero (Michael Keaton).
Carol Siegel

Chapter 12. “This is my art, and it is dangerous!”: Tim Burton’s Artist-Heroes

“I don’t think anybody can see any of my films and not know immediately that it’s mine,” writes Tim Burton (qtd. in Tirard 95), well aware of those films’ foregrounding of “Burtonesque” qualities of set and character design, and the consequent perception of him as a director with a distinct artistic sensibility. In addition to acknowledging his own particular artistry, and while not typically authoring his own screenplays, Tim Burton has shown a marked proclivity for material featuring characters with their own artistic talents and sensibilities. The Joker (Jack Nicholson) of Batman (1989), sporting an extravagant purple beret, pronounces himself “the first fully functioning homicidal artist,” while Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) dazzles neighborhood philistines with his sculpting prowess in the 1990 film of the same name. The titular Ed Wood (also Depp), in Burton’s 1994 biopic of the reputed worst director of all time, ironically envisions soulful revelations in productions of hysterical incompetence. This chapter explores a number of Burton films in which art and the role of the artist are centralized. Focusing especially (but not exclusively) on Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Batman, it examines the artist-hero’s circumscribed individuality—the construction of the artist as a creative subject gloriously separate from the masses around him or her. This celebration of the artist’s uniqueness, I suggest, can be seen as a defense against suspicions that one’s identity is actually inextricable from broader social forces.
Dominic Lennard

Chapter 13. Tim Burton and the Creative Trickster: A Case Study of Three Films

Most people would agree that Tim Burton’s films exhibit a signature visual style. They also feature variations on themes and characters related to his attraction to (some would say obsession with) loners and misfits and the macabre mixed with humor. But a less obvious theme also informs much of his work, one that concerns an age-old “archetype” known as the trickster. Many of Burton’s films feature either a trickster-like character and/or other trickster elements. Such characters include Beetlejuice, Jack Skellington, and Edward Bloom. In addition, many of Burton’s films feature an inversion of mainstream values, a central characteristic of tricksters and trickster tales. For example, in Corpse Bride (2005) the Land of the Dead is more colorful and “animated” than the Land of the Living, and the surreal but somewhat menacing underground world of Alice in Wonderland (2010) is full of tricky inversions. I am not suggesting that the trickster is a uniformly universal figure or an archetype in the Jungian sense. Rather, the trickster can be seen variously as a person or character, as a narrative function within the story, and/or, in its broadest sense, as a story-telling technique that pervades an entire film. Thus, a number of Burton’s films act as meta-tricksters, inverting or confounding a variety of cultural categories. And in his struggle to create innovation within the confines of mainstream cinema, Burton himself often embodies (or endeavors to embody) a trickster-like role.
Katherine A. Fowkes

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