“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.
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