The World of Tim Burton

With Hallowe’en on the way, The World of Tim Burton is a perfect excuse to reacquaint ourselves with this maverick of the macabre…

This week saw FACT’s The World of Tim Burton season get underway. It’s a timely reminder that ‘the guy who makes vehicles for Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter’ was once – and hopefully, can be again – considered something of a maverick.

There seems to be no strict order in which any of this selection of Burton’s films are screened or indeed a basis on which they’ve been chosen, other than the fact that they could arguably be considered Burton’s finest group of movies.

Proceedings kicked off on Monday with 1994’s Ed Wood for instance. After hastily checking, we can confirm there is no random, incongruous inclusion to upset the applecart – you’ll find no Big Fish or Planet of the Apes reboot here.

It seems simply to be a once a week tour-de-force through the Burton canon, reacquainting us with (almost) all of the reasons we fell in love with him before his obsessive (or lazy?) reliance on ‘the Johnny Depp movie’ template which has dogged the pair somewhat of late.

We won’t dwell on Ed Wood as the moment has passed, screening as it did on Monday, but it’s a wonderful movie full of the eccentricity and pathos that – then, at least –  served to set Burton apart from any contemporaries he might have had in mainstream Hollywood.

So let’s turn our eyes to next week’s (10th September) Batman (1989) screening. In the year which saw the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, it’s easy to forget that Batman wasn’t always this way: all dark, brooding and brilliant. But before (and after) Burton came along and drew on the graphic novels of Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns) and Alan Moore (Batman: The Killing Joke), it was still all about high-camp and Adam West in spandex.

“Before Burton came along, it was all about high-camp and Adam West in spandex”

It will be interesting to reassess Burton’s caped crusader in the glare of Nolan’s lionisation. One suspects, if seeing Jack Nicholson as the Joker for the first time, a handful of people may at least reconsider their ideas about Heath Ledger being the only incarnation of that character they can believe. Certainly, there are strong arguments too that Burton’s vision of Gotham City is a heck of a lot closer to the ideal than Nolan’s.

But that is a conversation for another day. Perhaps one film that stands above all others as the archetypal Burton movie is Edward Scissorhands (17th September). Released in 1990 and starring Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder (Burton’s perfect idea of love’s young dream?), it tells the tale of a naive and sensitive young man who, well, has scissors for hands.

In parts gentle, romantic, tragic and funny, we wonder, is this Burton’s most autobiographical movie? A quiet, sheltered young man desperately wanting, but feeling unable to enter the real world, Edward began life as a sketch made by a teenage Burton.

If Scissorhands was about him trying to connect with the world, Beetlejuice (24th Sept) can be considered the passion project. His breakout movie, it is the film which introduced Burton’s brand of macabre comedy to an as yet unsuspecting audience. There is currently talk of both Burton and its titular star, Michael Keaton, being on-board for a sequel – if the script is up to scratch.

The penultimate film in FACT’s Burton sextology (it’s a word, we checked) is the closest the list gets to flirting with failure. 2005’s Corpse Bride (1st October) – though coming more than a decade later – suffered for comparisons to The Nightmare Before Christmas (a film which despite not being directed by Burton – Henry Selick has that credit – is clearly of his oeuvre).

Hardly a failure, the fact remains it is relatively slight and perhaps could have been better served as a short. Indeed, the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw opined that it was “something that Tim Burton dashed off in double time”. But with Depp and Helena Bonham Carter handed the leads, box-office was guaranteed, Corpse Bride going on to gross $117,195,061 worldwide.

The final film in the bunch, Sleepy Hollow, is perhaps one of Burton’s quiet triumphs, sometimes forgotten amid the understandable adulation thrown at Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. The Washington Irving short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was perfect material for a Burton adaptation. Set in a Dutch US settlement terrorised by the spectre of the headless horseman, it is left to rational New York police constable Ichabod Crane (played with some aplomb by Depp), to get to the bottom of things.

The films are timed well to lead into both Hallowe’en and the release (on the 17th of October) of Burton’s latest picture, Frankenweenie, playing pastiche and homage to 1931’s big screen Frankenstein, starring Boris Karloff. A second go at the character (it was originally a short, released in 1984), it is interesting to note that for the first time since Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, Winona Ryder makes a welcome return to a Burton cast.

Posted on 06/09/2012 by thedoublenegative