Friday, October 07, 2011

A Cinema of Misfits and Outsiders: The Burton Brief

Our summer-time survey of director James Cameron here on the blog proved so much fun that I decided we shouldn't have to wait a whole year to embark on our next director's study. 

Thus, I have the great pleasure of today announcing that starting next week, and for the remainder of 2012 (right up till Christmas...), I'll be devoting Fridays to the films of Tim Burton.

A dazzling visualist, Burton's films by-and-large concern characters who -- reportedly like the director himself -- are outcasts in their world. 

The colorful, misfit protagonists of Burton films, however, often learn to shape their reality either through art (moviemaking in Ed Wood), science (Sleepy Hollow), tall tales (Big Fish), gadgetry (Batman) or even overt violence (Mars Attacks!).  This is an important quality of the director's work.  How do you navigate a world in which you do not feel welcome, or a part of?  As we will see, the answer involves, to some extent, "crafting" a personal world inside that larger, harsher one.

An artist of many distinctive stripes (painter, animator and director among them), Burton has professed inspiration from influences as diverse as Vincent Price, Hammer Films, Godzilla and Edgar Allen Poe. 

Accordingly, his colorful, imaginative films represent an intriguing blend of cinema past and present.  Many of Burton's works feature visions of exceptional artificiality (consider the settings of Sleepy Hollow) and thereby buck the culture-wide trend towards realism and "grittiness."  And yet the fantasy lands of Burton are also unbelievably rich and lush, and suffused with a sense of magic and wonder.

Burton has often noted that his films involve "father issues," which is one of the big facets we'll keep in mind upon gazing more closely at his work.  And Interview Magazine captures the Burton aesthetic well with its description of a "delicate balance of sadness, humor, and horror that matches his eye for gothic beauty and mythical surrealism."

Burton's fantasy lands -- so rich in autumnal colors and almost baroque technology -- often feel like old fashioned children's storybooks brought to vivid, three-dimensional life.  And like the best of such storybooks, they are filled with both dread and hope; darkness and sunshine. 

So I hope you'll tune in here during the coming weeks and add your thoughts and insights to this retrospective of Burton's film career.  We won't be covering every film, alas...but certainly most of them.   For instance, I've already posted a review of my least favorite Burton film, 2001's "re-imagination" of Planet of the Apes, and I see no reason to double-dip.

We'll thus commence the "Burton Brief" with my all-time favorite Burton film next week, Ed Wood, and proceed from there.

Burton Brief Schedule:

October 14: Ed Wood (1994)

October 21st: Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)

October 28th: Beetlejuice (1988)

November 4th: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

November 11th:  Mars Attacks! (1996)

November 18th: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

November 25th: Big Fish (2003)

December 2nd: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

December 9th:  Alice and Wonderland (2010)

December 16:  Batman (1989)

December 23: Batman Returns (1991)


  1. This sounds great, John. Looking forward to it. Thanks.

  2. Awesome. Can't wait to read your thoughts on ED WOOD, which is also my fave Burton film. Also curious to read your musings on MARS ATTACKS! and SLEEPY HOLLOW in particular.

  3. I'll second the opinion that I would really like to hear your take on Mars Attacks (and actually Sleepy Hollow now that I think about it). I so desperately wanted to like "Mars Attacks", and it drove me nuts when I finally watched it. I could tell Burton was trying to do something, and for the life of me, I didn't get it. I was put off by virtually every character (who was I supposed to be rooting for exactly?), and I'm pretty sure that's how I was supposed to feel. But if that's the case, then the rest of the movie doesn't make a ton of sense. So I'll wait with baited breath for your thoughts (as a side note, I thought "Sleepy Hollow was excellent, and a pleasant surprise).