Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Burton-O-Rama

Books on Tim Burton
Book Title: Tim Burton
Authors: Ron Magliozzi, Jenny He, & Jesse Wente.
Editor: Andrew Tracy
Publisher: Toronto International Film Festival
Price: 14.00$

Book Title: Burton on Burton, 2nd Revised Edition
Editor: Mark Salisbury
Publisher: Faber on Faber
Price: 30.00$

Book Title: Tim Burton
Author: Aurélien Ferenczi.
Publisher: Masters of Cinema, Cahiers du Cinéma Sarl
Price: 12.55$

“Burton remains a filmmaker whose modus operandi is based entirely on his innermost feelings.” – Mark Salisbury

Timothy William Burton was born on August 25th, 1958 and grew up with his parents in the suburbs of Burbank, Los Angeles, before he moved in with grandmother. As a child he is described as being an introvert and a joker. He made short films with friends in backyards and he spent free time in graveyards and watching horror films. His outsider illustrations even at a young age seemed to be publicly recognized by an audience at large as his sketches were on local papers and city vehicles. He received a scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and his graduation project, The Stalk of the Celery Monster (1979), caught the attention of the Walt Disney Studio who hired him on as an in-betweener and assistant animator. He did drawings for The Fox and the Hound (1981) and The Black Cauldron (1985). He hated it and his macabre illustrations were consistently turned down. Later he would use these sketches for inspirations for some of his other work, like the poetry and drawing collection The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories and the MoMA career-spanning exhibition. Tim Burton's first short films were made with the help of his CalArts collaborator, Rick Heinrichs, who turned his sketches into three-dimensional maquettes. The first three short-films were Vincent, Hansel & Gretel (both 1982), and Frankenweenie (1984) for the Disney cable channel. Since then he has made fourteen full-length feature films, the first being Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and his latest is a re-working of the classic Lewis Carroll story Alice in Wonderland (2010). Other side projects include a series of collectible figures Tragic Toys for Girls and Boys from Dark Horse Comics that were designed in 2003, and a large format collection of artwork, The Art of Tim Burton, in a standard and deluxe edition, that gathers his drawings and paintings in thirteen sections with quaint titles like Misunderstood Monsters, Freaks, Friends & Foes, Love, and The End. There is also the six-video web-series The World of Stainboy (2000) that follows the titular anti-hero, whose superpower is that he leaves stains, as the police captain of Burbank sends him out to round up the cities social outcasts, in an animation style similar to the official Tim Burton interactive website. These videos are a mixture of comedic punch lines and blunt social criticism. Tim Burton now resides in London, England with his wife Helena Bonham Carter and their young son.

This is the official story of the man that can be disseminated by reading the three books: Masters of Cinema: Tim Burton, TIFF: Tim Burton, and Burton on Burton. Each of the books offers a perspective and emphasis that is different then the other. There is an art critic, a film critic and the man himself. Though they all have a biases and flaws what they do highlight is insightful to better understand the context and depth of Tim Burton’s art.

Ron Magliozzi's, who is an assistant curator in the department of film at the Museum of Modern Art, essay Tim Burton; Exercising the Imagination focuses on Tim Burton’s biography and place within art history. He gathers diverse elements of Tim Burton’s childhood and traces his transition to adolescence and to adulthood. He does this consciously and vocal of Tim Burton intrinsic contradictions, like how Mr. Burton wants to frighten and be comic, as well as how he is an outsider who wants be accepted. Ron Magliozzi’s essay also contextualizes Tim Burton within art history. He posits that Tim Burton is an appropriation artist whose influences come from the American pop culture, so things like television, cartoons, B movies, comic strips, advertising and toys. As well as with other dark and macabre illustrators (Maurice Sendak, Charles Addams, and Edward Gorey), mainstream cartoonist (Henry Syverson, Angelo Torres, Gahan Wilson), the Carnivalesque, Pop Cubism, and Pop Surrealism (Robert Williams and Mark Ryden).

Jesse Wente’s, TIFF head of film programmes, essay Beautiful Outsider; Tim Burton and Hollywood emphasizes Tim Burton in the history of cinematic stop-motion animation. Jesse Wente traces the history back to the animation pioneer Willis O’Brien, who did the special effects on the 1933 King Kong then to the inspiring Ray Harryhausen (Jason and the Argonauts). Jesse Wente writes “Even more importantly, Burton has occasioned a greater recognition and respect for the supposedly “outdated” medium of stop-motion animation, restoring a vital part of film history to pride of place in a film world ever hungry for novelty.” Jesse Wente highlights the turning point in making Tim Burton a brand with his-name-above-the-marquee in the film The Nightmare Before Christmas that his fellow animator and collaborator Henry Selick directed. As well because Tim Burton has proved that it is viable to create these offbeat and gothic films, Jesse Wente posits that it has inspired studios to entrust into similar visions by up-and-coming directors.

Similar to the first TIFF Bell Lightbox publication, Essential Cinema by Michael Connor and Noah Cowan, where in a published conversation between the two in a casual tone they evoke personal responses to the video-art that was in the TIFF exhibtion Wunderkammer and around the city during the 2010 festival. These personal reactions are similar to the essays in the new TIFF Tim Burton monograph as they are both meditations on art and personal receptions to it.

Burton on Burton consist of a series of interviews with Tim Burton shortly after he made each of his films, though with a prolific director like Tim Burton the 2006 book already feels dated as the last interview is for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). There are synopsis of each film, production background and biographical context. Tim Burton provides shooting anecdotes, like the hardships of location shooting, and personal anecdotes, like how when he was making Big Fish his father recently passed away, he says “It was an amazing catharsis… because you’re able to work through those feelings without having to talk to a therapist about it.” As well there is much discussion on the role of casting and being able to get the right actors who can bring exactly what the role demands of them, a balance of emotional commitment and human exaggeration to visually translate Tim Burton’s original sketches and conceptions. The emphasis is on honesty of feelings and a focus on character psychology and background, but not necessarily on any historical accuracy, which gives the impression that his films are in a world of their own. The Burtonesque. He also laments CGI-laziness to the detriment of the stronger emotional resonance of the more human handmade quality special effects, which Nicolas Saada elaborates in an extract from his review of Beetlejuice, “Scare Me”, in the Masters of Cinema: Tim Burton book.

Masters of Cinema: Tim Burton by Aurélien Ferenczi is a general introduction to Tim Burton’s films with reviews, criticism and an industry perspective. The book is full of glossy larger format illustrations and the writing is concise and astute, though some times the choices are problematic. I disagreed on a couple of assessments. Aurélien Ferenczi writes on Mars Attack “But at best it remains a rather slack and pointless parody.” while, I think, it is one of his stronger films for its critique of society as the Martians destroy the American military and politicians. It has this anger and social critic element, which to me, is where Tim Burton truly excels, like the devastating flashback at the end of The World of Stainboy and the barber knife throat slashing in the masterpiece Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). There is just something so honest, no matter how impolite, about these moments. Aurélien is not always generous towards the director, on the MoMA show he quotes the art critic Ken Johnson who writes “Amalgamating the styles of Edward Gorey, Ralph Steadman, Edward Sorel and other cartoon expressionists into his own less-than-original Victorian-Gothic-Grotesques, Mr Burton has created countless cartoons resembling illustrations for cutely perverse greeting cards.” I wonder how Positif’s French-language book on Tim Burton differs as that magazine has always been more generous. The Masters of Cinema series is a Cahiers du Cinema publication. Though Aurélien’s final comments seems apt “It seems he [Tim Burton] has opted to alternate very dark – and no doubt more personal – films like Sweeney Todd with works like Alice that are aimed at a more general audience”.

The Tim Burton exhibition that was organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York recently arrived at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on November 26th 2010. It consists of drawings, sculptures, maquettes, costumes, props, and videos. Though not all of the work from the original MoMA exhibition made it due to a space limitation and apparently the additional work showed how he refined his initial characters to be able to transplant the vision for the live-action counterparts. The storyboard etchings place him alongside other cinematic draftsmen like Sergei Eisenstein and Federico Fellini. While his gothic antecedents are the likes of Edgar Allen Poe and Vincent Price. Cinematically speaking, the shots (medium), camera movements (crane shots, pans, punch-line shots), and editing (shot-reverseshot) are very standardized and his films usually have an engrossing score by his regular film composer Danny Elfman. But how Tim Burton truly distinguishes himself, is not by thinking out-of-the-box, but by taking scissorfingers to that box(!), and using it to create his own unique vision. In his most recent films there seems to be something new going on, a youthful rejuvenation. As Tim Burton’s is now working with a new generation of younger actors, people like Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Alice in Wonderland and Jamie Cambell Bower as Anthony Hope and Jayne Wisener as Johanna in Sweeney Todd, which achieves a new relevancy. Finally, Tim Burton’s explores the subject of the transition from adolescence to the world of adulthood and its accompanying loss of innocence with a remaining feeling of melancholy. He uses the folkloric as a guise to explore this subject, that of making sense of the chaos of existence, in a heightened way, and over and over again and with each new film, the breath of his imagination has grown and so is his personal philosophy. - David Davidson

2 comments:

big baby campbell said...

Tim Burton is the only film maker you mentioned on a previous post that I didn't think should be considered an important director like the Coens or Tarantino. I think the point where I realized this was seeing his exhibit at the MOMA. Maybe I would of enjoyed it more had I seen it at the Lightbox but I felt that the exhibit had no place in the MOMA and was disappointed with their curators.

Only thing I really liked was seeing his first drawings.

Futhermore, kinda bummed you changed the name of the blog haha.

David Davidson said...

Hey, it is good to hear from you man! I have been watching more of Tim Burto films (e.g. Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Sweeney Todd), there is a retrospective going on at the Lightbox and I get compt tickets as I work there (yeah!), and there is this real anger and social critic element to them, similar to the works of John Waters and George Romero. Reading the above mentioned books changed how I perceived his films as it becomes clear that the characters in his films are autobiographical in terms of feelings, mannerism and personality. While his animation background and drawings are a springboard for the mise-en-sence he would try transplant to his films, which is important to his creative process. That is why I think the show is important, though I also have a few complaints about it. Yeah, the name change, I did the transition really poorly, I kind-of just changed it, did not warn any readers, and my viewer count went from around 100 to 4. Yikes! Anyways, if you are ever in the city or if you need a place to crash, let me know.