Split Decision: From the Imagination of Tim Burton
Welcome back to Split Decision! Each week, we pose a question to our staff of knowledgable and passionate film geeks and share the responses! We may never know if it is legal to park in the center of Broad Street, but we’ll answer movie questions all day long. Chime in on Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below!
This week’s question:
What is your favorite film from Tim Burton?
I think Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands are both great, and Pee Wee's Big Adventure is a classic, but I'll pick Big Fish as my personal favorite Tim Burton film because his inventive visuals convey the magic of storytelling. Besides, father/son films are my Kryptonite.
As much as Ed Wood speaks to me, and as much as Batman Returns remains the best Batman movie in existence, I've got to go with Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. Alongside Young Frankenstein, it's the best comedy ever made, in my humble and factually correct opinion. Long before Burton was taking beloved properties and adding spirals to them, he was taking a silly script (co-written by Phil Hartman!) and turning it into something maddeningly strange. His aesthetic is the perfect match for a comedic force so singular and strange as Pee-Wee Herman. And wouldn't you know it, Burton has an eye for comedy as well (the whole "paging Mr. Herman bit can't work without good direction). In keeping true to Burton's "I'm so spooky, please come have black tea in my castle" image, Big Adventure is chock full of scary imagery. Large Marge haunted me as a kid, as did the clown-nurse dream sequence.
Fun fact: Large Marge was designed by the Chiodo brothers, the masterminds behind Killer Klowns from Outer Space. They also designed the puppets in Team America: World Police!
Pee-Wee's Big Adventure is a perfect movie and every time Burton releases a dark, half-goth version of Alice in Wonderland where everybody looks like they were rendered on a GameCube, I have to remember how good he used to be. So make Dumbo, Tim Burton. Make another twenty movies where Johnny Depp and Danny DeVito wear quirky contact lenses and wigs that make us wonder if we've already strayed too far from God's light. You already gave us more than we deserved.
"Kidnap the Sandy Claws, put him in a box...". I'm cheating. He didn't direct it, but he did produce it, and the story concept is his, so I'm counting The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although I love Burton's aesthetic, very few of his films have stuck with me, with the exception of Nightmare. He's one of those filmmakers, along with Wes Anderson, where the design often means more to me than the story. But who can't empathize with a skeleton sick of his day job? Feeling creatively spent while a gaggle of yes-men tell him how great he is? Most of us are unable to quit our jobs on a whim, so a story that suggests we find something we do like about our work (and who we are), and use that as a springboard for creative revitalization is a story I find myself coming back to time and again. The music is also fantastic, as is The Mayor, my favorite character. "Jaaaaack, I'm only an elected official, I can't make decisions by myself!" So true.
This is a tough one, because Beetljuice is, undoubtedly, amazing. But if I dig a little deeper, I think my answer has to be Edward Scissorhands. I saw it at such a young age, and so many little things have stuck with me. I spent many years trying to convince my parents to let me have a waterbed after seeing it. I often find Burton's whole shtick to wear thin quickly, but I think Scissorhands has such a wonderful balance of human and surrealistic qualities that it works well, and stands the test of time. Its melancholic rendering of Christmas will always stay with me. That and the waterbed. And as a bonus, I love any excuse to link to this informative article.
While I love Beetlejuice and his Batman work, for me, the Tim Burton movie I want to watch most right now is his 1999 film Sleepy Hollow. I’ve always loved the Washington Irving story, a truly American ghost story, and this version (written by Andrew Kevin Walker of Seven fame) gives Burton the perfect framework to marry his aesthetic to, so that rather than trying to evoke the dreary New England fall in California, this is a straight up love letter to Victorian America. Making this a serial killer movie is a weird choice, and though I’ve seen it a number of times, I can’t remember if there’s a real supernatural element or just that the characters think there is one. It’s a strange film full of wonderful British character actors (Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Michael Gogh, Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Richard Griffiths)…and Casper Van Dien. I can’t even say that this movie is as good as it is infinitely watchable.
I've only ever seen Faces Places, but I will never forget the way that movie brought art back down to earth, to "the people." The way she was able to make regular folks see the power of art, almost like a French New Wave Queer Eye, is something I will never forget.
I haven't watched a Tim Burton movie in a long time, outside of his two Batman films. So the one that immediately jumped to the top of my memory is <i>Batman Returns</i>, which is more of a Catwoman movie than a Batman movie and all the better for it. This movie is like a goth party that Burton only absentmindedly invited Batman too, knowing that he's mostly a closeted goth and Burton prefers the out-and-out psychotic goths. It's such an indulgent film, but one that doesn't feel lost in Burton's indulgences as they often have lately in his career. It's fun and weird and over-the-top, a true embarrassment of circus-riches and one that we overlook far too often when talking about the best Batman movies.
Having just finished writing a play about Johnny Depp (Shameless promotion: donate to our Indiegogo so we can go to Edinburgh Fringe, please?) I'm well versed in Tim Burton movies. My favorite Depp collaboration he's made is Ed Wood, but Beetlejuice is my pick for Burton at his Burton-est. It's flashy and full of heart, but still feels DIY and ambitious, which is something lacking from his recent output. It's silly and scary. It takes care of its characters and makes us root for them, so we actually care when they begin to slip away. And who can dismiss that disgustingly brilliant Michael Keaton performance, as Mr. Juice himself, at the center. It's a star making performance, without much screen time, in the middle of a kid's movie. Which, can we talk about the fact that Beetlejuice is marketed as a CHILDREN'S MOVIE? The things you could get away with in the 80's.