The man is just a walking ball of talent. It seems so wrong that so much artistic flair should be allocated to one individual. And yet when one is watching the beauty and imagination of stop-motion Sally falling to pieces as she jumps from the turret of her fortress prison; or the dramatic intensity of Sweeney Todd singing to his razor as he contemplates bloody murder; or the comic tragedy of Edward Scissorhands trying assimilate into suburbia by succumbing to its behavioural demands, it seems so right.
I have just finished reading Burton on Burton revised edition, in which editor Mark Salisbury has précised a host of interviews conducted with Mr Tim Genius Burton pertaining to his films – beginning with his first film, Vincent, and ending with Corpse Bride. The book also features a fabulously entertaining forward by Johnny Depp – the man many refer to as Burton’s on-screen alter ego. There is no doubt about the creative chemistry ignited when JD and TB team up for a project – I like to think of them as creative soul mates. As Burton candidly discusses his films, his rise to recognition is chronicled. Burton grew up in Burbank California, won a scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts, was awarded a job at Disney and thereafter went on to direct and produce his own films. A consistency in Burton’s life is that he never stopped feeling like the outsider, and this sense of alienation is a recurrent theme in many of his films. What the book makes clear is that Burton’s brilliant imagination is best nurtured when he is working on small-budget, independent projects that do not require him to conform to the kind of demands that would typically be imposed by a big production company. Although Burton, a fledgling director at the time, initiated the tone and style of the big budget Batman feature films by successfully bringing to life iconic characters including the Joker (Jack Nicholson) and Penguin (Danny de Vito), and proved capable of making good at the box office, the nonconformist is more at home with smaller budgets that coincide with less ego and red tape. Burton’s distinct cinematographic style reflects the influence of the monster films, including King Kong, Godzilla and Frankenstein, that he watched as a youngster as well as the influence of actor Vincent Price and director Ray Harryhausen. Burton’s creations are passionately influenced by his own experiences and emotions, which form part of a well developed interior world. Burton, a self proclaimed introvert, communicates and expresses his ideas and emotions visually rather than verbally. Perhaps this is the primary reason for his success – his innate understanding of art and the visual, and how it can be used to transmit emotion. Burton has cultivated a dedicated group of followers over the years – a cult following of individuals who appreciate the creative ingenuity and talent of the director. A director who is always willing to buck the trend and challenge the norm. Johnny Depp says of Burton “I have never seen someone so obviously out of place fit right in. His way.”
The influence of Tim Burton’s art, as an animator and as a film maker, is acknowledged by the word Burtonesque, which has been widely coined and thus listed in the Urban Dictionary. The definition provided by the Urban Dictionary is so poorly constructed that I think I cried when I read it. I have provided a link but will not reproduce the definition, which is a testament to what happens when you invite any random member of the public to exact and define **shudder**. However, as the offer stands, I will accept the invitation and will endeavour to provide my own definition of Burtonesque. Feel free to take it or leave it, use it or delete it.
Burtonesque: [adj] used to describe people, objects, actions or a kind of atmosphere/tone, which bare a resemblance in nature or style to the films of acclaimed director Tim Burton. Burton’s films are encapsulated by imaginative and fantastical worlds and characters, reminiscent of the horror films, folk tales and fairytales that bare influence upon the director. These films are characteristically surreal, avant-garde and expressionistic, the tone of which is commonly described as ‘dark’ and ‘gothic’ owing to Burton’s romanticism and fascination with the macabre. Burton approaches uncomfortable topics with great wit and humour – as if laughing at the world for taking itself too seriously. Burton uses satire, irony and the anti-hero as a tools for social commentary, which is magnified by his juxtaposition of the cliché and the absurd. Johnny Depp says of Burton: “He is an artist, a genius, an oddball, an insane, brilliant, brave, hysterically funny, loyal, non-conformist, honest friend.” This statement is one’s best reference for the term Burtonesque, as all of theses qualities are inherent in the films of Tim Burton.