Friday, April 22, 2011

Liking the idea of a person, if not the person

There are few people in the movie industry who've received more scorn on this blog than Tim Burton.

I won't rehash my complaints about him here. If you are a simpatico reader, I'm sure you already know what Burton's problems are without me having to go into detail. (Also, you can follow my timeline of ripping Burton by checking out my "tim burton" label.)

However, apparently there's still something about the idea of Tim Burton that I like.

For several months now we have had a postcard on our refrigerator advertising an upcoming exhibit at LACMA, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The eponymous Tim Burton exhibit is summarized in the following way:

"On view at LACMA from May 29 through October 31, 2011, the exhibition brings together over 700 drawings, paintings, photographs, moving-image works, storyboards, puppets, concept artworks, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera, including art from a number of unrealized and little-known personal projects. Many of these objects come from the artist's own archive, as well as from studio archives and private collections of Burton's collaborators."

If I hate this man so much -- or, I should say, I hate what he's become -- then why do I feel so drawn in by the potential of this exhibit?

I guess it's because Burton himself has always had potential, potential that he has been consistently squandering for the past decade -- a lot longer than that, some would argue.

A person's hatred of Tim Burton is always a complicated thing. It's not that he's just some hack who has no talent. It's that he's become a hack from very talented beginnings. The possibility is always there for the Burton we once fell in love with to return. As each new project confirms that this Burton is not returning, at least not yet, our frustration with the man takes on increasingly epic proportions.

But there's something about going back into his old catalogue, when he was more like Edward Gorey and less like a guy trying to make a theme park ride, that excites me. Even just that image of that boy with crazy hair walking up those craggy stairs excites me. It's gothic and minimal and potential quite fulfilling from an artistic standpoint.

Here's another image that LACMA has up on its website:

This images perfectly summarizes what I wish Burton were doing, that he's not: producing original material. Instead of the latest on-the-nose choice from among the gothic literary properties in our collective consciousness, why not make a move about woolly creatures with buildings on their heads? Just a thought.

I guess we'll probably go. Let's just hope the Tim Burton exhibit doesn't make us hate him more -- or hate ourselves for being fooled by him again.


Travis McClain said...

Burton may be one of the most polarizing people in the movie industry. It seems he has as many apologists as haters. I'm in the middle of the pack. I've enjoyed some of his films quite a bit, been disappointed with some. One thing I'll give him above all else is that even when I find myself let down by one of his movies, I can still find things to appreciate and enjoy.

For instance, I wasn't in love with his Alice in Wonderland. I thought it went too "Narnia" and Johnny Depp seemed to be giving two different performances as the Mad Hatter; one as a comically deranged social cast-off, the other as the heir to William Wallace.

Still, I really liked the overall look of the film, thought the Cheshire Cat (and Stephen Fry's voice work for the character) was perfect, and I felt Mia Wasikowska was terrific as Alice. And even though the premise was pretty much the same as in Hook, I thought Burton's "fairy tale character returning to place of fancy as a grown-up" story came much closer to being satisfying than was Spielberg's.

The worst thing I can say about a Burton film is that it's vapid. That's hardly an ideal review for any movie, but I've yet to be outright insulted by a Burton movie, or bored.

Don Handsome said...

Its always been Burton’s set pieces – or his design pieces translated into set pieces – that has attracted me to him. He used to be a masterful visual stylist, and even now I’m not so sure he’s stopped being one. However, like you, I’ve soured on him tremendously lately (as in the last decade in my case), and I think that is mainly because of two reasons: 1) his set pieces are less interesting to me now than they were a long time ago (though they ARE usually still intriguing enough to get me to watch his films); and 2) his ability to coherently link set pieces together with story, though always flimsy, has greatly diminished. So without going into any additional detail about Burton’s recent failures as a film director, I can say that I believe him to still have his visual flair somewhat intact. A museum exhibit may be the best place for him. He doesn’t have to be bothered by pesky things like plot, story, or character. I’m sure this exhibit will wow you in that way…just don’t let it convince you he’s still a useful filmmaker.

Vancetastic said...


I've been "punishing" Burton (to the extent that I, as an individual viewer, can) in the last few years by refusing to see his movies in the theater, and usually letting 1-2 years elapse before I see them at all. That period of time hasn't elapsed yet for Alice, though I do imagine I'll eventually see it. However, I'm still angry from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd, so maybe I won't.

I agree that it's the promise of how the worlds will look that keeps drawing us back. And as much as I hate Chocolate Factory, for example, I loved the design of the city of London. Unfortunately, I hated the design of the inside of the factory, and much more of the time was spent there.

I do think that Burton could be guilty of more than vapidness. I think there's a meanness setting in to his movies, and that's what leaves the bad taste for me. Plus, more than anything, the movies ooze laziness. Even with the strenuous production design, it's creatively lazy to continue using only the same three collaborators over and over again.

Thanks for the comment ...


Just visuals with no need for plot. A perfect assessment.

Fletch said...

Burton ought to make a movie with Cage, since I'd like to copy this entire post and just hit copy/replace Burton's name with Nic's.

People often can't tell if I like Nic Cage or not, wondering if I'm obsessed with the guy or something. But I think this sentence sums it up best: "If I hate this man so much -- or, I should say, I hate what he's become, then why do I feel so drawn in [to his work, in this case]."

And yea, I feel essentially the same about Burton. His films have become caricatures of themselves. That College Humor (or Funny or Die) vid that came out around Alice really encapsulated his career over the last decade. Surprise us, Tim. For god's sake, please surprise us...

Thaddeus said...

Yeah, I find Burton to be very problematic. On the one hand, he has tons of great sensibilities for style and story ideas. On the other, he's crawled up his own backside and never noticed that he's rehashing the same things over and over.

I think the best point you make is that Burton's recent work - what he's done with the power that comes from his box office success - is somehow shallower than everything he's done before. First he succeeded his way up the ladder, but now he's failing his way up.

Vancetastic said...


I have to check out that video. I'm still holding out on watching Alice, and though I probably don't need to see it to appreciate the video, maybe I'll soon cave on one and then watch the other.

As for Cage, hey, I think one out of every four movies he makes is really interesting. And since he makes so many, that actually means I'm liking about one Nic Cage film a year. Granted, he had a stretch where he really bumped up that ratio with both Bad Lieutenant and Kick-Ass in a short period of time. Of his supposedly schlocky movies, I actually got quite a bit out of both Next and Knowing.


Love the line about crawling up his own backside. And it's an excellent point that he doesn't need to be better if audiences don't demand it of him. Why succeed when you can fail and still get the same amount of work?