?Tim Burton is an artist?(Odell, Le Blanc. 2005) and this can be well encapsulated by Burtons childhood, early ages of career and work as a film director. Many influences on Burton?s film themes have been biographical, representing his childhood and early years of his career.
Having born in Burbank California in the year 1958 to Jean and Bill Burton, Timothy Walter Burton at the tender age of twelve was sent to live with his grandmother. The separation from parents due to strained relationship between them left a deep impact on his personality and approach to life. This can be observed in the parental figures role in his movies. Calling himself an introvert (Salisbury, 2006.p.1) he constantly felt alienated. Though having grown in a typical working class American suburb in Burbank he felt like an isolated stranger, which he often reflects in his movies. The entertainment source for Burton was drawing and watching television during his young age which contributed a lot to shape his creative ideas at a later stage.
He recalls, ?Every kid responds to some image, some fairy-tale image, and I felt most monsters were basically misperceived, they usually had much more heartfelt souls than human characters around them. My fairy-tales were probably those monster movies; to me they?re fairly similar.? (Salisbury, 2006. P.3).
His statement here is evident in the large portion of his work which often shows a misunderstood monster/Villain involving a fairy or folk tale element. If we look at the character of Edward Scissor hands ? creation of an inventor, we can clearly see link between the theme and Burton?s admiration of monster movies like Frankenstein. The Work of Burton focuses on the outcasts of the society. The duality between ?magically amusing? and ?grotesquely grim? create the base for the world that Burton loves to explore. Talking about the fairy tales, he believes besides the apparent foundation, they give scope to open interpretation (Salisbury, 2006.p.3).
He won a scholarship in 1976 to attend the California Institute of Arts which was founded by Disney to help young artists and animators to learn about the professional way of doing things with a vital experience throughout by offering work with them. Being frustrated with the ethos of working with them in a rigid boundary he called it a ?Chinese water torture?(Salisbury,2006.p.9) Soon being hired as a conceptual artist to design characters and ideas for future project use. His first project as a conceptual artist was called ?The Black Cauldron? which he did enjoy. He was offered to make a movie of his own ideas which he translated through the movie ?Vincent? (1982) and that was the moment when his journey as an expressionist began in making movies which contained his own ideology.
Considering him away from the mainstream cinema, he is still successful enough to market a film with his name in it.Films like ?Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?, and ?Tim Burton?s Corpse bride? have a steep imagery though they are targeted towards box office friendly takings.
Influences and Elements in ?Burtonesque? designs.
Burton uses a series of recurring themes, symbols, metaphors and motifs that create a personal vision of his own world. These images are often dark and gothic expressions of morbid realities in a pleasantly acceptable design. Handmade sets with human touch, harsh lighting, mutated colors, period design costume references, mono-chromatic set designs, a surrealistic overtone and a strong emotional isolation of protagonists give a distinct flavor to his movies.
Burton was four years old when the fear of nuclear war with Russia haunted the US. The anarchic restlessness in living with the fear of Soviets blasting US out of existence was apparent and crucial in creating a phobic and paranoid atmosphere that lingered around all the forms of depicting childhood, and had a strong bearing on streak of morbidity that later permeated in Burton?s movies.He has been creating work which has undoubtedly built up a brand for him, though his movies have seen a strong influence of other movies of previous directors, but unlike others who follow the style of an artist, he has been more interested in showing his interpretation of the bygone influences. Like his movie Vincent (1982), seems to have drawn the look from the German expressionist classic, The cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), but in his own second hand interpretation. The other short movie, Frankenweenie (1982), is similar in this respect which reminds the viewer of the classic ?Frankenstein? with a positive notion to it.
His films give the viewer an idea or the memory of the earlier film rather than a literal re creation. Looking at his work it is clear that he does not see his predecessors as models for his movies, but just takes influences from the things that he himself identifies with often weird and grotesque and converts them as a pleasant reality.
A strong passion for the weird and amusing both thematically and style wise arise from his love for monster movies such as ?The Brain That Wouldn?t Die? (Joseph Green, 1962), Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (Jack Arnold, 1954). He idolized the work of Vincent Price who being a veteran for many horror movies was known for Roger Cornman?s series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in 1960?s(Odell and Leblanc, 2005,).
His creation give a strong sense of wonder and discovery, he twists the stereotype genres. Like in ?Beetlejuice? a horrible family haunts a pair of bland ghosts, or as in ?Batman? the focus remains on the villains. The look of his films are adapted from that of the classic science fiction or horror movies from 1950s and 1960s, with a strong influence of producers like Roger Cornman, Italian film maker Mario Bava (acclaimed for ?The mask of Satan? which has a strong influence on sleepy hollow), animators Ray Harry Hausen and Willis O? Brien and many horror movies of Hammer.
The strong undertone in his movie is often about a misanthropic young person. This comes from various sources; Burton himself, self loathing as explored by Edgar Allan Poe, and Gothic aesthetic which help connect the films with many people who feel as fragmented from the society be they odd, abnormal, ugly, na?ve or simply misunderstood like in the movie ?Big Fish?.
The strong influence of his own dysfunctional family and estranged relationship between him and his parents can be traced through the origins of the various characters of his movies. The loss of not having a parent can be seen in the character of ?Pee-wee?, or ?Edward Scissorhands? where the loss of the inventor shapes the character?s being, or like Willy Wonka in ?Charlie and the chocolate factory? where he decides to be a chocolatier because of the extreme torture of his dentist father. Prominent feature of ?Grotesque? in all of his movies work as a common element of sinister and macabre but strangely instead of presenting a sad or depressing picture, they present a freaky yet cheerful reality in imagination. The use of graphical elements like stripes, swirls, lines or checks add visual embellishments to the movie.
Burton loves to create one character in most of his movies that is an idealized version of him which clearly represent him and his upbringing. For example Vincent, Lydia in ?Beeteljuice?, Edward in ?Edward Scissorhands?, Richie in ?Mars attacks? and Willy wonka in ?Charlie and the chocolate factory? a closer observation of all these character show the expressive need of Burton.
Art inspires fashion
Drawing design inspiration from other designers is a common practice in fashion. It also being an expression of a sub-culture often takes influences from periodic references. Burton?s movies, having a strong influence of pop culture with gothic elements, have inspired fashion around the Globe. Katy Mulleavy of Rodarte design team recently in an interview for Financial Times UK, said that its hard for her to find someone whose work is creative and is not inspired by Burton, even if it be subconscious. Kate Young, a successful celebrity stylist says her teenage years were strongly inspired by the glamorous Goth look that she saw in ?Beetlejuice?, similarly Katy Mulleavy feels the character of Lydia played by Winona Ryder in ?Edward Scissorhands? has been quite influential on a lot of styles at Rodarte.
Marc Jacobs Autumn 2006 collection had somber cocoons from the movie ?Sleepy Hollow?, along with that the October issue of American Harper?s Bazaar featured a 10 page spread style by Tim Burton with elements of dry leaves, elaborate landscapes, dramatic gowns, and waistcoats by famous designers like Nina Ricci, Oscar De La Renta, and Louis Vuitton making the spread haunted and magical in his own style. Even the ?Burton-esque? appeal has spread through the designs of the jewellery designer Waris Ahluwalia, or the pale make up in Chris Benz?s Fall 2007 collection which was completely inspired by Burton?s Wednesday Addams. Legendary Vogue stylist feels ?he is magical and he paints fantasy that is very complete.?(Amy Larocca, Published: November 21 2009. ? Financial Times Limited, 2009)
Some critical points
It is often argued that Burton?s movies present a skewed view of the world that he created, which fails to give a balanced adult view which would be unbiased. The reflection of his own problematic upbringing becomes apparent in his movies, which he doesn?t seem to be concerned of.
Apart from being recognized as a stylist and the most visually stylish American film maker in American film today, he is still faulted for a tell tale lack of narrative ability and dramatic coherence which fails to give depth to the subject of his movies. The movies often leverage on the visual aspect of it rather than the content aspect.
The work also lacks in experimentation with the way it is constructed, hence it cannot be called amazingly experimental in that respect. Burton?s lack of judgmental point of view is seen in his movies which mostly lack the psychological depth and hence give weak explanation to a lot of characters he brings in. The origin of the characters itself remains very vague as to give a logical explanation for it, and hence it can be a little difficult to understand and he expects the audience to accept that. The only reason that could be why he is so successful is the human tendency to be drawn towards curiosity and the fact that horror and humor form a part of Burton?s movies in a very entertaining manner.
In a lot of ways Burton is seen as the most selfish in all the contemporary filmmakers by making movies purely to his own ends. He uses his own inner self to make the film rather than experimenting with outer world. In an extreme case, Vincent(1982) and Edward Scissorhands(1992) could be called autobiographical of his life as far as the main characters are concerned, showing us the two stages of Tim?s life; childhood and adolescence. Such resonances could be traced through all his movies.
To conclude the work of this filmmaker in one sentence could be said by saying that his genuine interest lies in only one subject- himself, which fortunately is an extremely interesting one. Though failing to explain logical explanation to the characters in his movies, he manages to reach to a large number of audiences by his work. This only reflects the very apparent portion of society that feeds on such issues. It means that there exist a large proportion of people who can relate to the idea of being isolated in a crowd, or being perceived as awkward, ugly or weird. The attraction to his movies is the fact that the abnormal becomes the normal and vice a versa hence generating a deep interest in the viewer, backed by an amazingly embellished imagery whose influences come from his own roots. If we critically look at his work, there can be two extreme viewpoints advocating absurd imagination and reality of life. Use of extremely disproportionate designs does add a metaphorical value to his images, at the same time lack the psychological depth in conveying through dramatic endeavors of films. Further more research can look into the reason why his movies feed the dark side of humor in a pleasant manner. Also his position as an Auteur can be reinforced if his work is analyzed based on his roots which are already apparent. Interesting thing here at this point is to observe where he goes as a filmmaker and what does he offer to the audience towards the coming years. Would he still leverage on his gothic dark past influences or would he reinvent himself are some things that could be observed in his upcoming movies.
- Andac, B. (n.d). Senses of Cinema: Tim Burton. Retrieved May 05, 2006, from
- Alison McMahan, The Films of Tim Burton,, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN: 0826415679
- Hanke K. ?Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Film-Maker?. ? 1999 Ken Hanke
- Salisbury M, Burton T. ?Burton on Burton?. London: Faber and Faber, 1995, p.75
- Magliozzi R., He J. ?Tim Burton?. ? 2009 Museum of Modern Art, New York.
- Odell C., Le Blanc M. ?Tim Burton the pocket essential?. ? 2005 Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc