Tim Burton: a child's garden of nightmares
by Steve Penn
[ bookreviews ]
This is the third in Plexus' Ultrascreen series, each one a mixed bag of reviews, commentaries and reviews. The format particularly suits Burton's contribution to film, as he has been accused of being a walking mixed bag himself. Woods' selection takes in almost the whole of Burton's career from his initial forays scaring Disney executives with 'Vincent' up to the big-budget 're-imagining' of 'Planet of the Apes'. Between these poles we have the familiar family favourites of 'Beetlejuice', the two 'Batman' films (somebody once tried to tell me there were four modern 'Batman' movies: I of course sent the tyke away with a flea in his ear) and 'Edward Scissorhands'. These are the films people associate most with Burton, but the book also gives heed to 'Mars Attacks!', 'Ed Wood', 'Sleepy Hollow' and the excessively titled 'Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas'. Oh, and 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure'.
So, what are the articles like? Well, very good, in short. Getting Kim Newman to review 'Beetlejuice' was inspired, as was then making him review 'Mars Attacks!' Yet this book is far from simply reviews, as the testimony to the craftwork in Pee-wee Herman's big-screen debut makes clear. This book is a series of careful and intelligent deconstructions of Burton's films, providing such wonderful trivia as the Martian Ambassador being based on Gloria Swanson in 'Sunset Boulevard', or the essential humanism behind 'Beetlejuice' (wot, no God?). Particular attention is paid to analysing and stratifying Burton's American "anytime", the time most of his films are set. The clearest example is in 'Edward Scissorhands', where the Fifties town in which Edward is created contains Nineties electronics, and the whole story is being told in flashback by Winona Ryder's character, grown old long before. Inconsistencies in the Burton style are foregrounded but not criticised: after all, this is what makes Burton so immediately recognisable. Even the utterly peculiar 'Pee-wee's Big Adventure' is shown to be a great piece of the Burton style, and the essays here will make any reader re-consider the film almost as much as Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) getting arrested for doing personal things in a porn cinema.
Despite the high praise awarded to certain aspects of the films, this book is not merely an attempt to get into the premiere of Burton's next movie. Flaws are picked out and examined, and 'Planet of the Apes' gets a well-deserved hammering, as does the lack of screen presence of Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin in 'Beetlejuice'. Social commentary is in evidence too: this book is worth the asking price to read the withering attacks on the critics who thought 'Batman Returns' was too sexy when 'Batman' was not (watch them again and see) together with the reactions of Disney staff to 'Frankenweenie'. Oh and there's an interview with Vincent Price, which is akin to the Ark of the Covenant in my book.
Put simply, this book is very good indeed because it is balanced. There is much here to raise a smile from the casual Burton fan, but there is also enough intelligent comment to make it a worthy addition to the shelf of the dedicated film student. I recommend it heartily, and hope that the next in the series comes out sooner rather than later.