Tim Burton: A History of Our Complicated Affair
|Johnny Depp in Burton's latest, Dark Shadows.|
Frenemies have a relationship that is both mutually beneficial or dependent while being competitive, and fraught with risk and mistrust. That's exactly what Burton and I have. He needs me as an audience member, and I need him as a creative force. But I'm always doubtful whether he'll give me the goods. Tim, I assume, worries about whether I (the audience) will like what he delivers. Or maybe he doesn't care. In fact, maybe he doesn't give a shit at all. But you know what? He should.
Today Tim Burton's newest film, Dark Shadows, a re-imagining of the 1970's television melodrama, opens across the country. The film marks his eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp, his seventh with his partner Helena Bonham Carter, and his 13th with composer Danny Elfman. It would seem that Tim can't make a movie without getting the old gang together again. But as his audience clamors louder and louder for something original from the filmmaker, I'm beginning to wonder if our relationship has run its course.
It's not you, Tim, it's me. Okay, no. Actually, it's just you.
I can't argue with the fact that Burton, at his best, is a brilliant filmmaker whose films can entertain, engross, and leave me awestruck with their beautiful aesthetic. Some of the most thrilling moments of contemporary big budget cinema I've experienced are a result of Burton's vision. Yet, there are other moments in his ouevre that can only be described as disappointments. It's not that Tim Burton need live up to my standards. It's that he sometimes doesn't live up to his own.
Perhaps if Burton hadn't made such a splash upon entry, his cinematic trangressions wouldn't seem so unforgivable. Yet when in those early years he gave us Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands, we were all looking around thinking, "This could be it. He could be it. Our generation's Billy Wilder."
When Batman Returns was released, there was a momentary pause in adulation. Certainly it was entertaining, and Devito, Pfeiffer, and Walken were amazing casting choices. But the sparkle had dulled, and Keaton, who excelled in the original, now bored slightly -- just slightly, but enough to be noticed. Still, sequels are always a tough sell, and it's easy to forgive the guy you're rooting for.
The Nightmare before Christmas was the Tim Burton film that followed, and while he didn't direct it, the story and script were his creations, and he produced the film. I'll admit I didn't like the movie when it debuted, but I'm growing more appreciative of it with time. (I'm not a hater, not yet a fan.) But it did speak to plenty of others; to this day, it retains a huge cult following.
For me, though, it was when Ed Wood landed that Burton's wow moment arrived. Tim Burton's work was edgy, and beautiful, and charming. He rediscovered a great character actor in Martin Landau, and brought the work of B movie maven Ed Wood back to light. It was a stunning film.