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A History of Tim Burton

A History of Tim Burton

By Rachel Geeson

Out this month is Dark Shadows, a film directed by Tim Burton.  This is the latest edition of Burton’s work in which he has created yet another quirky movie starring the very talented, Johnny Depp. With Dark Shadows being the 17th film that Tim Burton’s directed I thought I’d give you a brief history on the wacky director.

Tim Burton was born in Burback, California on August 25th, 1958. Burbank was quintessential 1950s American suburbia, a world in which the shy, artistic Tim was not quite in step with the shiny happy people surrounding him. When I looked up photographs of Burbank in the 1950’s it did have some similarities to where Edward Scissorhands (1990), was filmed. And when researching more I found out that Burbank was considered as a possible location for the suburban neighbourhoods seen in the film, but was not chosen as Burton believed that the city had become too altered since his childhood.

Burton was not particularly good in school, and was not a bookworm. Instead, he found his pleasure in painting, drawing, and movies. He loved monster movies: Godzilla, the Hammer horror films from Great Britain, the work of Ray Harryhausen. One of his heroes was actor Vincent Price. Vincent Price was well known for his distinctive voice and serio-comic performances in a series of horror films (Tower of London 1939, House of Wax 1953 and The Fly 1958). Price’s final film was Edward Scissorhands and was his last screen appearance when he played the inventor and also did voice overs. Vincent Price died in Los Angeles on October 25th, 1993.

After Burton graduated from Burbank High School, he studied character animation when majoring in animation at the California Institute of Art. One of his classmates was Henry Selick (who later worked with Burton in The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993 and James and the Giant Peach 1996). Whilst he was a student at the California Institute of Arts, Burton made the short films Stalk of the Celery Monster and King and Octopus.

In 1979, Burton graduated and the success of his short film Stalk of the Celery Monster attracted the attention of Walt Disney Productions’ animation studio, who offered Burton an animator’s apprenticeship at their studio. He worked as an animator, storyboard artist and concept artist on films such as The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron and Tron.  When Burton worked as a Disney animator he didn’t really enjoy it and longed for solo projects. I mean it must have been slightly boring if you were continuously drawing characters in such a structured way. I mean for a 90 minute film that would be over 129,000 individual frames.

The studio recognized that Burton’s talent was not being utilized and they let him loose on his own projects. These included a poem and artwork that years later would become The Nightmare Before Christmas, the animated short Vincent, and the live-action short Frankenweenie.

While at Disney in 1982, Burton made his first short, a six minute black-and-white stop motion film based on a poem written by the filmmaker, and depicting a young boy who fantasizes that he is his (and Burton’s) hero Vincent Price, with Price himself providing narration. This was followed by Burton’s first live-action production Hansel and Gretel, a Japanese-themed adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale for the Disney Channel, which climaxes in a kung-fu fight between Hansel and Gretel and the witch.

In 1984, Burton created a unique version of the Frankenstein story with the live-action short Frankenweenie. After Frankenweenie was completed, Disney fired Burton, under the pretext  of him spending the company’s resources on doing a film that would be too dark and scary for children to see. However Paul Reubens was impressed with Frankenweenie and commissioned Burton to direct the wildly inventive comedy Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985). The success of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure brought about other opportunities, including the 1988 ghost story Beetlejuice starring Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder. Often considered the prototypical Burton film, Beetlejuice was recognized for its visual flair and interwoven themes of fantasy and horror.

Next for Burton was Batman (1989), and was his first big budget film. For the title role, Burton chose to cast Michael Keaton as Batman following their previous collaboration in Beetlejuice, despite Keaton’s average physique, inexperience with action films, and reputation as a comic actor. Although during the production there were continuous problems, once the film opened in June 1989, it was backed by the biggest marketing and merchandising campaign in film history at that time, and became one of the biggest box office hits of all time. Its box office gross of over $250 million is also one of the highest in the studio’s history.

Edward Scissorhands 1990 was the first time Burton had full creative control over a feature film, having written the story and also produced the movie. This film is probably one of my favourite Tim Burton films and was a hit with moviegoers and critics. This film also marked the beginning of Burton being taken seriously as an artist.

He followed it up in 1992 with the sequel Batman Returns. It was not as big a hit as the first film, and suffered a backlash from parents who considered it too dark and twisted for younger Bat fans. As for Burton’s personal life, he married German artist Lena Gieseke in 1989 (while in the middle of production on Batman). They separated shortly after filming of Batman Returns. He began dating Lisa Marie shortly after.

After finally seeing his dream project realised with the feature length stop-motion film The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton returned to smaller filmmaking with his next project, Ed Wood. An affectionate tribute to the supposed worst filmmaker of all time, it was not a hit at the box office, but won Burton the best reviews of his career, as well as two Oscars. It was followed by an indirect homage to Wood’s films, Mars Attacks! (1996).The film was a disappointment at the box office, and scorned by many critics, but has gained a cult status over the years. Burton made something of a comeback three years later with his first real horror film, Sleepy Hollow (1999).

Burton’s personal life at that time was in a state of turmoil with his relationship with Lisa Marie ending and the death of his parents within a short space of time. Burton then radically changed in style for his next project, leaving the haunted forests and colourful outcasts behind to go on to directing Planet of the Apes (2001) which, as Burton had repeatedly noted, was “not a remake” of the earlier film. Burton then began dating one of the stars of the film, Helena Bonham Carter. Their son, Billy, was born in October, 2003 and later the still long- term couple had a daughter, Nell in December, 2007. Close friend Johnny Depp is a godfather of both of Burton’s children.

After Planet of the Apes, Burton then went on to direct, Big Fish (2003), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka and The Corpse Bride which received an Oscar nod for Best Animated Feature Film.

Burton’s next directorial project in 2007 turned out to be the long-rumoured musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Another favourite of mine). It was released in the U.S. in December, 2007 to rave reviews, starring none other than Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.  After producing the animated feature 9 (2009), Burton followed it up in 2010 with the 3D Alice in Wonderland, which, despite the title, was actually a sequel to the Disney classic, not a remake. Despite a mixed reception, the film grossed over a billion dollars worldwide.

And that pretty much brings you up to date on the history of Tim Burton. Although this article is quite a long read, I found his life very interesting. For me he is a great director and I’m sure his new film Dark Shadows will be a hit, along with his two other films out later this year Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the remake of his 1984 short film Frankenweenie.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from the book Burton on Burton by Johnny Depp about his friend, Tim Burton.

“What more can I say about him? He is a brother, a friend, my godson’s father. He is a unique and brave soul, someone that I would go to the ends of the earth for, and I know, full and well, he would do the same for me.”

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Categories: Features, News, Plaza Blog
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  1. May 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm

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