Hey folks, Harry here with the lovely Dorothy Parker and her look at Tim Burton. If there was someone more worthy of marrying Tim Burton than me, it would be her. No wait, that's all wrong. Forget that sentence, um... actually I'm gonna marry Richard Kelly, dammit... No I mean Dorothy Parker is. Why am I so confused. God lead paint is sweeeet. Anyways, Dorothy Parker wrote this and actually contrary to my rambling, you'll find intelligence and to the point cool details. I'm just shocked though, because I swore I put my extra tube of Doc Spelunkers in there too! Hmmm, well, I'll just have to apply that in person...
Never judge a mystery package by its cover.
I was just sitting down to a snort of gin and a late night editing assignment when something brown and solid sailed over the transom and sent an explosion of editorials whirling from my desk. When the fluttering papers cleared, there was a large something firmly wedged between the roller and the ribbon of my already battered Olivetti. My intruder was a rectangular package tied with twine and wrapped in stained brown paper bearing the legend: Your bowels can be a dream with Dr. Spelunker’s Colon Cream! Clearly this was the overhand pitch of Harry.
Inside I found a book quite plainly titled, Tim Burton, by Jim Smith and J. Clive Matthews and a note from Harry asking if I would be a sweetie and review it for the site. Well, of course I would. I read everything about Tim, and sleep is for the weak. I immediately skimmed the book and was horrified by what I saw. It appeared to be a chronology of Burton’s film with each entry broken down into vital stats—asinine things like memorable dialog, how often clowns appeared, or where black and white stripes were used. Dear Gods, had they reduced his work to the format of baseball cards? Would Frankenweenie be the Rookie of the Year? I held the tome away from my face to avoid the fumes of bubble gum and made my decision. Yes, I would wade through this obviously superficially structured dalliance and promptly slice it from asshole to appetite.
So, with this sort of preamble, I am sure you are now expecting me to do a complete about-face and proclaim this the best work written about Burton, or any director, rivaling in depth the body of analysis devoted to Hitchcock.
It may well be the best work about Tim’s career because of its completeness and objectiveness, and also that there are only a handful of career/bio books available on the subject. (Let this statement in no way cast shade on Mark Salisbury’s fascinating interview book, Burton on Burton.) But while it is quality work, it still has some flaws. All of which I will tell you about, right now. (Just kidding.) In a nutshell, the book is structured as a filmography spanning Burton’s work from his student films at Cal Arts, through Planet of the Apes. Each entry allows the reader to skip not only to the film they want to read about, but also to the section of interest such as cast, production, etc. While this user-friendly format is designed more for the layman, like a Field Guide to North American Yeti, the authors’ intro promises that if the book is read chronologically, an analytical narrative will emerge. Is this true? Yes. The commentary on Burton’s development is handled anecdotally, placed in the appropriate chapter and heading: what film it pertained to and in what aspect of that film such as story, character design, visual appearance, musical choices. The authors’ structure allows for a concise presentation of facts within their necessary context. Blah blah, blah…
But is it any good? Hell yes. The information on Burton’s student films, particularly the write up of Luau, alone makes it worth picking up. It is an incredibly well researched casebook that covers a monstrous scope of information from all of Burton’s film projects. This includes little seen work like Hansel and Gretel, internet film Stainboy, and proposed/abandoned work, for example, an entire chapter chronicling the Death of Superman project. Criticisms and discussions are multifaceted with quotes from those working closely with the director and views from multiple publications. Hardcore Burton fans and AICN readers will find delight and self-righteous indignation in agreeing and refuting the more subjective material, (I for one am completely offended at the unreverential way the authors downplayed Phil Hartman’s work in scripting Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I miss you Phil.) And if the debates get too heated, there is an excellent bibliography and copious notes so you can go check the references your own damned self. For the new comers or mildly curious, this book is the best starting point.
Now about the flaws I mentioned… While creating subheadings to separate production notes from synopsis from analysis works well on the whole, the authors inclusion of sections for dogs, clowns and black and white pattern imagery is often a wholesale cataloging of these elements with no analysis for why they are there. It looks and reads like filler, and only draws further attention to the topical layout of the book. Also, while many fans enjoy speculating on why Burton’s films no longer seem to have the bittersweet personal edge present in his work up through Ed Wood, there is very little acknowledgment of or information about that shift here. Lastly, the authors wish to label the possibility of Tim doing Katherine Dunn’s fabled Geek Love as strictly an internet rumor—however Harry tells me that someone on Burton’s payroll was working on the screen adaptation…Who do I believe? Gosh, I hate it when mommy and daddy fight! (Harry, do feel free to step in the ring here!) For myself, I’m okay if Tim won’t get off his duff and do it. How about Terry Gilliam, Guillermo Del Toro, or Richard Kelly?
On the whole, the positive outweighs the negative in a landslide, and this book offers one stop shopping for a clearing house of information in a concise, interesting and highly readable format. Rather unlike the Internet…