"You want me to leave?" -- "Yes, but I want to leave with you..."
Burton is the personification of (if such a thing can exist)
the mainstream outsider, at least in terms that Hollywood
will tolerate. He is gangly, has dark uncontrollable hair,
wears black all the time, has a very distinct artistic vision,
one that permeates all of his films and more importantly for
Hollywood, his films have diarrhoeaed mountains of cash. Furthering
his iconic status is his choice of partner. If Helena Bonham-Carter
had been wooed, courted and made pregnant in her Merchant
Ivory days, I wouldn't have raised an eyebrow. But as Marla
in Fight Club (re-invent much?) she's now
my bee's knees (how shallow can I get?), the round peg, the
belle of the Burton ball. I have a small admission to make.
I found her chimp in Burton's Planet of the Apes achingly sexy. Good luck to the pair of them, sensible souls
who live in separate houses but live 'together'. Their offspring
will love them for it.
has done something most film-making outsiders do not manage
to do - make absurd amounts of money for executives and provide
said executives with a certain artistic eminence-by-association.
"So you produced a Vin Diesel action pic and it went
huge in Japan? Nuts to that, I produce for an auteur and therefore
I have elevated status." The perfect director for an
executive is an outsider whose films make money. Apologies.
The perfect director for an executive is an outsider whose
films haemorrhage obscene amounts of money.
a fledgling, in love with horror movies and animation, Burton
was groomed to learn traditional cell animation the Disney©
way and rebelled as it was muting his own voice. No, really?
That can't be true of Disney©, can it? Who could have
guessed that this awkward kid would carve such a distinctive
niche in the power play that is the US mainstream film industry?
When I first saw Frankenweenie (a live action
Disney funded short about kids making a dog from canine spare
parts) I knew I was watching astounding work by a director
whom I knew in my bones would never make it through the flesh
and bone peppermill that is Hollywood. Shame on me. It's surprising
how fast 'Burtonesque' elbowed its way into the Hollywood
jargon. One mega-hit does that to a career.
first film, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, is an
absurdly enjoyable cartoony romp which on paper must have
looked very odd even given its television 'built-in-audience'
roots. But there are parts of that film that still send various
contributors to this site into a buzzing childlike glee. Even
the arrest of Paul Reuben (Pee Wee himself) for lewd behaviour
doesn't even dent the magic. (I mean who watches what people
are doing in a porn movie house anyway? Wouldn't it be harder
(ho hum) to find non-masturbatory clientele? Can't these people
be arrested for gawping?). Beetlejuice came
out of nowhere. It was a hit defying all Hollywood logic and
being relatively dark, it teed up the young director for the
Guber-Peters era-defining mega-hit.
extraordinary success must have had an effect on Burton. He
went from idiosyncrasy to idiomatic in the swirl of a cape.
Burton had directed one of the most successful movies of all
time (I suspect completely by accident) and despite it being
very definitely a Tim Burton film (the production design is
the signature on the painting so to speak) he was unhappy
with it. He had a lot more fun with Batman Returns,
which in many respects, is a superior piece of work. Edward
Sissorhands is believed to be the quintessential
Burton movie, the tale of an alter ego whose urge to be loved
is tempered by tempered steel fingers.
what of Big Fish, a film that screams father-son
Freudian subtext? A film that if it were made by Woody Allen
we'd be deconstructing it until doomsday; a film that marks
a progression in an artist, but progress towards what? Big
Fish is a real oddity. It doesn't look like a Tim
Burton film. It is sentimental (here I risk going against
common opinion), but sentiment equals emotion. Emotion is
why I go to the movies therefore I don't mind sentiment too
it's Patch frickin' Adams,
the most execrable movie ever made with a musical score I'd
skin mice to. I shiver remembering my experience, trapped
on a plane, watching Robin Williams (an actor I admire for
all sorts of reasons but NOT as 'the funny doctor!') hamming
it up to an alarming degree to a score that should come first
in a "FEEL LOVE TO THIS OAF, FEEL, F-E-E-L you cynical
bastards!" Festival. Oh, let's move on unless we all
drown in a sea of sickening smiles. Back to the Fish.
Finney and his younger self, Ewan McGregor, have theatrical
American accents. They (or rather their combined character
Bloom) speak with a hearty southern US twang. It is a suspension
of disbelief that you have to employ if you're a Brit. It's
something to get past. If you get past it, you're left with
a well meaning tale of a man whose unwavering devotion to
the love of his life and his kindness in the faces of many
adversities mark him out amongst his fellow men. Here is a
man who is made happy by seeing the happiness in others. I
tried that once. It was a learning experience. Ahem.
and son; they do not talk. So the outcome is in no doubt (Hollywood
dollars = Hollywood endings) but it's Burton so we cut him
some slack (after Planet of the Apes, we
were all out of slack). But it's kind of not-Burton. Even
his long time collaborator Danny Elfman has turned in a mediocre
score. Elfman seemed to burst on the scene with idiosyncratic
scores of startling originality (I mean the theme from The
Simpsons doesn't exactly blend in with the wallpaper).
I read somewhere that he didn't actually read music but after Pee Wee, Beetlejuice and Batman, he could have been deaf and composed
a la Beethoven, feeling vibrations on a wooden board, for
all I cared. Suddenly Elfman's muse went south. Hulk, Spiderman, Men in Black, Planet of the Nonsensical Screenplays - all
tepid, generic scores and it's such a shame and an injustice
to the films his music is serving. His score for Fish is mawkish and about as memorable as a... a... can't recall.
wherefore art thou, Burton art? The performances are both
subtle and overblown in equal measure but they do what they
need to do - be convincing in this semi-fantasy milieu. Jessica
Lange shines, a real woman playing a real woman, older, super-sexy
and a bath scene that is a highlight simply for the emotion
on display. Why do both Finney and Lange keep their clothes
on? To quote Pee Wee, "I don't know!" but it's still
effortlessly romantic. The film is peppered with lovely moments
but there is a stand out performance.
Crudup steals the film. Why? He has the worst part (the grudging
son who never understood his flamboyant and super popular
father) but unlike most actors in this role, Crudup (change
your surname, my man) plays it so well, you keep forgetting
you're really not supposed to like this guy. I mean isn't
it obvious his dad's not a liar and that he did work as anything
and everything in a circus for months for nothing just to
find out a girl's name? Crudup keeps you grounded. He's real
in a melange of unreal and at the end the two converge (as
of course they have to). Billy Crudup, I salute your performance.
good performances still don't make Big Fish a
Tim Burton film. The only thing to explain the lack of 'auteur'ial
stamp I can think of is that Burton is having grown-up thoughts
(imminent fatherhood does that to you) and figured Big
Fish could draw them out. This isn't to cast juvenile
aspersions as to the suitability of Burton's previous work
for adults. I adored Sleepy Hollow to hell
and back. How many movies present a child's death with such
throwaway cruelty - the child is hunted, treated to the sight
of his mother's severed head and then the child's own head
is stuffed into a bag with nary a nod towards the ethics of
motion picture political correctness.
will give Burton a lot of line given his past success (I believe Planet of the Deux Ex Machinas made money,
go figure) but what of the end result? Oscar nominated music
score (what?) and moderate box office success - not that these
are indications of a film's worth, far from it. Uncle Oscar
usually presents the world with favourites not quality and
Academy members seem to vote for films that present the voters
themselves in the most favourable light. This is the only
reason that a loin clothed Indian whipped ET's
ass in 1982. Who wants to vote for an animatronic puppet when
they can vote for one of the greatest men who ever lived?
Fish is certainly Tim Burton's most 'accessible'
film in the sense that it's not hugely clear to me that a
single voice is talking. I have not read the source novel
so cannot comment on the original narrative but those seeking
the wild and, dare I say, whacky, delights of Burton's previous
offerings may find Big Fish too conventional
despite the werewolves, giants, Vietnam heroics, picket fences
and Siamese twins.
right now, there's a lot worse out there. A rum to mediocre
Burton is still a Burton. Next please - my God, is that Willy
Wonka? Oompa loompa...