There is actual footage of a film he did as a 13 year-old and by then he had been playing with film or animated film for five years. His art took a serious turn when he was at CalArts in Santa Clarita where a student project Stalk of the Celery Monster caught the attention of animators in the Disney Studio. He was hired, but was never a good fit for the strict corporate structure of Disney and fairly soon branched off on his own, shortly after they released Frankenweenie, which he wrote and produced as animation in 1984. When asked where the idea came from he confessed there was a lot of his own childhood in the story.
One of the featured actors in the film was Shelley Duvall, and Burton started what would become a signature; working with the same people over and over again. The person who scored Frankenweenie was Danny Elfman who has continued in that role on all but two of Burton’s films: Sweeney Todd, which used Stephen Sondheim’s music and one other film when the two were briefly estranged.
The variety of film topics is truly amazing, ranging from Beetlejuice, which connected him with Michael Keeton, who he then cast in Batman and Batman Returns through Edward Scissorhands, which started a longtime deep friendship with Johnny Depp and reunited Burton with Winona Ryder featured in Beetlejuice, to films inspired by authors who influenced his youth, like Roald Dahl, who had written “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach”. Along the way he brought us such cult classics as Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Beginning with Pee-wee’s Big Adventure so many of his films have become box office hits that securing backing is no longer a problem, and it seems the farther off-the-wall the concept, the better. In the current 3-D Black and White Frankenweenie he finds humor and pathos in a boy, whose dog dies. He has capitalized on the recent craze for Lincoln with his adaptation of “Abraham Lincoln; Vampire Hunter”, joining Bill O’Reilly and Steven Spielberg in giving perhaps our greatest President a different spin. I am anxious to see what Daniel Day Lewis does with the role.
When Mary and I were at LACMA I was also amazed at what Burton’s contributions were to the features of his films: from the costuming of Planet of the Apes, to dressing Danny DeVito as a Penguin and Jack Nicholson as The Joker, to Johnny Depp’s actual Scissorhands. The Exhibit also had examples of his art; he is truly a Jack-of-all-Trades. His movies have won several costuming Oscars and been nominated for many more, as have Elfman’s scores. Many of his lesser known or at least less successful films are also notable: Ed Wood, Big Fish, and perhaps Dark Shadows come to mind. And one of his films, which I confess I turned off while on a flight, Alice in Wonderland for a long time was the second highest grossing movie of all time.
At one time I envisioned this post as sharing the careers of Tim Burton with Sir Richard Branson, who has a new book out, but I will save the Virgin owner for another day. There was just too much to say.
My next post, or at least the first post in November, will be a departure. I have been asked by another author to join a project called Blog Hopping, where we discuss a recent book we have written, in my case “Harnessing a Heritage”, and introduce those who read our blog to five or more authors who have done the same, by answering ten questions about our book.
I hope you will join me for that November 7 Post.