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May 2011, arsenal cinema

Tim Burton Retrospective (2)

BIG FISH, 2003

For the past 25 years, Tim Burton (*1958) has been Hollywood's most idiosyncratic star director. His movies are modern fairy tales for adults, populated by oddballs, eccentrics and freaks of all sorts, depicting fantastic dream worlds that are at once melancholy and comical. With his faith in the compatibility of great entertainment cinema and a personal artistic vision, Burton has repeatedly proven that fairy tales don't have to be told using the patterns laid out by conventional Hollywood clichés. All of Burton's pictures revolve around the conflict between the individual and society, nonconformity and the pressure to adapt; they deal with masquerades and split personalities, misunderstood outsiders and the escape to their own imagination. With his predominantly gloomily colored, fantastic universe, in which the outsiders mostly possess more sensitive souls than the people conforming to the norm, Burton has succeeded in introducing subversive elements into mass culture. In February, we continue the retrospective of all of the full-length movies he has directed and show the films that Burton made from 1999 to 2010.

PLANET OF THE APES (USA 2001, Feb. 1 & 7) 2029: In a space station near Saturn, scientists train apes to go on dangerous missions as space pilots. Captain Davidson gets into a mysterious electromagnetic storm with his shuttle, is hurled through time and has to make an emergency landing on a distant planet in the year 2400, where speaking, intelligent apes dominate less developed humans. With Planet of the Apes, Franklin D. Schaffner shot a science-fiction milestone pessimistic about civilization in 1968. The story formed a negative utopia in comparison to Kubrick's 2001 – A Space Odyssey and led to four sequels. Tim Burton's movie is not only a remake using state-of-the-art special effects of the new millennium, but also an independent version more in line with Pierre Boulle's novel La planète des singes from 1963.

BIG FISH (USA 2003, Feb. 3 & 5) At the death bed of Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), his son Will makes a last attempt at reconciliation and to find out who is father really is. All his life, the father (young Ed is played by Ewan McGregor) only told incredible lies about himself and his life. Tim Burton's adaptation of Daniel Wallace's novel is a movie about narration and a hymn to the joy of spinning yarns and to imagination. A vivid fantasy fairytale with a misunderstood giant, a witch whose eyes foretell death, singing Siamese twins from Korea and a werewolf with a circus hat. Fellini-like circus acts mixed with age-old fairytale motifs.

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (USA/GB 2007, Feb. 4 & 9) The London barber Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) was banished under false charges to Australia by a sly judge who had an eye on his wife. After 15 years in a penal colony, Barker returns to gloomy Victorian London and starts an unparalleled campaign of vengeance under the name of Sweeney Todd. The for the most part sung film is based on Stephen Sondheim's eponymous musical modeled on a dime novel series from the mid-19th century that premiered on Broadway in 1979. In his bloodiest film, Burton synchronizes "images and music as closely as one otherwise can only find in Disney's animated movies. But he also displays everything that a sophisticated Broadway production can only hint at with such clarity that it even surpasses the spine-chilling Grand Guignol theater. SWEENEY TODD is the first splatter musical." (Daniel Kothenschulte)

CORPSE BRIDE (Tim Burton, Mike Johnson, GB/USA 2005, Feb. 4 & 7) Twelve years after Nightmare Before Christmas, which he produced, Tim Burton (co-)directed a stop motion puppet film for the first time. Burton and Mike Johnson optimized the illusion of corporeality, filming the puppets - metal skeletons covered with a silicone skin - with tiny digital cameras. The plot is set in a 19th-century English village: Young Victor (with the voice of Johnny Depp) is abducted to the realm of the dead and married to a mysterious corpse bride, while his real bride, Victoria, is left behind in the world of the living. Even though everything's much livelier in the merry realm of the dead than in Victor's strict Victorian homeland - parties are celebrated every time someone new arrives, which Burton stages as furious musical acts - but Victor cannot forget his true love.

SLEEPY HOLLOW (USA 1999, Feb. 5) In the year 1799, a demon on horseback, who has already decapitated four residents, descends upon the village of Sleepy Hollow. The New York City police sends the young constable Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) to the Hudson River to investigate the mysterious murder cases. The town's dignitaries tell Crane the tale of the headless horseman, a blood-thirsty Hessian mercenary (Christopher Walken), who fought on the side of the British during the War of Independence and whose running amok could only be stopped by his decapitation. But Crane prefers to trust scientific investigation methods. Unlike Washington Irving, on whose The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820) the movie is based, Tim Burton underscores the story's inherent contradiction between enlightenment and romanticism, a scientific worldview and fantasy: those using their heads versus the headless.

CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (USA / GB 2005, Feb. 6 & 8) Tim Burton’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic children's book from 1964 is about the son of a dentist (Christopher Lee), whom it was forbidden as a child to eat sweets and who as an adult builds the world's largest chocolate factory. Searching for a future heir for his chocolate empire, secluded Willy Wonka (Johnny Depp) opens up the isolated factory for the first time in 15 years for five children. The tour of wondrous Wonka world with chocolate waterfalls, nut-sorting rooms and choreographed song interludes of the Oompa Loompas, Wonka's troop of little workers, becomes a colorful treasure chest of citations from the history of film - and a dark ride for four of the children who are greedy or spoilt, aggressive or overambitious, thus bringing the most important vices together. Only modest Charlie Bucket, who lives with his parents and grandparents in a little crooked house next to Wonka's factory survives the selection unharmed, so that nothing can prevent a happy end, which was rarely formulated more aptly: "Life has never been sweeter."

ALICE IN WONDERLAND (USA 2010, Feb. 6 & 10) When 19-year-old Alice Kingsley, during a Victorian garden party, learns about her planned marriage to the boring and presumptuous son of Lord and Lady Ascot, she flees through a rabbit hole to another world, which she still remembers from her childhood. She is already expected there, because she is to bring the reign of the evil queen of hearts (Helena Bonham Carter) to an end and help crown the white queen. In his seventh collaboration with Johnny Depp (as the psychotic hat-maker), Tim Burton freely interprets Lewis Carroll's novels and turns the child Alice into a rebellious young woman who enters into an "underland" that is, as one would expect, much less delightful than in earlier film adaptations. Artificial and real worlds merge seamlessly, actors and actresses play alongside computer-generated artificial beings in a gloomy, Kafkaesque wonderland of disturbed communication.