Burton on Burton

  • Mark Salisbury
  • Faber and Faber
  • 1995

Labels such as a love of the gothic, odd imaginings and a strange sense of humour have followed Tim Burton throughout his career. His drak take on Batman, the quirky death comedy Beetlejuice and a twisted version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) might leave the impression of a man who had a troubled childhood. Burton on Burton reveals that he simply sees life from a different perspective that may be not be not suit all tastes, but he does reveal many of life’s truths through his unique cinematic visions in this updated edition that takes us up to 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bridge.

Salisbury’s style steers clear of a self-indulgent biography that details every minor aspect of Burton’s life; instead he tackles only the events and thoughts of Burton in terms of the film work he has done. He presents it as a series of question and answer sessions in which the author has simply transcribed what Burton has said and interspersed it with key facts to guide us through what Burton has to say. The result is an honest and open account of Burton’s opinions of the film industry and how he has approached his own work.

An honest and open account of Burton’s opinions of the film industry and how he has approached his own work.

Beginning with Burton’s early experiences as an animator for Disney, we find out how much he hated working on family-orientated fare that he found almost impossible to face. He preferred a more subversive style that, to him, said a lot more about childhood than cute talking animals ever could. The visionary director has always favoured seeing things as though trapped in a constant fairytale of the Grimm variety: spooky and possibly twisted, but never threatening. Salisbury’s interspersing of the text with Burton’s scribblings throughout helps you see how his mind works as Burton explains the way Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice reflect simply being an outsider. Indeed, this has always been the driving force for his movies having felt to be an outsider all his life. Even Hollywood has treated him like a man they can never be sure of, despite huge successes at the box office.

Of the more recent Burton efforts, it’s fascinating to hear what he has to say about his much maligned remake of Planet of the Apes in 2001 given that the original is one of his favourite films and that the end was so badly received. This slight blemish on his impressive filmography makes for another warning of the perils that working on Hollywood blockbusters can bring, yet you feel he did the best he could. Indeed, while we are given plenty of Burton’s working experiences to digest, Burton on Burton suffers from only dipping into many of his significant working relationships such as that of his regular collaborators of actor Johnny Depp and composer Danny Elfman. Still, that is probably best saved for that overblown biography some years down the line. Burton on Burton sets out to give the director himself the chance to offer us what he is willing to tell, and on this count is achieves it commendably with enough soul searching to rid him of simply being “the guy who makes those dark and twisted movies”.

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