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The Philosophy of Tim Burton

The Philosophy of Tim Burton

Edited by Jennifer L. McMahon
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    The Philosophy of Tim Burton
    Book Description:

    Director and producer Tim Burton impresses audiences with stunning visuals, sinister fantasy worlds, and characters whose personalities are strange and yet familiar. Drawing inspiration from sources as varied as Lewis Carroll, Salvador Dalí, Washington Irving, and Dr. Seuss, Burton's creations frequently elicit both alarm and wonder. Whether crafting an offbeat animated feature, a box-office hit, a collection of short fiction, or an art exhibition, Burton pushes the envelope, and he has emerged as a powerful force in contemporary popular culture.

    In The Philosophy of Tim Burton, a distinguished group of scholars examines the philosophical underpinnings and significance of the director's oeuvre, investigating films such as Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Big Fish (2003), Sweeney Todd (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Dark Shadows (2012). The essays in this volume explore Burton's distinctive style, often disturbing content, and popular appeal through three thematic lenses: identity, views on authority, and aesthetic vision.

    Covering topics ranging from Burton's fascination with Victorian ideals, to his celebration of childhood, to his personal expression of the fantastic, the contributors highlight the filmmaker's peculiar narrative style and his use of unreal settings to prompt heightened awareness of the world we inhabit. The Philosophy of Tim Burton offers a penetrating and provocative look at one of Hollywood's most influential auteurs.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4464-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Performing Arts, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    No contemporary director-producer has as deliciously macabre a signature as Tim Burton. Known for his quirky characters and delightfully sinister settings, Burton displays an undeniable knack for the fantastic. Alluding to sources as varied as Lewis Carroll, Mary Shelley, Washington Irving, Edward Gorey, Salvador Dali, and Dr. Seuss, Burton’s creations fascinate audiences by virtue of their ability to elicit both alarm and wonder. And Burton’s influence extends beyond the screen. After over a decade spent establishing a reputation primarily in the cinematic arts, in 2007 Burton releasedThe Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories,a collection of short...

  4. Part 1. Burton and Identity

    • Fishing for the [Mediating] Self: Identity and Storytelling in Big Fish
      (pp. 9-30)
      Ken Hada

      No son wants a delusional or dishonest father, but this seems to be the situation that Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) faces in Tim Burton’s filmBig Fish(2003). Will is convinced that his father, Ed Bloom (Albert Finney), is an irresponsible liar whose self-proclaimed fantastic identity is delusional. The film’s setting brings father and son together one last time as Ed is confined to his deathbed. Though Will has not spoken to his father in three years, he returns home to be with him during his last days. In addition to dealing with the emotional intensity of preparing to bury...

    • Catwoman and Subjectivity: Constructions of Identity and Power in Tim Burton’s Batman Returns
      (pp. 31-46)
      Ryan Weldon

      Tim Burton’s films always contain a cast of interesting characters. Primarily, his character construction and interaction with the plot revolve around a critique of the normal. Normalcy, by whatever yardstick the viewer measures it, never goes unconsidered in a Tim Burton film. We see this in movies as diverse in setting and storytelling asEdward Scissorhands(1990) andSleepy Hollow(1999). Often Burton portrays the normal people, the powerful people, and the conventionally beautiful people as possessing deep character flaws, and the entrenched systems of discourse in which they participate as pervasively corrupt. This corruption is a study in inauthenticity...

    • The Consolations and Dangers of Fantasy: Burton, Poe, and Vincent
      (pp. 47-66)
      Daniel Sullivan

      The horror film genre is part of the foundation of Tim Burton’s personality and body of work. His philosophy of life and film is partly shaped by the possibilities he has long seen in the realm of dark cinematic fantasy. As a child, Burton saw in horror films and writing an inventive escape from drudgery and an outlet for aggressive or antisocial tendencies. In particular, he was captivated by the work of Vincent Price and Roger Corman, who brought the stories and poems of Edgar Allan Poe to big-screen life in the 1960s. The creative potentialities Burton saw in horror...

    • Johnny Depp Is a Big Baby! The Philosophical Significance of Tim Burton’s Preoccupation with Childhood Consciousness in Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood
      (pp. 67-82)
      Mark Walling

      Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) is directing a scene in Tim Burton’s biopic (Ed Wood,1994) of the man voted the worst film director of all time. The film isBride of the Atom,which was released asBride of the Monster(1955), one of Wood’s more infamous works. As he enters a room, Tor Johnson (George “The Animal” Steele), a bald-headed, hairy-shouldered professional wrestler turned actor, receives instructions from Wood to act upset. Tor grasps his rock of a head with massive hands. Wood corrects, “No, no, you’re not that upset. You want to keep moving. You’ve got to get...

  5. Part 2. Burton and Authority

    • Mars Attacks!: Burton, Tocqueville, and the Self-Organizing Power of the American People
      (pp. 85-110)
      Paul A. Cantor

      Tim Burton’s wacky sci-fi filmMars Attacks!(1996) is not considered one of the highpoints of his career. Although the movie took in over $100 million worldwide in its initial release, it was judged a box-office failure, given the fact that it was budgeted for roughly the same amount and its backers were hoping for another blockbuster from the director ofBatman(1989). Moreover, critics generally did not reviewMars Attacks!favorably. Speaking for many of his colleagues, Kenneth Turan of theLos Angeles Timeswrote, “Mars Attacks!is not as much fun as it should be. Few of its...

    • “Pinioned by a Chain of Reasoning”? Anti-intellectualism and Models of Rationality in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow
      (pp. 111-130)
      Steve Benton

      In his classic studyLove and Death in the American Novel(1960), literary critic Leslie Fiedler famously describes Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819) as the foundational text of American literature because the civilization-shunning character it celebrates is the “typical male protagonist of our fiction.” That protagonist, Fiedler claims, is typically “a man on the run, harried into the forest and out to sea, down the river or into combat—anywhere to avoid ‘civilization.’ ”¹ As Fiedler points out, civilization-scorners like Irving’s Rip have long evoked sympathy in American readers because we are suspicious of intellectuals and other fancy-pants civilizers....

    • Culture, Hermeneutics, and the Batman
      (pp. 131-150)
      Kevin S. Decker

      In Tim Burton’sBatman(1989), the Caped Crusader’s arch-nemesis, the Joker (Jack Nicholson), tries to make Batman (Michael Keaton) drop his guard by claiming that the hero is responsible for creating him. But Batman—the orphaned millionaire Bruce Wayne—can make the same claim on the Joker. The Joker, formerly known as Jack Napier, murdered Wayne’s parents in a Gotham City alleyway one night after the opera. Batman hisses at the Joker, “I made you? You made me first.” Then he knocks the stuffing out of him.

      The Joker seems to be implying that the Dark Knight has no one...

    • Burtonology: Metaphysics, Epistemology, Essences, Christmas, and Vincent Price
      (pp. 151-168)
      Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray

      Metaphysics can be described as the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of being, existence, and reality. Epistemology, another fundamental branch of philosophy, is intimately tied to metaphysics because it deals with the nature of knowledge: to talk about what is, one must speak of knowing what is, just as one cannot know something is without also positing that it is. The central questions of metaphysics are, What is it? and How is it? and they necessarily involve, How do I know this? or Can I know that? So when Jack Skellington repeatedly asks, “What is this?” after...

  6. Part 3. Burton and Aesthetics

    • A Symphony of Horror: The Sublime Synesthesia of Sweeney Todd
      (pp. 171-192)
      Jennifer L. Jenkins

      Sweeney Todd(2007) marks a significant deviation for Tim Burton in terms of his prior work and practice.¹ While he had already worked on musicals (The Nightmare Before Christmas[1993],Corpse Bride[2005]) and literary adaptations (Sleepy Hollow[1999],Planet of the Apes[2001],Big Fish[2004],Charlie and the Chocolate Factory[2005]),Sweeneydiffers by being an adaptation of an existing stage musical with a long provenance. Nor is it scored by Burton’s longtime collaborator Danny Elfman. It shares with his other adapted works a firm grounding in the American literary canon, Stephen Sondheim being the touted scion of...

    • Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and the Fantastic
      (pp. 193-214)
      Deborah Knight and George McKnight

      Johnny Depp has appeared in eight films directed by Tim Burton, most recentlyDark Shadows(2012). In this chapter we explore Burton’s construction of fantastic worlds in the films that feature Depp as Burton’s persona, or “second self.” Our starting point is Tzvetan Todorov’s conception of “the fantastic,” as well as the two closely connected categories that Todorov designates as “the uncanny” and “the marvelous.” We develop Todorov’s ideas into an explanatory hypothesis for understanding Burton’s filmmaking, especially with respect to the films starring Depp. We argue that Burton creates fictional worlds that are, in something like Todorov’s sense, fantastic....

    • It’s Uncanny: Death in Tim Burton’s Corpus
      (pp. 215-242)
      Jennifer L. McMahon

      For a quarter of a century, Tim Burton has captivated audiences with his offbeat creations. Known for his macabre style and predisposition for the fantastic, Burton consistently delights viewers with his strange settings and peculiar characters. As anyone acquainted with Burton’s corpus is aware, his work is often characterized as macabre because it features death so prominently. Whether blatantly, through the presence of characters that personify death, or merely through a character’s encounter with mortality, Burton consistently reminds audiences of their finitude. Indeed, he reinstates the long-standing artistic tradition of memento mori, the tradition of incorporating explicit symbols of mortality...

    • Affect without Illusion: The Films of Edward D. Wood Jr. after Ed Wood
      (pp. 243-266)
      David LaRocca

      The director Edward D. Wood Jr. is derided for the films he made in the 1950s and otherwise notorious as the “worst director of all time”—a sort of patron saint of the B movie.¹ Part of the pleasure audiences derive from proclaiming Wood the worst practitioner of filmmaking seems linked with an expression of resentment: hidden in the criticism of his work lies a belief and expectation (perhaps unacknowledged or unarticulated) that filmmakers are supposed to show us our world by taking us out of it. To outer space if need be. Science fiction, for example, is a film...

    • Little Burton Blue: Tim Burton and the Product(ion) of Color in the Fairy-Tale Films The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride
      (pp. 267-286)
      Debbie Olson

      Color is the language of modern fairy tales. Color is also part of the language of consumer culture. Children’s films, or films targeted toward children, particularly animated films, are constructed around and negotiated within capitalist consumer culture, intricately weaving commodities and consumption with fairy-tale lands and utopian spaces. Whenever an animated film hits the theaters it is “part of a package . . . that consists of various commodities attached to it: a program, an illustrated book, a doll, a poster,” and many other products that seek to capitalize on children’s desire to continue the experience of the film’s fantasy...

  7. List of Contributors
    (pp. 287-292)
  8. Index
    (pp. 293-298)
  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-300)