Tim Burton

By Danny Elfman Photography Sebastian Kim
In 1984, Paul Reubens was looking for a director. The film in development was Pee-wee¶s Big Adventure (1985), and Reubens, who had been working on the perversely juvenile conceptual-art project for about 15 years, was desperate to find someone he could trust to direct it with style. So, as people in Los Angeles do, he asked around at a party. One of the guests had just seen Frankenweenie²Tim Burton¶s 1984 live-action short about a dog that is brought back to life. Burton had no previous experience as a feature-film director, but the two men immediately bonded. Only 25 at the time, Burton got the job, and the pair watched as their strange but imaginative film earned more than $40 million at the box office. Of course, these days, Burton doesn¶t need to rely on word of mouth to find work. Throughout the many stages of his 30 years behind the camera, there has remained a consistent underlying emotional current in Burton¶s work²a delicate balance of sadness, humor, and horror that matches his eye for gothic beauty and mythical surrealism. The 51-year-old filmmaker has written, directed, and/or produced more than 20 movies. Between 1988 and 1996, he was responsible for Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Batman Returns (1992), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Ed Wood (1994), and Mars Attacks! (1996). It was also during this period that he began working with Johnny Depp, who has acted in seven of his films²a transformative relationship for both men. Burton grew up in the suburbs of California, and has often said that, as a kid, he found the realities of everyday life²parents, teachers, school, breakfast²far more terrifying than monsters or movies. What are zombie pet dogs, after all, compared to real-life threats like dullness and loss? Burton¶s characters are born outcasts, perpetually at odds with their identities and in some ways monsters themselves. His fairy-tale endings are a little messier than most standard Hans Christian Andersen fare; Edward Scissorhands does not get the girl.

Last November, New York¶s Museum of Modern Art honored Burton not only for his film work but also as a visual artist, with a retrospective that displayed a large collection of his drawings²including versions of Jack Skellington, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd, and Batman. His next film, Disney¶s Alice in Wonderland, due out next month, is a suitably trippy semi-animated adventure featuring Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter (Burton¶s partner), Anne Hathaway, and Crispin Glover. Danny Elfman, who has been composing music for Burton¶s films since they worked together on Pee-wee (and who also did Alice in Wonderland) spoke to him recently about how he has made his way as an artist²and about what really scares him.

DANNY ELFMAN: Okay, we¶re rolling. Be aware that we can stop and start; we can even redo a question if you don¶t like what you¶ve said. You can suggest a topic. No pressure. TIM BURTON: I say stream of consciousness, and whatever happens, happens. ELFMAN: Then let¶s start with something easy. Growing up, which films and directors had the greatest impact on you? BURTON: Well, being a big monster-movie fan, the Universal monster movies and the Japanese science-fiction movies, like the ones by Ishir¯o Honda. Then there were the Italians, like Mario Bava. ELFMAN: Which particular films really got under your skin? BURTON: Bava¶s Black Sunday [1960] is probably the one that did it. I remember, in L.A., I¶d watch a whole weekend of horror movies. And after you watched about two movies in a row, you¶d go into this dream state, and sometime around 3 A.M. on the weekend, Black Sunday came on. It really was like your subconscious, like a dream, almost like hallucinating. I also think that I¶m one of the few fans who actually likes dubbing in foreign films. I love Fellini or Bava dubbed because it adds a surreal nature. I prefer dubbing because the images are so strong you don¶t want to take your eyes away to read the subtitles. ELFMAN: Did any film give you nightmares? BURTON: I never really got nightmares from movies. In fact, I recall my father saying when I was three years old that I would be scared, but I never was. I was much more terrified by my own family and real life, you know? I think it would be more of a nightmare if someone told me to go to school or eat my breakfast. I would wake up in a cold sweat about those issues. I think that movies probably help you sort those kinds of things out and make you feel more comfortable. I did get freaked out when I saw The Exorcist [1973] for the first time, but that was about it. Images like the ones in Black Sunday stay with you. I always just enjoyed them. ELFMAN: That takes me to monsters from our childhoods. How do you think they stack up against the monsters of today?

BURTON: The thing I love about the old monsters is that they had such a strong, immediately identifiable image. I find that a lot of monsters today are just so busy. They have so many little tentacles and flaps and whatever else that they don¶t have the kind of strength in their images that the old monsters had. It¶s also due to the CGI heaviness. You¶re missing the human element²like Boris Karloff, who actually played the monsters. Even in Creature From the Black Lagoon [1954], the guy had a complete costume, so you felt like there was a human being underneath. I think that¶s important. It¶s always an interesting challenge to see if you can create a character that¶s got emotion. It can be done and it has been done. ELFMAN: You once said that monsters are usually more heartfelt than the humans around them in those movies. Do you still feel that way? BURTON: Oh, yeah. It¶s like society. In fact, it¶s probably gotten more extreme. We sort of equate the monster with the individual, getting devoured by bureaucracy. Even in making films with studios, you used to be able to deal with people as individuals. Now you¶re dealing with a vague bureaucracy, where no one¶s in charge when there¶s a problem. [laughs] So I think that¶s only intensified over the years.

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