Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tim Burton

Latest Spec article, expressing emphatic hatred of emo kids:

Burton’s angsty ‘Wonderland’ is more cliché than creepy

Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" confirms his popularity among young adults, but also cements the increasingly cliché nature of his films.

Published March 23, 2010

With the release of “Alice in Wonderland,” it’s clear that director Tim Burton is more popular than ever before. He has not only created another blockbuster but is also the subject of a popular Museum of Modern Art retrospective—running through April 26—honoring his work. Lines for the exhibit often stretch around the block and timed admission tickets have sold out every weekend. MoMA’s website praises Burton for “reinventing Hollywood genre filmmaking as an expression of personal vision.” This vision, however, is rapidly becoming stale—especially for his older fans, who are already well-acquainted with the pop-gothic surrealism that made him famous in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Die-hard Tim Burton fans fall in the curious milieu between punks and hipsters, in the no-man’s-land best classified as “emo.” Emo, though distinguished by a music genre somewhere between pop punk and indie rock, also doubles as a cultural teen movement. In high schools, the emo crowd disguises its moralistic or religious undercurrents with a dark, alternative exterior. Emo by nature is grounded on the consumption of goods (What would the store Hot Topic be without emo kids?). Punk revolts against consumer culture, while emo embraces it.

It would be helpful to remember that in the Victorian age, gothic novels often had hidden religious agendas. Frankenstein, the gothic narrative par excellence, is equal parts cautionary tale and spook story. Likewise, Burton’s films always feature similarly well-meaning but grievously misunderstood characters, giving Burton films their angsty teenage tone. For example, despite their initially scary appearances, Edward of “Edward Scissorhands” is kind and gentle, and Jack of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” only seeks to make the world a better place.

Many students gravitate toward Burton’s films because they can relate to the characters’ struggles. “These are young-adult themes. These are things young people deal with,” Daniel Conn, CC ’10, said.

Burton stories in nature are moralizing Disney tales with a darker twist. There’s nothing nihilistic about them. He works best with gothic stories because he is able to imbue a little romance into something twisted and macabre. There’s no mistaking it: Burton has an idiosyncratic style that has influenced countless other films (last year’s “Coraline,” for example). Then why does it seem as if Burton hasn’t made a truly imaginative film since the mid-’90s—perhaps with the exception of 2003’s “Big Fish”?

Perhaps Burton has gotten overly adept at his own self-created genre. He is unable to think outside of the box he himself has constructed. Upon watching a recent Burton movie, the viewer has the impression that he or she has seen it all before: gnarled branches, spidery limbs, deathly pallors punctuated by weird neon colors. Burton has become a cliché.

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” is by nature an extremely fascinating and creepy novel. Even the 1951 Disney animated version was unable to instill it with a singularly moral message. Alice, the quintessential Victorian priss, meets character after character in her surrealist dreamland. Burton managed to warp this tale completely, transforming Alice into an angsty teen feminist trapped in the absurdities of Victorian society. “The original [movie] was exponentially creepier than this,” Conn said.

Somehow, Burton has managed to take one of the most whimsical, absurdist stories of English literature and sap it of its essential creepiness—all in the name of his pop-macabre aesthetic.

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