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Summary Article: Burton, Tim
from Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature: The Encyclopedia of the Gothic

Tim Burton (1958–) is an American filmmaker, producer, writer, and artist whose work has been associated with the Gothic. His films evoke the atmospheres of foggy, Gothic landscapes, mysterious, oneiric spaces, and ghostly presences, while the bittersweet melancholy of lonesome doppelgangers and outsiders conjures up the Gothic's sensibility toward doubles and villains, and their adventures, pursuit, and final destruction. The term "Burtonesque," which captures the dark, unconventional, and eccentric aesthetics that characterize his films, is used to describe similar works by other filmmakers (see film).

Timothy William Burton was born on August 25, 1958 in the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank, the son of Jean and Bill Burton. From an early age, Burton discovered his love for monster films and misperceived and estranged monsters (see monster movies). Horror films, such as Frankenstein (1931), The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), and Destroy All Monsters (1968), made up his fantasy universe and became the antidote for the sense of alienation experienced as a result of his suburban upbringing and reclusive personality. These were his fairy tales, populated with such influential figures as Vincent Price, Burton's personal idol. The eroticized macabre tones of Hammer horrors (see hammer house), with the stylish presence of actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing; the stories of Edgar Allan Poe; the Roger Corman films starring Vincent Price; and the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s have been influential in the making of Burton's dark and Gothic cinematic images.

Burton's first film, owing its birth to Edgar Allan Poe, Vincent Price, and Burton's passion for monster films, was Vincent (1982), a stop-motion animated short shot in black and white following the style of the 1920s German Expressionist films, especially Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Vincent, narrated by Vincent Price himself, tells the story of the seven-year-old Vincent Malloy who wants to be Vincent Price. He imagines acting out the roles of Vincent Price that recall the films based on Poe's work, such as Corman's House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Raven (1963), and The Masque of the Red Death (1964). Vincent is also inspired by William Castle's House on Haunted Hill (1958) and André de Toth's House of Wax (1953), both of which star Vincent Price. The short film ends with the last line from Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven": "And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted nevermore" (see poe, edgar allan).

In 1984, Burton directed Frankenweenie, a twenty-five-minute black and white film principally in the style of German Expressionist films and also paying homage to James Whale's Frankenstein (1931). The film begins with ten-year-old Victor Frankenstein showing to his family a Super-8 film entitled Monsters from Long Ago in which his dog Sparky, dressed like a dragon monster, is attacked by a creature. The title and the dragon-like costume of the dog allude to Jack Arnold's Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Following the narrative of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the dog is reanimated (twice) by young Victor. Finally, Sparky falls in love with a black poodle with a white streak in her hair, like Elsa Lanchester in Whale's Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Both Vincent and Frankenweenie capture Burton's empathy for the outsider and can be seen as a manifestation of his alter ego.

The theme of death reappears in Burton's film Beetlejuice (1988), in which a couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) killed in a car accident end up haunting their house. Burton manipulates the conventions of the Gothic tradition and haunted-house films with a comical effect. Here, it is the ghosts that want to remove the living from the house. His use of parody subverts the horror of ghostly presences and delivers a film characterized by colorful darkness. There are references to German Expressionism in the inside decor of the house and to the Gothic subculture in Lydia's dark countenance and love for the paranormal.

Burton's identification with the monster and alienated characters is portrayed in Edward Scissorhands (1990), one of the films most clearly in the Burtonesque style. This Gothic fairy tale revisits Shelley's Frankenstein in its use of the benevolent monster and its creator. Edward, despite his monstrous appearance, scissor hands, and tamed S&M gear, is an inherently good creature who has been left unfinished after his creator (Vincent Price) died. In the end, despite his banishment in the castle, the monster becomes the master of his own destiny.

Burton also plays with Gothic tropes in Sleepy Hollow (1999), while unveiling the ambiguous relationship between science and supernatural horror. The film is based on Washington Irving's tale "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," first published in The Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon (1819–20), and is influenced by the elegance and eerie atmospheres of Hammer films and the Italian horror film Black Sunday, directed by Mario Bava (1960). There is a natural expressionism and a macabre and Gothic impression – courtesy of cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki – in the misty, otherworldly landscapes that make up the cinematic spectral scenes in which the Headless Hessian (Christopher Walken) appears. The casting of Christopher Lee in the role of the burgomaster and Michael Gough in the role of the notary James Hardenbrook established Burton's admiration for the Hammer horrors, as both actors starred in Terence Fisher's Dracula (1958).

Tim Burton and Mike Johnson's film Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005) is a stop-motion animation film that conflates images of the Mexican Day of the Dead and Victorian Gothic aesthetics, delivering a humorous Gothic extravaganza from the realm of the dead (see comic gothic). Unlike Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Corpse Bride shows a closer relation to its European, Victorian Gothic roots. By juxtaposing the dark world of the living to the colorful world of the dead, the film questions notions of normality. Burton's blending of the underground world and the world of the living in dreamlike sequences; the passion for outsiders and all sorts of others; and the Gothic and stylish atmospheres, reminiscent of Hammer films, give his cinematic universe a unique, Gothic, and terribly alluring appeal.

SEE ALSO: Comic Gothic; Film; Hammer House; Monster Movies; Poe, Edgar Allan.

  • Fraga, K. (ed.) (2005) Tim Burton: Interviews. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi.
  • Merschmann, H. (2000) Tim Burton: The Life and Films of a Visionary Director (trans. Kane, M.). London: Titan Books. (Originally published in German 2000.).
  • Salisbury, M. (ed.) (1995) Burton on Burton. London: Faber & Faber.
  • Woods, P. A. (2002) Tim Burton: A Child's Garden of Nightmares. London: Plexus.
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