What is it about Tim Burton’s creative vision that resonates with so many of us? In a time when fairy tales have been cleansed of anything scary, violent or even hinting at death, Burton revives the darkness that has been removed, but for the delight of grown-ups, and without removing the magic.
Look back to the original versions of fairy tales—at the least the earliest written ones we can find recorded, such as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and you’ll see that they were indeed grim. There was violence and horror mingled with the enchantment. Endings weren’t always happy, but they served a social function…several, actually. Beyond scaring kids into behaving, they also fulfilled the purposes of mythology: to offer a metaphorical guide through the journey of life (which, let’s face it, can be messy). It’s a path we all travel, though at different times—from infancy to independence, puberty to procreation, adulthood to aging and finally, death.
Tim Burton eases us back into what we’ve removed from fairy tales, connecting us to what was and at the same time making it relevant to today’s pop-culture obsessed society. With a comical twist, a cartoony appearance and a tongue-in-cheek attitude, he helps us to accept and even enjoy the presence of darkness mixed with the light, whether in patterns of black and white stripes or his signature inward spiral. There is magic in the darkness, too—how else could you see the stars shine without the contrast offered by the night? Burton plays with shades of light and darkness, and like the yin-yang symbol, brings a touch of each to the other, and then adds bold splashes of color.
All of Burton’s films offer these myth-like lessons and cautionary elements:
Beetlejuice (1988) – LESSON: the unknown and unseen may not actually end up being that scary, once you can make peace with it. CAUTION: Beware of hubris and fiddling carelessly with things you don’t understand.
Edward Scissorhands (1990) – LESSON: There is much we can learn from those who are different. CAUTION: Society can be fickle. Watch out for the torches and pitchforks of mob mentality.
Batman (1989) – LESSON: We all have choices about how to respond when bad things happen to us. CAUTION: Better to look like a monster and be a hero than letting experience twist you into a true monster.
Batman Returns (1992) – LESSON: Living in the world requires duality, but animal totems can give us strength. CAUTION: There is a fine line between hero and villain.
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – LESSON: Embrace who you are at your core rather than trying to be someone or something else, but be open to outside influences. CAUTION: There are consequences that affect the world at large if you try to be other than your authentic self.
Big Fish (2003) – LESSON: Our life’s story can bring us strength and imbue our hero’s journey with a sense of purpose and destiny. CAUTION: In relating your story to others, remember to tailor the telling to the chosen audience for the best chance at gaining their understanding.
The LACMA exhibition not only showcases more than “700 drawings, paintings, photographs, moving-image works, storyboards, puppets, concept artworks, maquettes, costumes, and cinematic ephemera, including art from a number of unrealized and little-known personal projects,” but you can also avail yourself of a “handheld tour” that includes relevant video clips and interviews Tim Burton.
This month (August) will feature Saturday Monster Matinees, and with the exhibition running all the way to Halloween, inarguably Burton’s best time of year, look for a costume party, extended hours and family programs.
Malayna Dawn, a native Angeleno, is a world-traveler who is obsessed with writing about symbolism and culture.
See photos from the exhibit on Malayna's Facebook page by follwing this link: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2162772422729.122238.1049138424&type=1&l=cef38c6b35