Director Tim Burton and the Auteur Theory Thesis

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Film Auteur Theory in Tim Burton's Films

Film auteur theory arose as a concept between the 1950s and the early 1960s as an evaluative process putting film directors in a hierarchal genre perspective (Caughie, 1982, 62). It is the basis of film critique, that which formulates the ideas and constructive (or destructive) criticism by film experts like Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, whose film critique television show coined the "two thumbs up, two thumbs down," phraseology that is often used to describe films today. What Ebert and Siskel helped demonstrate was that the public is very interested in film analysis and genre as much as they are storylines. They helped discover the large contemporary film audience for applying film auteur theory; that which Dudley Andrew (1984), in his book, Concepts in Film Theory, "a criticism ready to uphold the failures and aborted projects of certain directors as more valuable than the greatest successes of metteurs-en-scene (115)." It is a criticism of consciousness, and one that explores the authorship (the director as the film's author (727)) in greater depths than biographical criticism (115). In other words, Andrew explains, it is not about the adaptation of a film from story to film, but rather an exploratory of the interpretation that yields the adaptation from the director's perspective (104). It is a depiction of the psychic complexities of the director manifest in the final product of his work (735).

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Andrew's thoughts on auteur theory run concurrent with those of Peter Wollen, in his book, Signs and Meaning in the Cinema (74). Wollen and Andrew cite Andrew Sarris, explaining the history of auteur theory as beginning with a "loosely knit group of critics who wrote for Cahiers du Cinema (Wollen, 74)," who made the magazine a success by looking beyond the commercial successes to works previously dismissed (Wollen, 74; Andrew, 115).

Thesis on Director Tim Burton and the Auteur Theory Assignment

This brief essay examines from the auteur perspective the work of director Tim Burton, whose many films include the hugely successful Edward Scissorhands (1990), Big Fish, Bat Man (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Beetlejuice (1989), Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factors, and Ed Wood (based on the life of the eccentric director Ed Wood). Burton is a character study for the complexities of the director's psyche, because his film imprint is easily recognizable through the tools utilized by the director: casting, lighting, camera angles, sounds, costume, and staging. His is not, as was perhaps realized by other directors who followed Burton in the Batman film franchise, an easy director's chair to sit in. Batman Forever director, Joel Schumacher, must have discovered this when he finished filming and an avid Batman public following failed to give the film the high praise that was given Burton's first two films (Batman and Batman Returns). Even with more big star names in it than the first two films, Batman Returns showed that Schumacher was, if nothing else, out of his genre and unable to convey to the audience that sense of "Gotham" that had strongly permeated the first two films directed by Burton. If it had been the goal of producers to compensate for the lack of Burton's vision and his ability to conjure from the dark recesses of his own psyche the drama of evil vs. good; then the producers failed miserably, proving that what had begun with Burton should indeed have continued with Burton, and, as will perhaps prove inevitable, end with Burton.

The Batman series will prove especially useful in looking at Burton's work from the auteur theory perspective. His other works will be used in comparison, to help analyze his film imprint or brand as it is identified in auteur manifestations. This essay will examine the interplay of novelty and stability, which is intrinsic to auteur theory, and which as history is not about events as sequential order, but about history as the revaluation of these events in conjunction with era (Andrew, 727) and, taking it one step beyond Andrew's thoughts along this line, genre too.

Burton and Genre

Andrew writes that:

"Whereas formalist critics could point to nothing other than technical ingenuity or perfection to account for the strength of a poem or film, the issue of genre lets us lodge the value of the within the culture itself or within the tradition of films from which it comes (109)."

When we consider Burton's work in terms of genre (Ed Woods being an exception to Burton's greater expression of genre), we have to put Burton in the category of the fantastical, or that which is a combination of the reality of the current culture as expressed with the fantastical of illusion, and creative comic book character style novelty presentation to help explain the unfathomable reality of the world around us. Those realities are imbedded in the social, political, and individual free within the constraints of law and morality in the struggle of good vs. evil.

Take, for instance, Burton's 1988 film classic, Beetlejuice, starring Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis in the lead roles as a classical married couple, Adam and Barbara Maitland, whom at the prime of their youth and marriage, are victims of a car accident the result of trying to avoid a deer. From the opening scenes of the film, and up to the point where Adam and Barbara are plunged into the frozen depths of the river running beneath a picturesque covered bridge, and this classic portrait death scene is in keeping with the image of the Maitlands that the director has created. Burton creates the sense of the classical married couple: young, attractive, living the American dream in a way demonstrative of their own combination of eccentric uniqueness. The latter evidenced by the outward appearance of their home (theirs), the interior decorating reflective of country classic comfort and floral patterns against light tones (hers), and the his only room with the train set and miniature village (classic and picturesque) (his). These individual traits will serve as contrast when the Deetzs are introduced and subsequently move into the home following the couples' deaths.

In these opening scenes that give insight into the individuality of the Maitlands, Burton uses the brightness of color, earth tones, with a home that is perceived by the viewer to be airy, sunny, warm, and comfortable to mark the stark differences in character and lifestyle of the Deetzs who soon after the Maitlands' deaths move into the home. Delia Deetz (Catherine O'Hara), her husband Charles (Jeffrey Jones), and their perpetually depressed daughter, Lydia (Winona Ryder), are the dark side to contrast the Maitlands and to set the stage for the fantastical historical events to which Burton lends his film interpretation to. This is also the point at which introduces the nemesis, Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), who is the force challenging the good, and is, along with the otherworldly other characters introduced, the novelty of the film. This novelty is a trait which must be acquired by the Maitlands in their effort to discourage the Deetzs from introducing their darker post modernistic personalities onto the Maitlands' beloved home, forever altering it.

Once the Maitlands are moved in, with their post modernistic style of furniture and decor, much to the now ghostly Maitlands' distress, it becomes a contest for the Maitlands to employ their ghostly skills, under the direction and advice of their spiritual counselor, Juno (Sylvia Sidney). The scenery and characters of the spiritual realm is no less strange and bizarre than the life of the Deetzs. The Deetzs fit right in with the now strange realm of the Maitlands. There is symmetry to the new existence of the Maitlands and the lifestyle of the Deetzs. The historical has merged with the present, and the conjuncture is balance.

We can compare Beetlejuice to Burton's other strangely fantastical work where there is a merging conjuncture between the fantastical genre facilitated by the classical social concept of the suburban family and community. In Edward Scissorhands, there again emerges the contrast of fantastical and classical. Edward (Johnny Depp) is a person with hands of scissors, which were inserted by his Frankenstein type creator. It remains not a distraction to the viewer, but a mystery to the view as to why the creator chose to give Edward scissor hands instead of human hands. The character of Edward is expertly played Depp, who was able to bring to life the comic-like character of Edward Scissorhands. When Burton brings together the acting talent of Depp, an ability to play a character like Scissorhands in a semi-robotic way, with Ryder, who conveys the deep sense of dark depression, the result is a moody, contemporary drama with a surreal element of fantasy.

Auteur theory suggests that Burton's work must be a decryptment of meaning of the film (Wollen, 104). Burton's work meets the criteria in that the fantasy element is used to forefront the social message. We find this not only in Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, but certainly in the Batman films. Batman, Burton's first in the series, is perhaps the reigning signature of the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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